The Oilers arrived back to work Wednesday — minus a couple of Olympians, some walking wounded and an injured netminder facing DUI charges in Arizona — tanned and rested and ready to take on the rest of the season.
A nine-day mental and physical respite during the heart of the Winter Games didn’t come a moment too soon. Like a battered fighter hanging on the ropes, the Oilers were truly saved by the bell.
They couldn’t get out of Edmonton quickly enough. And the feeling was mutual.
“It was good to take some time off and not think about anything,” said Andrew Cogliano, who took in some of the Olympic flavour in Vancouver. “It was good to get away from the game a bit, mentally unwind. I think it helped a lot of guys.
“For a lot of guys, especially myself, it’s been a tough year mentally. To just not think about things and put it on the back burner for a bit and not worry about hockey so much — we’re a pretty intense Canadian city where hockey is the main focus — just to get away from that was a good thing.”
Now that they’re back, they can hit the last 21 games with clear heads. They hope.
“The way things have gone it’s been tough on everybody, tough to stay positive,” said Sam Gagner. “It was good to get the break and kind of recharge the batteries. I think we’re excited for the challenge that these last 21 games bring.”
There is still a quarter of a season, and a trade deadline, to go — the trade deadline being of much more interest to the fans here than the games. Once they get past March 3 and the last of the drama is behind them, it’s going to be a long journey to Game 82.
From the outside looking in it appears as though there’s nothing for the Oilers to play for, but part of the time off was spent searching for that very motivation.
“I think you want to finish off well,” said Cogliano. “Obviously the year has not gone well for the team and a lot of individuals in here. Going into the summer on a bad note is not something you want. The last 21 games individually and team wise you want to try and build as much as you can for next year and get the confidence back that you’ve had.”
They all say that getting up for these games shouldn’t be difficult.
“There’s lots on the line for individuals to prove themselves to the coaching staff and organization,” said Shawn Horcoff. “And we want to prove to ourselves that we’re a better team than we’ve shown. We know there are going to be changes made going forward — it’s going to be interesting to see in the next five days what shakes down. We’ve put ourselves in a tough position, but we’re proud in here and we want to come out and get some better results. There’s no shortage of areas for us to find motivation.”
After the break, for whoever is still with the Oilers, the last 21 games will be a true test of who really wants to be here.
“I think there is always something to play for,” said Gagner. “Whether it be for next year, or World Championships or just winning is a good feeling in its own right. And obviously the pride of playing for the Oilers. Nobody likes where we’re at right now. I think for the guys who are going to be here long term and the guys who have been here in the past ... there’s a lot of pride at stake here.”