Sam Gagner preps for new season
Saturday, 19 December 2009
Originally published in Eishockey News in 2009
By Lucas Aykroyd
Sam Gagner has a long way to go to catch up with his father Dave. To be precise, Sam trails by 791 career NHL games and 629 points. But the 20-year-old Edmonton Oilers center is gradually learning what it’ll take to match the consistency of the senior Gagner, who played for seven NHL franchises between 1984 and 1999.
Sam got a first-hand lesson during the last week of August at the inaugural Euro-Can Cup tournament in London, Ontario. It pitted current NHL and minor-league alumni of the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights against Austrian, Swiss, and German pro teams: EHC Black Wings Linz, EV Zug and EHC München.
In London’s opening 7-2 win over Linz, Sam’s father was a surprise last-minute addition to the roster since the 2009 first-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, London native Nazem Kadri, was unavailable due to having his wisdom teeth removed. Both Gagners scored a pair of goals in the victory, a rare feat indeed. (Gordie Howe and Mark Howe might have done it in the 1970’s WHA, but who else?)
“I’m pretty excited,” said Sam, who racked up 118 points with the Knights in 2006-07. “Playing in front of the London fans again is a huge thrill for me.”
The Euro-Can Cup marked the second time Sam Gagner has performed with Knights alumni. Last summer, he participated in a seven-game exhibition tour of Germany and Austria in support of Shoot for a Cure, a charity for spinal cord injury research. Due to the risk of injury, some NHL clubs might object to their contracted players suiting up in games like these. But not the Oilers, who almost always encourage their players to go to the IIHF World Championships.
“The Oilers told me, ‘Just do what you need to do to get ready for our training camp,’” Gagner explained. “I feel like this is the best thing for me. Getting a chance to play games before camp and work on my timing is extremely beneficial. I can still continue my workouts and get ready for the NHL season.”
Preparation is crucial. Gagner only managed eight points before Christmas last year, and needed a late-season surge to finish with 16 goals and 25 assists. He had a rotating cast of linemates that often included Robert Nilsson, Andrew Cogliano, and Erik Cole (now with Carolina). Heading into his third NHL season, Gagner chooses to put a positive spin on his sophomore scoring drought.
“All along I felt like I had improved a lot over the summer and my rookie year,” Gagner recalled. “Things just weren’t happening offensively for me. It just goes to show you how big of a mental game it is. I learned a lot from the coaches and veterans about what it takes to be a consistent player. I feel like I’m continuing to make strides, and next year will be a better one.”
It needs to be better not only for Gagner, but also for the Oilers, who have missed the playoffs for three straight years after losing to Carolina in Game Seven of the 2006 Stanley Cup finals.
In 2009-10, Russian veteran Nikolai Khabibulin could prove to be an upgrade over Dwayne Roloson in goal. But even more anticipation surrounds new head coach Pat Quinn and associate coach Tom Renney, both of whom have guided Canada to Olympic gold medal games (in 2002 and 1994 respectively) but have never captured the Cup. Will Gagner’s offensive instincts mesh well with the new bench bosses’ uptempo style?
“They’re unbelievable coaches,” said Gagner. “They’ve got winning records and great reputations. When I go into training camp, I’m going to be told what’s expected of me, and will try to fulfill that as much as possible.”
Sounds kind of like listening to your father, eh?