With the NHL lockout well underway, the shift of focus for
Edmonton hockey has turned towards the AHL’s Edmonton Road Runners. Not just for the fans but certainly for the
media as well — but how will they change the way they cover pro hockey in
town, if at all? How will the Road
Runners fare in their new home? Which
players should fans keep an eye on this year?
What about the NHL Entry Draft and the players the Oilers selected at
the event? These questions and more were put to some of the city’s top
press members recently for the annual Hockey’s Future Edmonton Media
Robin Brownlee is the senior hockey writer at The Edmonton Sun
newspaper. Brownlee, one of the most
respected sports journalists in the city, has been writing at the Sun for the
past three years after previously spending 11 at the other local daily paper
during his now 20-year career.
Dean Millard can be seen on Global Television in Edmonton as one
of the sports anchors. His career began in
Red Deer on RDTV then moved to Global Regina and finally here to Edmonton. Known as “Duck” by some, Millard still has
fond memories of his days in Manitoba and of the Winnipeg Jets in
Gene Principe is the popular television host of Oiler broadcasts
on Roger’s Sports Net and is also the game host of Oiler Vision,
Edmonton’s pay-per-view production. The native of Edmonton is also active in
the community as a minor league soccer referee.
is the Communications Officer and the Broadcast Director for the University of
Alberta where he is the voice of UofA Golden Bears broadcasts for hockey and
football. University and local
professional sports are Stauffer’s stomping grounds for his ‘Stauffer Stuff’
column in the Edmonton Sports Scene newspaper. Stauffer can also be heard from 5-7 PM weeknights on Total
Sports, his radio show on the TEAM 1260.
covers both the Edmonton Oilers and Road Runners for the Edmonton Sports
Scene and is also a writer for International Scouting Services (ISS),
Hockey Alberta, the Oilers’ ZONE Magazine and of course, Hockey’s
Topic #1: Were
you surprised by Edmonton’s selection of Devan Dubnyk at No. 14 and was it the
for two reasons. First, going into the draft, the Oilers lacked anything resembling
a blue chip prospect in goal, aside from Jeff Deslauriers, and they targeted
goaltending as a priority. Second, anybody who talked to the scouting staff,
particularly Lorne and Brad Davis, knew the Oilers had Dubnyk ranked atop
available goaltending prospects, even if other scouting services had him behind
Al Montoya and Marek Schwarz.
The right choice? Let me see what the Ouija Board
says. That’s a question that’ll be answered in five years, not now.
DM: I was shocked at the selection of Devan Dubnyk, I
know he’s a talented goaltender from watching him with Kamloops, but they
already had a talented goaltender waiting to take over. Maybe Dubnyk
becomes trade bait, but I would have preferred them go after a pure scorer at
14. Amazingly they did get that type of player with their next pick in
Rob Schremp, but I think they lucked out that he was still around.
GP: I was not surprised by
Edmonton’s selection of Dubnyk at No. 14. I do think he was the right choice.
He’s just too big and has too much potential not to be chosen in such a high
BS: Yes and no. Yes because
Schremp was still on the board at 14, and the Oilers are clearly devoid of
skilled offensive players, but, no, because as Robin Brownlee reported the
Oil were in love with Dubnyk.
GF: I was stunned simply
because I completely expected Schremp to be their first choice. Adding another top-notch goaltender
definitely gives them options so time will tell which of their two potential
starters stays the longest.
Topic #2: Do
you believe Rob Schremp will make a positive impact and have a long-term
relationship with the organization?
RB: As far as positive impact, yes. Schremp is the most
skilled player the Oilers have drafted since Ales Hemsky. So what if
he brags? So what if he’s cocky? Not every kid has to be a cookie-cutter
"nice boy." To me, he’s a breath of fresh air and a
guaranteed good quote. All that matters is that Schremp walks the walk when the
puck drops. I think he might be something special, but we’ll get a better idea
based on his season in London because he’ll probably be their top center on a
line with Cory Perry. He tried to do too much and be too impressive at rookie
camp, and I don’t think we saw his best stuff. Long term? Let’s see him
make the Oilers roster first, shall we?
DM: I think Schremp will work out in Edmonton.
His skills speak for themselves, and I think his reputation has in a
negative way as well in the past. But I think he’s in the right
situation, a hockey mad city with players surrounding him that won’t let him
get out of line. The Oilers have been down this road before and I don’t
think they would have went in this direction again without doing their
homework…at least I hope they did. I think Schremp will work out nicely
for years to come.
GP: Yes I think Robbie Schremp
will make a positive impact with the Oilers and I see no reason why he wouldn’t
be here long-term, not withstanding a better system in place for the teams when
it comes to the cost for a high draft pick.
BS: Good question. If the
Oilers can look past his rep, and bring out his offensive upside then they’ll
be laughing. The only problem is that they have a Head Coach who is better
suited to dealing with hard-nosed checkers then flighty scorers. Draw your
GF: The bottom line for me
is that Schremp just lives to play hockey and wants to prove his critics
wrong. In my dealings with him I have
yet to get a sense of poor character or bad attitude and, as Robin said, I find
his personality refreshing. He’s got
something to prove and he’s got the drive and ability to do it.
Topic #3: Do you think the
Oilers have a “sleeper” from this draft?
sleepers. Some might guess Liam Reddox.
He didn’t show me much.
DM: Not really, but who knows after the first or second
round everyone in a young draft can be a sleeper, it’s so tough to predict what
an 18-year-old kid will do in 5-10 years.
GP: Not sure if there
is a sleeper from the draft but I like the fact they went with a hometown
kid like Tyler Spurgeon. I know sometimes that playing for the team you grew up
watching doesn’t always work out but he seems to be a hard-nosed kid with a
great work ethic.
BS: Liam Reddox.
GF: Stephane Goulet gets my
vote. Misused by a bad Quebec Remparts
team last year and then dealt to Moncton where he is playing a top 6 forward
role. He’ll have doubled his previous
year’s numbers by Christmas. A good
eighth round pick.
Topic #4: Who do you feel is currently
Edmonton’s No. 1 prospect?
DM: I think Jeff Deslauriers is their top prospect
that won’t play (with the Oilers) next year. He is so quick and has great
lateral movement in the crease. I think working with Pete Peters
last year at camp really helped him out. I can’t wait for him to
test himself at the Big League level.
GP: Edmonton’s No. 1
prospect in my mind is Robbie Schremp. I fell for the kid’s cockiness and
attitude when he was at rookie camp, and I mean that in a good way. I just
think it’s all there for him to be a big NHL success and he’s a kid that looks
bigger than you expect when he’s on skates and in equipment.
BS: Jeff Deslauriers. In spite of
his performance against the Golden Bears, I am convinced this guy is going to
be pretty damn good.
Topic #5: Which
prospect is the closest to cracking the Edmonton NHL roster?
Woywitka. He was the best player, by a longshot, at the rookie camp.
DM: I think it’s a tie between Jeff Woywitka and Doug
Lynch. I spent a lot of time watching these kids when I was working in
Red Deer. Woywitka is such a good skater, he reminds me of Ray
Bourque. He skates with his butt out and head up, he is tough to beat
one-on-one and he has some offensive upside. He does tend to forget where he is
sometimes, but that will come in time.
Doug Lynch is as tough as nails. He can scrap, hit, and he can
also find the net. He’s not as good a skater as Woywitka but he gets
by. He spent his first year in the WHL playing forward and didn’t look
out of place. The best feature about Lynch for me is, when he
scraps, he can switch hands…. ask a few guys in the WHL about that.
GP: That is a tough one. The defense situation looks tougher to crack
if you’re not already a Road Runner but I think there is room up front for
maybe Marc-Antoine Pouliot. I like his chances if he can stay healthy and if
not him then I go back to Schremp. If
you’re counting Road Runners then throw in Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers.
BS: Is Jani Rita still a
GF: Jeff Woywitka.
Topic #6: If
there were an NHL season this year and you were the Oilers GM, would you have
any rookies on the team? Who would be
It would be Woywitka and he’d get the roster spot Scott Ferguson had last
DM: I would give Lynch or Woywitka a shot
and to make room I would replace Cory Cross. He’s been a great player, but there comes a time when you have to
make room for the youngsters. I don’t know if I would play the kids all
the time as D-men don’t usually adjust right away to the NHL, but that’s the
beauty of having the farm team in town, your call ups are down the
hall. I would replace Cross with either Lynch or Woywitka, whoever is playing
better at the time, or a rotation of some sort.
GP: I’m not sure I
would put in any rookies but If I had to it would have to be on defense
with Doug Lynch or Jeff Woywitka as both look poised to play in the NHL very
soon. The reason I hesitate in bringing them up is because who do you get rid
of on the blueline? That is a strength of the Oilers but if they made a trade
there would be ample ability to replace the void.
BS: To me Cory Cross is close to
being on the bubble, with one of Lynch or Woywitka closing ground
GF: Woywitka would play
ahead of Cory Cross. Depending on his health,
I might consider parting ways with Marty Reasoner as well and inserting Mike
Bishai into the 23-man roster.
Topic #7: Would
you be willing to deal away some of Edmonton’s prospects if it meant acquiring
a true No. 1 center for the Oilers?
be willing to deal Jani Rita as part of a package for a top center, but he’d be
a throw in with somebody like, say, Eric Brewer or Georges Laraque.
DM: Yes I would, and I think that is what it
is going to take. This team needs someone down the middle that
can generate offense and scare the opposition.
GP: Yes I would deal prospects to
get a No. 1 center. That’s the great thing about having a stable of young
talent, package them together and you can get a proven NHL talent.
BS: Yes. The one problem with
Hockey’s Future as a site is that people totally overvalue every prospect! We
will see what happens with the lay of the land when everything is said and done
with the CBA, but if they can’t sign a decent guy down the middle, I wouldn’t
be surprised to see Brewer or Jason Smith, and a prospect forward, plus
one of Deslauriers or Dubnyk get moved for a top-end center, and yes,
it will take that much.
GF: I would and I expect
that might be what the Oilers also have in store because Kevin Lowe and Kevin
Prendergast have both made references to the Flyers and the Avalanche having
done the same on their way to acquiring top line players. When you’ve got six power forwards in the
system on the left side alone, you have options.
Topic #8: The tentative plan
for the rookie camp next summer is to have a mini-tournament involving EDM,
CGY, VAN and another NHL team. Which
NHL team would you like to include or would you prefer to keep the UofA
the U of A. It raises the level of competition for the NHL rookie teams.
DM: I would keep the U of A involved, I think it’s a
nice tradition and gives that program some good experience and
GP: I would stay with the U of A;
I like having a team that has no NHL connections. They are obviously good
players who didn’t quite have what it took, for whatever reason, to make the
NHL. It’s side benefit is a motivator that whatever the Oilers think of you, if
there isn’t the hard work or development your career could go the university
route instead of pro. That isn’t necessarily a terrible thing considering the
education a lot of these former WHL players get.
BS: I think the Bears have proven
over the last four years that they can play with the Oilers rookies, though in
fairness it is a very difficult game for a patchwork team to be thrown
together, facing a veteran Bears squad that has their systems in play. I guess
Colorado might be a good fit.
GF: I would like to see the
Golden Bears still involved but the games being played at Rexall Place instead
of at Clare Drake. I think the fan
interest would be higher as long as the ticket prices were still reasonably
priced (not like this year). Having the
Flames, Canucks, Oilers and Bears would be ideal.
Topic #9: Which
young prospect raised his stock the most during the rookie camp/games?
Schremp and Zach Stortini.
DM: Dean was on holidays in the vacation hotspot of Brandon, Manitoba
at the time so he’s going to pass on this question.
GP: Martin St. Pierre did well to go from rookie camp
to Road Runners camp. I think he will be a good AHL player but can he make the
transition to the NHL? I think it’s one the Oilers can afford to wait for to
BS: Martin St. Pierre. He has
offensive skill, something the Oilers have a shortage of at all levels.
GF: I’ll go a different
route and say Eddie Caron. There were a
great many critics who said he was a bust after two statistically brutal years
at UNH but he showed that at a pro level with players his own age, he could
still be very effective. He’s a project
but he’s put off bust status for now.
Topic #10: There
were five Oiler prospects involved in summer camps for their National Junior
teams. (Schremp for the U.S., Dubnyk
and Pouliot for Canada, Olsson for Sweden and Hrabal for the Czechs). After only having one player in the
tournament last year how many Oilers will be in the tourney this year?
RB: Another crystal ball
question. Let’s say two, you pick who.
DM: I think you will see Schremp, Pouliot,
Olsson make their respective teams.
GP: I think you’ll see all the
people listed at world juniors.
won’t make it, but Dubnyk has a chance to be Canada’s No. 1. I will say three
of those five will be in the mix.
GF: I’d like to say all five but I think if three made
it (Olsson, Dubnyk and Schremp) the Oilers would be happy with that. Personally I think Olsson is the only sure
Topic #11: How
well do you think the Road Runners will do in regards to average fan attendance
RB: My guess is they’ll
average 8,000 while the NHL is out.
DM: I think the longer the NHL stays
out the better they will do obviously. I think they will be at 70-80
percent capacity, but as the lockout drags on and the product improves they
will sell out more and more games.
GP: For fans I
think the Road Runners will be fine. I think the faithful will have to adjust
their mindset from the NHL to the AHL but I can’t see them not being able to
average around 10,000.
BS: I think they will
draw around 6000 a game, provided the NHL does not return.
GF: With season tickets
over the 6000 mark now I think it is very reasonable to expect an average of
9000 butts in the seats.
Topic #12: From
your ‘insider’ point of view, how do you expect the media coverage of the Road
Runners will compare to the media coverage the Oilers traditionally get?
the call of the different media outlets. At The Sun, we’re considering
covering them home and away, just as we usually do with the Oilers. If we go
that route, they won’t get quite as much play as the Oilers would, but they’ll
be the biggest story in town once the CFL season is over.
DM: I can only speak for us here at Global but
we plan to cover the RR just like we would cover the Oilers. I think
the biggest benefactor will be the Bears and Junior A hockey though.
GP: The media coverage will be
strong as they have the hockey spotlight. Their work in the community will help
them make a connection with the fans that maybe don’t yet recognize a lot of
the players. Continued media coverage may not be as much about post game and
pre game stories as it will be about telling stories about the specific players
and their background and what it took to get to this level and to make it to
the next one.
BS: Because of the Oilers rather "cozy"
relationship with some of the media outlets they will do extremely well
in wake of the Oilers absence. On Total Sports we are looking to do
three to four features on the ‘Runners, and provide them
with "fair" coverage.
GF: Of course I’ll be all
over it for Hockey’s Future; the relocation to Edmonton makes my job
definitely easier. However, with less
games on TV and the sporadic turnout of local media outlets through training
camp I would venture to guess that there will be noticeably less coverage than
with the Oilers.
Topic #13: Will
the Road Runners be a fixture in Edmonton after 2004-05 or are they merely a
stopgap until the NHL resumes operation?
Is there room for both teams in this market?
is too strong a word. Call the Road Runners a Plan B. They can complement the
Oilers once the NHL resumes, if management decides to keep them here. They
appeal to a different market segment in terms of ticket price so, yes, there’s
room for them in that sense. Don’t look for the Oilers to pull the plug on the
AHL after just one season. If they do that, they won’t recoup their "start
up" costs. Longer term, it’s difficult to say. Let’s
not forget, to assume the Oilers will be definitely be back is a mistake.
That’s not automatic. If the economics don’t change in the new CBA, the
Oilers are gone. We could become an AHL town permanently.
DM: I would like to see them remain past this
year, but I’m not sure the market is there for 80 home games at Rexall place,
even with the average ticket price being $20. I think they
will try and
stay past this year then head out of town.
GP: Yes I think the Road Runners
will stay here for more than one year as I think there is room for both Road
Runners and Oilers. Obviously Edmonton brought their AHL team here and once
they get accustomed to all the advantages of having them here they won’t want
to move them. I think if the CBA gets settled in a positive manner then the
Oilers can be the money maker for the organization and the Road Runners can be
a break even prospect or simply a farm team without a lot of pressure to
BS: I think the Oilers
made the best of a messy situation, but I am still convinced that you could see
the Saskatoon Blades come to Edmonton and ‘Runners get moved to ‘Toon
town, because I believe that a WHL team would co-exist better
with the Oilers.
GF: I still think Plan A is
a WHL team and that it was a fortunate, but unexpected, turn of events that
brought the Road Runners to Edmonton.
If there is the opportunity to “swap” the AHL team to Saskatoon for the
WHL squad there, I think that would be preferable to the Oilers. But only after the CBA deal is worked
out, only if that deal will be enough to keep the NHL in town and only if
the Blades’ ownership is interested in such a deal.
Topic #14: Which
Road Runner player are you most looking forward to seeing play this year?
RB: Jeff Deslauriers.
DM: Actually I am looking forward to seeing
Jarret Stoll play for the farm team. He was excellent with
the Oilers last season; I can only imagine what he’ll do in the AHL.
GP: I think I’m looking forward to
seeing Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers perform. The Oilers feel like he’s their goalie
of the not too distant future so I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s like
in net and what the transition is like from junior to pro.
BS: Woywitka, because of the
GF: Lots of guys come to
mind; JDD, Woywitka, Lynch, Bishai, Salmelainen, Cullen… but I think to narrow
it down to one I would say Brad Winchester.
I think it’s time to see what this kid can do and he’s primed for a
Topic #15: Will
the Road Runners make the playoffs?
DM: Yes, and win a playoff round as well.
GP: They made the playoffs as a
first year team so I can’t see any reason they won’t this year.
BS: Yes. I like Geoff Ward as a
Coach, as I am big believer in career coaches.
GF: It might come down to
the wire, especially with that monster road trip in March, but I think they
should get in.
Topic #16: Who
will lead the Road Runners in scoring this season?
RB: Jarret Stoll.
DM: Jarret Stoll.
GP: Either Jamie Wright or Jarret
BS: Mike Bishai.
GF: Mike Bishai or Tony
Topic #17: What AHL rule
differences from the NHL are you in favor of or dislike the most?
RB: I’m in favor of the no-touch icing the most,
although not nearly as much as Marty Reasoner, I’d bet. There have been a
handful of serious injuries under the NHL’s version of icing. And now, with the
goal lines moved back two feet, pursuing players have even less margin for
error in lunging at a puck that may or may not be icing. Least favorite is limiting puckhandling by goaltenders; it penalizes a
skill and that’s wrong.
DM: I hate the new rule about goalies only being
able to play the puck in certain areas. Let me emphasize the word
HATE. I think this is ridiculous, and devalues certain goalies, one of
them here in Edmonton being Tyler Moss. Playing the puck is a skill
goalies acquire, much like forwards practice different skills. You
wouldn’t outlaw one-timers but if you did, Brett Hull might not have half the
goals he has. I also think it will lead to injuries for D-men as soft
dump-ins to the corner are going to be scary.
GP: I like the goalie rule for
playing the puck behind the net and also the thicker red line and blue lines.
BS: I like the shoot-out after the
GF: I’ve come to like the
shootout rule but that’s been a 180-degree turnaround for me over the last few
years. On the other hand, I don’t like
the idea of restricting where a goalie can handle the puck, instead I would
have liked to see the league decide that a roaming goalie was no longer
Topic #18: Did anyone exceed
your expectations during the Road Runner training camp?
RB: Brad Winchester, Jeff Woywitka and Mike Bishai
exceeded my expectations. Woywitka is an NHL player now. He’s simply better
than everybody else on the roster.
DM: I liked what I saw
from Martin St. Pierre, little guy with a lot of skill. He’s speedy and I
can’t wait to see him use that through the bigger neutral zone. I also
liked Brad Winchester; a big guy that is in better shape then last year and has
something to prove.
GP: Dan Smith. This guy is big, can be mean and nasty and I
think even though the Oilers are stacked on defense there could be room for him
in the future.
BS: I didn’t see
enough of camp to judge.
GF: Mike Bishai and Mike
Morrison are both leaps and bounds ahead of where they were this time last
Topic #19: On the flip side
of the coin, have you been unimpressed with someone’s camp performance?
RB: Of the players who’ve made it to the roster, I
wasn’t impressed with Kyle Brodziak. He’s a rookie, so he gets some slack, but
he didn’t win a job based on his performance. He was given a spot to start the
season here because he’s a prospect.
DM: There hasn’t been anyone really that has
been that disappointing, I know the skates I have been to, Tony Salmelainen has
been a little snake-bitten around the net but I’m sure he will work through
GP: I guess my expectations were
maybe too great for Martin St. Pierre because I thought he would make the team.
BS: Same as topic #18.
GF: Both Brock Radunske and
Kyle Brodziak had pretty tame camps I thought but I’m willing to chalk that up
to them being rookies. Tyler Moss
looked too comfortable too me, but I didn’t see the Utah game where he was
supposedly really sharp.
Topic #20: The logo
question. Do you like the change from last year? How about the
change from Roadrunners to Road Runners?
RB: Great logo. It’s a Rat Fink knock-off, but it works.
The name change? Doesn’t matter.
DM: I like the logo, it looks a little mean, and
I think that should help. The old one looked more like Woody Woodpecker
than a roadrunner, and it still does, but maybe Woody on steroids. Two
words or one word doesn’t make a difference to me, as long as I spell it right
on the air!
GP: I like the idea and look of a
new logo. New city, new start, new logo…it all goes hand in hand.
BS: Jerseys and logos to me
are like officials; there are only two types – ones that really are God awful,
and then ones that you don’t really think about. Thankfully the RR logo is one
I haven’t really thought about.
GF: The Road Runners use
the Oilers third jersey as their main uniforms but the new logo they designed
this summer contains a lot of red in it which is not present anywhere
else. The regular Oiler sweater has red
piping on it but not so with the ‘Runners duds. Last year’s logo was outdated but at least the color scheme
matched the rest of the uniform.
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