OKLAHOMA CITY - They’ve become the Edmonton Oilers’ biker gang.
With the NHL lockout now guaranteed to go into at least December, the four guaranteed-to-start-the-season-in-Edmonton-if-it-ever-starts Edmonton Oilers haven’t bought houses here yet.
But they did buy bikes.
Cheap ones. Hey, they’re playing here on minor league salaries.
“We went to Walmart,” said Nugent-Hopkins.
“We bought four bikes. They were $100 each.
“There were ones for $500. But we’re hoping the lockout ends eventually. So we bought the cheap ones.
“The place we have here is pretty close. It’s about a 15-minute walk to the rink. But it’s a four-minute bike ride. So we’re bikers now. We go everywhere on them,” he said of he and room-mate Justin Schultz and Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall.
“We ride ‘em to restaurants. Everywhere. The only thing we don’t do is ride ’em to games,” he said of the four high-profile players who are mostly anonymous in OKC.
“We thought about getting scooters,” said Eberle. “But I think it’s faster just to bike.”
If the NHL lockout drags on to Christmas, don’t concern yourself about Eberle, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Schultz.
They’re not going through hell being minor leaguers waiting for Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr to get the deal done. They’re not dragging their butts to the rink every day. They’re riding their bikes. And they’re happy here.
We leave them now, after covering five straight games here, quite comfortable as members of the Oklahoma City Barons despite their anonymity here and the extra whacking and hacking Eberle, RNH and Schultz are at times taking from the other teams in the league.
Hall flew home to Edmonton Sunday — not able to wait until he can get right back on the plane to return here and become an official minor leaguer like his mates.
“I’m even looking forward to going on the road and riding on the bus, playing cards and enjoying the camaraderie,” said Hall, who flew home to Edmonton yesterday to be examined by Oilers’ doctors with the idea of returning to play games here next weekend.
“Maybe I’ll regret saying that, but I think it will be fun to be back on the bus again.
“I’ve been having a lot of fun being down here. I’ve wanted to play pro hockey since I was a little kid. This isn’t the NHL but it’s a lot better league than a lot of people may think.
“I’d rather be in the NHL. But so far here, I think you can see, we’re really enjoying it. It’s a lot different than Edmonton with the way it is for hockey there, but it’s been a good experience so far,” said Hall.
“There aren’t the same perks as the NHL, but it’s nice to be part of a team, a good team,” said Eberle, who along with Nugent-Hopkins your correspondent has covered playing two games in Switzerland, eight in Finland and now five here since you last watched them play in Edmonton.
“The travel is pretty easy. Playing in the WHL was way worse from a travel point of view,” Eberle added.
He says it’s strange to be a young NHL player who, back in Canada, everybody knows his name, and yet here next to nobody knows it.
In five games here, the Barons have announced crowds of 6,323 2,897, 2,143, 2,995 and 2,501.
That’s 16,859 or just 20 more than the Rexall Place capacity of 16,839.
“I love Edmonton and everyone who plays there appreciates the passion and obviously that’s a good thing. But sometimes it’s nice to be able to go out and nobody recognizes you. There’s nothing like playing in a Canadian city, but for a few months here, this is a contrast that we can enjoy. I’m sure we’ll be ready to go back to that passion, the excitement and that scene but in the meantime, this has been OK,” he said of OKC.
“It’s been good so far,” said Nugent-Hopkins.
“It’s been a little different, but I’m still happy to be down here and playing. The best part is that these are gonna be players, a lot of the guys, who we’re going to be playing with in Edmonton.
“It’s been good to get to know them and bond with them.”
One of them is his new room-mate here and for whenever hockey gets going again in the NHL, defenceman Justin Schultz who scored two more goals here yesterday to bring his total to an AHL leading six goals and six assists for 12 points seven games into the season.
“It’s great down here. All we do is play hockey. As long as the lockout goes I’m happy to be here. I just want to make the most of my time in the AHL and have fun.”
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