Oilers fight losing mentality

Oilers defenceman Theo Peckham says his experience tells him that coaches and GMs don't want...

Oilers defenceman Theo Peckham says his experience tells him that coaches and GMs don't want players who give up when things get tough. (DAN RIEDLHUBER/Reuters file photo)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:06 AM ET

EDMONTON - At least they still hate losing.

When you’ve lost as often as the Edmonton Oilers have there’s always a real danger that your young and impressionable players can develop an immunity to it.

It’s called being a loser.

But if there’s a bright side to a fourth-straight lost season under owner Daryl Katz (the Oilers finished 21st, 30th, 30th and 29th under his watch), it’s that the players aren’t as OK with losing as the organization seems to be.

After a 3-2 shootout loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on Sunday, a game that didn’t mean anything to anyone — the Phoenix newspapers didn’t even send reporter to the game — the young Oilers were taking it like they’d just lost Game 1 of a playoff series.

“We don’t want to lose, we don’t want to be last place,” said Jordan Eberle, long after most of the other Oilers had cleared the dressing room. “This is not the way we wanted the season to go, so as a young guy and a guy who wants to be here for a while, it’s frustrating.

“You don’t want that losing mentality. You don’t want that losing way to creep into your lockerroom, where you think that losing is acceptable, because it’s not. We want to win hockey games and we want to do well.”

Eberle showed all kinds of battle against the Coyotes on Sunday. He was obviously being targeted, which is going to be a pretty common occurrence given the Oilers reluctance to look after their skilled players, but he didn’t back down. In fact, he tried to give as much as he got.

“He’s a super-competitive kid. That’s the beauty of our young guys, they all are,” said Tom Renney. “You look forward to what they’re going to turn into at the end of the day.”

The concern, of course, is that they turn into losers, that prolonged exposure to the Oilers organization will desensitize them to defeat. Ruin them.

So far, it hasn’t happened. Even Sam Gagner, who’s grown up in this losing environment for five years, still has enough fight in him to hate it.

“We need that, because as soon as you lose that you’re done,” said Gagner, seething after the Phoenix loss. “We realize that this year didn’t go as planned but we still have a lot to play for and we have to make sure we’re playing the right way.”

The Oilers can play, they’re good enough to take a lot of games to the third period , but when push comes to shove, they revert to what they know — losing. They are 3-12-4 when tied after 40 minutes.

“We have to learn to win those games,” sighed nine-year Oiler Ales Hemsky. “We just have to learn to win. It takes 60 minutes, it doesn’t take two periods to win a game.”

Ten games left in the season, no time to undo the damage of the first 72. But when you’ve already lost 43 times in 72 games, winning SHOULD matter.

“I want to show them how badly I want to be an Edmonton Oiler for this year and next and for years to come,” said defenceman Theo Peckham. “That’s one of the things you use to motivate yourself in games like these.

“Everybody is watching to see how you react when you’ve been kicked down. I know from personal experience that GMs and coaches don’t want guys who quit when things get tough.

“The games might not mean much in the standings, but in the dressing room they still mean a ton.”

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ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@Sunmedia.ca


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