SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers chill out

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:41 AM ET

It’s minus 30, you’re in 28th place, your best guys are injured and you’re on a team that’s missing the playoffs for the fifth straight season.

And the rest of the NHL just voted your sorry skates as the ones they’d least like to skate a mile in.

Welcome to Edmonton. And welcome to the 2011 stretch drive, where head coach Tom Renney, given all of the above, is about to learn a great deal about the character of the men in his dressing room.

“When things are easy everybody kind of just glides along, nobody really gets tested,” said winger Ryan Jones. “You never really find out who a person is when things are easy. It’s when it gets tough that you find out what a guy really has in him. And hopefully it’s good.”

These last 33 games are going to be all kinds of tough. The best thing about the NHL are the playoffs, and the races in February, March and April to be a part of them. For the Oilers, however, there is no post-season pot of gold to get their adrenaline flowing in these final 10 weeks. Just game after game after game against better teams that have more to play for.

Fortitude and resolve will be put to the test on a lot of nights.

“The season has already tested a lot of guys,” said defenceman Theo Peckham, who thinks the make-up of this year’s team will help them avoid the kind of energy-sucking funeral march that ruined last year. “We’ve had our tough times but we’ve stuck together. There hasn’t been anything negative, we’ve stuck together as players, coaches and management.”

So far, so good, but they’re just getting to the hard part now. When nothing’s really on the line, the Quit Button (sometimes disguised as the ‘Don’t Worry, We’ll Be Better Next Year’ Button) will be within their reach every night from here on in. How often they give in to temptation will tell a lot.

“A lot of it is going to have to do with pride,” said Jones. “We have to have pride in who we’re playing for and the way that we’re treated here. Come out and win games.”

Their motivation will come from wanting to be an Oiler, despite what the survey says. From wanting to be better individually and as a team.

“We’re playing for jobs,” said Horcoff. “Especially when we start getting healthy, there’s only so many bodies that teams can keep. Every night is a good opportunity for all of our young players, and even our veterans, to prove something to their teammates and the organization and the fans that they want to be part of this going forward. That’s enough motivation in itself. You have to prove that there’s a spot for you going forward.”

Non playoff teams always talk about playing for jobs, but when an organization is 100% committed to a rebuild, and has shown, as Oilers management showed last summer, that they’re willing to make hard decisions, it’s not a bluff.

“At this point in the year they’re looking to see who they want to be part of the process,” said Jones. “It would be fun to be a part of this so that’s what you want to use these 33 games for, to show them that you can be a big piece of the puzzle.”

Strip it down even further and the motivation for these final 33 is simple.

“My motivation is winning, I want to win,” said Peckham. “We’re making strides as a team, playing hard, but I want to win. We’re here to win. I’ve been around this organization for three or four years now and it comes down to you just want to start winning games.”

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca

Twitter.com/TYCHKOWSKI


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