Skills to pay the bills

SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:30 AM ET

At first for Lubomir Visnovsky, it was as though he was being exiled to Siberia. Edmonton might as well have been Omsk.

A native of Topolcany, Slovakia, the Edmonton Oilers defenceman is not averse to the cold, but living in Los Angeles for the past seven seasons has a tendency to thin one's blood.

So he can be excused for not being overly enthusiastic about the trade at first.

"It was a big surprise for me, because I had just signed a five-year deal," Visnovsky said.

"I thought I would be staying there until my contract was over. I believed in the organization and in the team.

"But that's hockey life, you can get traded any time.

"I have very good memories of my time in L.A., but now it's time to start a new life with a new team and a new season in a new city."

Visnovsky, 32, was acquired by the Oilers this summer in exchange for centre Jarret Stoll and defenceman Matt Greene.

The Western Conference all-star was the Kings best defenceman last season, scoring eight goals and adding 33 assists in 82 games. He was the Kings' fourth pick (118th overall) in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. He's also represented his native Slovakia in three Olympics, two World Cups of hockey, eight world championships and two world junior championships.

"You can never have too much depth on the blue-line," said Oilers defenceman Sheldon Souray. "He (Visnovsky) is an all-star defenceman that is going to help us out in every area of the ice - five-on-five, short-handed and penalty killing."

Visnovsky's expected to replace the offensive void left behind by the departure of Joni Pitkanen, who was traded to the Carolina Panthers in the Erik Cole deal.

BIG CHANGES

"Things are much different here," Visnovsky said. "The media is much different. After a practice there you have five or six media guys talking to the players. Here you get

20-30 media guys after practice and there are a lot of questions to be answered. There are a lot of television cameras. I think there is a lot more pressure playing here, but I'm looking forward to it."

The Kings had given Visnovsky $28-million reasons to think he would be staying in L.A. for the next five seasons. He was upset the organization had not called to inform him of the trade. He first heard about it when Oilers president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe called.

Since then Visnovsky has warmed up to the idea of playing in Edmonton. Despite playing here twice a year for the past seven seasons, he didn't know much about the city.

So far, it's been an eye-opening experience for him.

"I've been surprised with the good weather that we've had the first three weeks I've been here," Visnovsky said. "The guys told me that probably next month it'll start getting colder. It doesn't really matter, though, I'm here to play hockey. Everything is new for me so I have to get to know my teammates better and see how they play."

It'll be the first time in Visnovsky's career he'll be playing in a city where hockey comes first and everything else is a distant second.

Prior to joining the Kings in 2000, Visnovsky played with Bratislava in Slovakia.

"I know there are a lot of Canadians in the league and that Canadians love hockey," he said. "And in the first pre-season game, I was impressed the arena was sold out.

"Hockey is the No.-1 sport in Canada. Everyone loves hockey, everyone loves hockey players. It's good because the atmosphere is a lot better, it makes you feel more emotional for the game.

"It's good for players and for hockey."

FITTING IN

Once settled, Visnovsky thinks he'll eventually fit right in with the Oilers. He's currently on the market for a house.

"It's an entirely new country and you have to get used to it," he said. "It's OK so far, but I think it's just going to take some time."


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