SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers adding muscle to hustle

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:10 AM ET

It's a big decision -- six feet, six inches and 265 pounds, to be exact.

After going two seasons without a true enforcer, assuring themselves and their fans that they had enough team toughness to weather any physical storm, the Edmonton Oilers are making a fairly significant organizational shift in auditioning Steve MacIntyre.

The Oilers party line ever since Georges Laraque left is that they don't need a pure fighter, but with nine goals and 1,040 penalty minutes over the last four minor league seasons, guess what MacIntyre's here for?

"It's not rocket science; I'm not here to score goals," grinned the 28-year-old Saskatchewan product, claimed on waivers after the Florida Panthers cut him earlier this week.

"They've made it perfectly clear they want a physical presence this year, that's why they brought me in."

MacIntyre grew up cheering for the Oilers, so this is a big thrill for him, and he's also well aware of Edmonton's long, rich history of elite heavyweights (Dave Semenko, Marty McSorley, Dave Brown and Laraque), so he knows what's expected.

"Provide an element where the skilled guys can go out and not be afraid to do their job, score their goals and not be worried about getting their head taken off," he said after his first full practice with the Oilers.

"I'm not here to proclaim that I'm the toughest guy in the league by any means, because I'm sure as heck not. There's lots of guys who are up there who are tougher than I am, but I'll go into battle and do what I have to do and get my nose dirty."

With a room full of kids, smallish forwards, bigger forwards who don't fight and big veterans who can fight but probably shouldn't, the Oilers have finally come to the conclusion they need someone whose sole purpose is to take care of business.

"We needed to add that element," said head coach Craig MacTavish. "How often we use it remains to be seen... but at least we have it."

The difference between a year or two ago and now, says MacTavish, is that having more offensive power up front with Erik Cole, the kids and a healthy Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky gives Edmonton the luxury of a full-time fighter on the fourth line.

"A big part of our success last year was the offence provided by that fourth line, but we feel with the team healthy and two, potentially three offensive lines, we can afford to have the element when we need it," said the coach, who envisions slotting MacIntyre in against specific opponents, like the beefed-up Calgary Flames, or Derek Boogaard and the Minnesota Wild.

"He'll be more situational than an everyday player. It's an act in progress. I don't know enough about him to say he's going to be in a position to play two games, 20 games, 40 games... we'll see how he does."

MacIntyre's been looking to get his foot in an NHL door for a long time, having bounced from Jacksonville (WHA), Charlotte (ECHL), Hartford (AHL), Quad City (UHL)and Providence (AHL) in the last five years.

Fighting's never been a problem, but the ability to play hockey at the NHL level has been slow to come.

"I had great coaches in Providence, they worked with me before practice and after practice," he said. "They all helped me out. And the guys in Florida helped me out a lot. You have to be able to play hockey, you can't just be a one-dimensional player. That's what I'm trying to do right now."

The people this move will affect most, the players, say MacIntyre is a welcome addition, filling a void that only the guys on the ice can truly appreciate.

"I like it," said centre Shawn Horcoff. "Just to have that physicality in the lineup is going to be a big lift. We have some young, small players, so it would be nice to have some muscle in there to kind of protect them.

"It's going to settle guys down. If he plays his role right and makes sure that people know that they can't take liberties with our players, it can be a huge role, a very important one on our team."


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