Chemistry lesson

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

JASPER -- Jason Strudwick hadn't taken two steps into the Oilers workout room when the barbs started flying.

His new teammates were on him in an instant, burying him in one-liners about the length of his workout shorts.

That's when he knew he was going to like it here.

"I could tell right away that it was going to be OK because I had barely walked in for the first time and the guys were on me about my shorts being too short," said the veteran defenceman, who signed a free-agent contract with the Oilers last summer. "I knew I was in the right place."

It's not easy moving around from team to team, whether it's via trade or free agency, but the newest members of the Oilers - Strudwick, Erik Cole and Lubomir Visnovsky - feel like they've been here forever, and the season hasn't even started yet.

"Me and Erik, who are both in the same situation, were talking about it the other night, how welcoming everyone is," said Strudwick. "It's a good, close team. That's the reputation the Oilers have around the league and it's true.

"If we're doing something, everybody gets a text message saying where we're going, and everybody shows up. Edmonton being a smaller community maybe it's easier to do that logistically than in some bigger centres, but that's one thing I've really noticed, this is a very close group.

"Ethan (Moreau) makes sure everyone knows where we're going and makes a point to include the wives or the girlfriends. It's something that I really enjoy, especially at this stage in my career. You want to fit in and I didn't even have to try, they just accept you."

'80S TEAM STARTED IT

It's always been that way in the Oilers dressing room. From the days of Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier (anytime a player was called up from the minors, Messier would take the kid out and buy him a nice suit) to Kelly Buchberger and Craig MacTavish to the leaders of today.

"When I got here, I learned it from Bill Guerin, Doug Weight, Mike Grier and Rem Murray," said Moreau. "We've done a good job of making sure those same traditions, that same attitude around the locker-room, is passed on."

All NHL teams are tight, it's just the nature of hockey players to be good guys, but the Oilers have made a point of cultivating that spirit of togetherness more than most.

That's why many of the players who leave here - even when it's for much bigger paycheques somewhere else - do so with tears in their eyes.

"We've always had the camaraderie where we hung out together and had a good time, but there's also a real emphasis on work ethic and being prepared to play," said Moreau. "And when players come here they realize they have to be that way or they don't last very long. We attract personalities, guys who are good teammates and guys who work hard and like to have a good time."

SOME DIDN'T FIT IN

Some newcomers didn't fit in, like the dour Jiri Dopita or introspective Joni Pitkanen, but for the most part players embrace the Oilers Way.

"It's been pretty comfortable, a good group of guys to step into," said Cole. "It's a group that's very welcoming and when they come to the rink you can tell they're excited to be here.

"Coming here has been a pretty easy transition."

Same goes for Visnovsky.

"When you're the new guy, everybody is watching you when you first come here, how you play, how you fit in," he said. "It's tough for me because my English is not perfect and I always have a lot of questions for the guys and there's more media here. It was my first trade. New city, new team, new guys.

"But they make it very easy. There are a lot of funny guys here, like Shawn Horcoff, Ethan Moreau. It's been easy to come in here and be part of the team."

For the rookies, too. With so many kids on the team, there could have easily been a chasm between youngsters and the vets, but there wasn't.

"Unlike a lot of teams we don't really have a hierarchy or pecking order," said Moreau. "Everybody is treated the same regardless of your age or your background, everybody is allowed to be themselves. That's why our young guys have had success, because they feel comfortable. When you're comfortable in your own skin it translates into good hockey. There's no reason to make guys feel uncomfortable, so we really go out of our way to make guys feel welcome."


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