You could understand why T.J. Galiardi and Karl Alzner chose to skate with the Calgary Flames on Monday. Sure, they play for rival NHL teams – the San Jose Sharks and Washington Capitals, respectively – but Galiardi is from Calgary and Alzner used to play for the WHL's Calgary Hitmen.
Seeing them on the ice at the Winsport arena was to be expected, given how the NHL lockout had bonded players like never before.
But really, an Edmonton Oiler scrimmaging with the Flames? Out there wearing a blue helmet with a familiar oil-drop logo on it. Would a Hatfield have skated with a McCoy? Would Tim Hunter have ever in his competitive life taken a line pass from Dave Semenko?
And yet, Oilers' defenceman Nick Schultz merrily skated Monday with a large contingent of Flames, including captain Jarome Iginla and winger Mike Cammalleri, knowing that in roughly 12 days he'll be banging and crashing with them for keeps.
"The guys have been great," Schultz said after the informal 90-minute workout. "But it will be intense once the season starts. I'm sure emotions will be running high."
Schultz would have liked to have skated regularly with his Edmonton teammates during the lockout but it wasn't that easy. Many of the Oilers were either playing overseas or in the AHL. Besides, Schultz had an in with the Flames. His brother-in-law is Calgary defenceman Cory Sarich, who invited Schultz to skate with the Flames who routinely took to the ice at Winsport.
It was a workable way for Schultz to keep his game sharp, and the Oilers are going to need what the Saskatchewan-born Schultz has to offer – a steady defensive game to balance Edmonton's youthful, offensive-minded enthusiasm.
Last season, the Oilers were a mess defensively and are still a question mark with Devan Dubnyk expected to get more playing time in net. Schultz, who was acquired before the 2012 trade deadline from the Minnesota Wild, is certainly being counted on stabilize a blue line that could see him paired with rookie free-agent signing, Justin Schultz. |His play with the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons has already drawn comparisons to Drew Doughty and Scott Niedermayer, to name but two, and has Edmonton fans fueled on anticipation.
Asked if he's been following Schultz's AHL heroics, Nick Schultz answered: "Through the papers, yeah. He's doing well down there and I know we're all eager to see him and the rest of the guys who played there. There's a real excitement about the team, for sure. But we have to see how the new head coach, Ralph Krueger, wants us to play. Look at what Darryl Sutter did with the Los Angeles Kings. He got them tightened up defensively and it took them a long way."
As a veteran, Schultz said part of his job was to also provide the right leadership on a team with so many young charges.
"You already see how important every game is in an 82-game season. It's going to be more of that now (with a likely 48-game schedule)," he insisted. "We have to stay focused on each and every game and not fall into a slump ... It's going to be fun to see how it all comes together."
As for skating with the enemy, Schultz smiled and said it's probable Edmonton and Calgary will open the regular season against one another and that the game will feature nothing less than a playoff-style atmosphere.
His brother-in-law agreed.
"He's already been wearing his Oilers t-shirt and ball cap (after the on-ice practice sessions)," Sarich said of Schultz. "He's getting ready."
They all are, for when it really matters.