SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers doing the splits

Blackhawks defenceman Joe Lavin takes Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins's stick to the head in...

Blackhawks defenceman Joe Lavin takes Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins's stick to the head in Saskatoon, Sask., Sep. 20, 2011. (DAVID STOBBE/Reuters)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:09 AM ET

EDMONTON - The Edmonton Oilers scored an 7-6 win over the Minnicago Wildhawks before 28,028 in NHL pre-season action Tuesday.

Ah, well, actually ...

It was the Oilers scoring a 4-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks before 12,375 in Saskatoon with Josh Green scoring a pair and Ryan Smyth and Jordan Eberle also scoring.

Meanwhile before 15,653 at Rexall Place the Oilers lost 4-3 to the Minnesota Wild, with Anton Lander, Magnus Paajarvi and Antyi Tyrvainen scoring the goals.

The first three days of the NHL pre-season are like baseball spring training with all the split squad games.

Indeed, it was 87 F for the 3:08 p.m. start of the first game with an estimated 500 fans in the stands and what SI.com called "a generously announced attendance of 7,327" for Nashville-Florida, with both games in Fort Lauderdale for a day-night doubleheader.

GOTTA TRY

The Panthers called it "Hockey Day in South Florida" and had autograph sessions before both games and used the two tilts as a unique way to showcase their players on the same day and create a buzz to build business when the season starts. No knocking them for trying.

It was a different deal as Vancouver played at home to Calgary and on the road in Calgary. Both teams had a home gate at full-rate NHL regular season prices, of course. Winnipeg and Columbus copied the Calgary-Vancouver model Tuesday, and Phoenix and Los Angeles will do the same split-squad double dip Wednesday.

What made the Edmonton games in Saskatoon against the Chicago Blackhawks and at Rexall Place against the Minnesota Wild different was they were against different opponents.

While the away game was privately promoted with a local organizing committee providing a fee to bring both teams to town, the Oilers are keen to be part of a Saskatoon pre-season game every season.

Indeed, the Oilers went out of their way to make sure Saskatoon didn't feel cheated with second best.

The Oilers risked upsetting their own customers, providing ÔToon Town with the sexier visiting team in the 2009-10 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, the return of Ryan Smyth and debut game of first-round draft choice Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Head coach Tom Renney behind the bench and both Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini were in town for speaking engagements added to the Oilers visit as well.

"We consider Saskatoon and Northern Saskatchewan part of Oil Country," said Pat LaForge. "We are very interested to see they get to see the Oilers in a pre-season game every year.

"Jordan Eberle is already a big star in his home province because of the World Junior. And obviously having Smitty and RNH in the game, with Tom Renney, Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini sends a message to the fans from us."

One ought not forget that with the Winnipeg Jets back in the league, Edmonton wants to keep their fans and the TV market there.

"It's a big building and it's so close. I see ourselves doing a split squad set-up like this with Saskatoon and Edmonton at the start of the pre-season in the long term," said LaForge.

HEAD SOUTH

And as soon as next year, he can see doing another double header as well in Oklahoma City and Austin, Texas, taking the Oilers and Dallas Stars to the homes of their farm teams for split-squad games.

"Sooner rather than later," he said.

There are no real negatives involved.

And it's not like every pre-season game at this stage of proceedings doesn't involve a split squad. A team isn't likely to use even one player in each of the first two games no matter what days you play the games. Why not go with two teams in two games on the first night?

"In a real short amount of time it allows you to get an extra game in," said general manager Tambellini on the phone from Saskatoon.

"It permits more practice time for the coaches," he said of Renney and staff who are concerned primarily with getting the NHL team ready for the regular season.

"You want to see as many young guys in an NHL pre-season game as possible.

"I like it. I think you'll see us doing this on a regular basis."


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