EDMONTON - Sam Gagner was going to try to ride it out at home.
But eventually the Oilers centre felt he needed to get back on the ice in a game setting.
With no end to the NHL lockout in sight, despite a proposal by the league that at first glance appeared to be in the right direction, Gagner headed to Europe.
The London, Ont., native signed a contract with Klagenfurter AC of the Austrian Erste Bank Ice Hockey League.
He’s the sixth member of the Oilers to head overseas.
“I hadn’t set a date, I kind of wanted to see how I felt,” Gagner said. “I was at that point where I felt like I wanted to go over and play. The Austrian deal came about pretty quickly. There were other deals that I was looking at that were taking some time, but because the Austrian deal worked out so fas, I decided to go there. It kind of fell into my lap.”
Gagner is the first Canadian-born member of the Oilers in Europe.
The team’s European contingent returned home at the start of the lockout just over a month ago.
Ales Hemsky and Ladislav Smid are both in the Czech Republic. Overall first pick in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft, Nail Yakupov, is in Russia, while Lennart Petrell is back with his hometown club in Helsinki.
Corey Potter, the only other North American-born member of the Oilers to head to Europe, is playing with the Vienna Capitals.
“I have been to Austria before,” said Gagner. “I was part of an exhibition tour there a few years ago. I believe I was going into my second year in the NHL and I went over with a group of basically ex-London Knights that off-season.
“We played some teams from Austria and some teams from Germany. I know a little bit about the area, it’s a beautiful country and the hockey was great. It’s a skilled league and it’s going to allow me to develop my game even further, which is exciting.”
There has been some criticism of North American players heading to Europe during the lockout. Hoewever, Gagner dismisses those, stating just because players are going overseas doesn’t mean they’re not interested it what is going on back home.
“I don’t think there should be any hesitation about going over,” he said. “It’s all about personal preference and as long as you’re involved and stay educated with the process, I think it’s a good thing for guys to go over and play some games.”
AHL an option for some
Much like the lockout in 2004, the Edmonton Oilers have an AHL affiliate where they can send players to ride out the labour negotiations.
In 2004, the Oilers were able to send the likes of Raffi Torres, Jarret Stoll, Kyle Brodziak and Brad Winchester to play with the Edmonton Road Runners.
This time around, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi, Justin Schultz and Teemu Hartikainen are with the team’s AHL affiliate.
The six, who were all expected to earn a roster spot with the Oilers this season are currently in Oklahoma City playing with the Barons.