Edmonton Oilers defenceman Vinny Desharnais didn’t get a chance to celebrate his first-ever NHL goal with a dance and a bunch of high-fives Sunday because it was a write-in on the official stats sheet well after Evander Kane had originally been credited with a deflection of the 50-foot Desharnais bouncer in the third period.
But, he wore the look of a guy who had just found a $100 bill in his pocket after the 5-2 win over the Calgary Flames. He had the puck, wrapped in white tape with the date and particulars written on it sitting in his stall in the Commonwealth Stadium.
The goal went in at 6:16 of the third to make it 4-2, and it wasn’t changed until 14 ½ minutes into the last period.
“When he got out of the (penalty) box, he said ‘It’s yours.’ Nobody knew it was my first one…I don’t know how they didn’t know that, but, hey this is a pretty cool environment to get your first one,” joked Desharnais.
“The guys (Oiler staff) tracked it down (goal puck). My parents will probably get it.”
The puck skipped off the ice and went off the foot of Calgary defenceman Dennis Gilbert and sailed top shelf into the net behind Jacob Markstrom, who was the sole reason it was only 3-2 going to the final 20 minutes where the Oilers got two after just one third-period goal in the first seven games this season.
“I don’t think it was top shelf when it went off my stick,” said Desharnais. “I knew the goal was big but I didn’t care who got it. I threw my arms in the air when we won, not after the goal. But I just wanted to win the game.”
“Big goal, big, big moment for us. You need somebody to stick a dagger in a situation like that. I thought all night long he was really good,” said teammate Leon Draisaitl.
Desharnais got a penalty midway through the second on A.J. Greer too, where he knocked him to the ice. It was a pretty suspect, looking like a six-foot-seven D just used his size against a smaller forward.
“I won’t comment on the refereeing. But I thought it was a hard one-on-one battle. I wasn’t happy when they scored with one second left on the power play (Greer to make it 3-2 Oilers). Next time I see the ref I will talk to him to see what I can and cannot do. It’s hard to find the line,” he said.
Blue collar cosplay
The Oilers walked into the stadium en masse Sunday dressed like oil rig workers with their hard hats and blue/yellow coveralls with blue shades. “Blue-collar, let’s go to work,” said Oiler winger Zach Hyman with Connor McDavid and Draisaitl also favouring hard hats as kids during the Rogers Place construction photo-op.
The visiting Flames trooped off their bus in cowboy hats and boots and coveralls, bare-chested. No shirts until game time Sunday. “We look great, I think,” said Andrew Mangiapane. The Flames’ look was apparently Nazem Kadri’s assist, a good thing because the forward had struggled on the ice before scoring his first goal of the year on a first-period redirect of a MacKenzie Weegar shot.
Bottom line: you’ve got to impact the game in different ways if you’re Kadri.
Former Habs’ goalie Jose Theodore, who famously wore a toque over his mask at the first Heritage Classic and became an instant celebrity, was in the house Sunday as a look-back to that iconic game 20 years ago this November, but neither Oiler starter Stuart Skinner nor his Flames counterpart Jacob Markstrom wore one.
Wasn’t cold enough (3.1 C at game time after -18 at puck drop in 2003) and Markstrom, who got an assist on Greer’s goal, didn’t need to keep his ears warm.
He already had the warm-all-over look.
Artist Jordon Bourgeault designed Markstrom’s special game mask with a painted (grey, white and red) knitted wool toque picture, perfect for the Calgary tender, who was the ultimate Mr. Cool. JBo Airbrush of Calgary created the mask, which also had a Flames logo on the side of the knit toque.
The Oilers had the game’s first eight shots on Markstrom while Skinner skated out of his net repeatedly to keep from freezing his feet. “I thought it was pretty nice early that he (Markstrom) got to stay warm,” laughed Skinner, who chose not to wear a toque. “Why not? I dunno. I think I just wanted everybody to see Grant Fuhr’s (old) mask.”
Kane a force
Kane was all over the stats sheet with a goal and two assists, six shots, six hits and two penalties.
“That’s why we signed him,” said Desharnais. “He’s doing his job, getting under people’s skin, so guys are all over him and he’s just laughing. He’s wearing sunglasses in warmup, that’s just him.”
Kane was mic’ed up for the game. During one of the scrums, he could be heard saying “What is anybody gonna do?” No swears for the cameras. PG stuff, not R-rated. Kane not too worried about mitts being dropped was this Oiler.
Skinner at home
Skinner didn’t go to the first Heritage Classic in 2003 because he wasn’t even in grade 1 yet and it was far too cold, but winning a game at Commonwealth for a local boy was special.
“I grew up watching all the Eskimos and Elks games. I actually was going to go to their game this year (to end their home losing streak) but I missed their first one (W). I love the atmosphere here in this place, and the great hot dogs. To win here (outdoor game), growing up here, it’s very near and dear to my heart,” said Skinner.
Draisaitl vehemently debated a first-period penalty for playing with a broken stick along the boards with Flames Elias Lindholm to put the Oilers down two guys with Kane in the box. He had a point because he had kicked the puck to safety. “I’m not sure what I got the penalty for but it was a great kill by the guys,” said Draisaitl.
Section 10.3 of the NHL rulebook says a player has to immediately drop his stick on the play. Draisaitl didn’t, or not fast enough for the zebras. He had the stick in his mitts while kicking the puck. Calgary had three shots on the 81-second five-on-three advantage but didn’t score, then Draisaitl got some instant karma. He came out of the box to set up Hyman on a 2-on-1 to make it 2-zip.
This ‘n that
Mattias Janmark, who was going to be on the fourth line didn’t play for the Oilers. He did practise Saturday but reportedly had a sling on at a team function Friday night so perhaps he hurt his shoulder in the 3-0 loss to the New York Rangers Thursday… The Oiler PK has been maligned this season but it saved them early when they were shorthanded twice 5-on-3… Flames winger Jonathan Huberdeau was once again far too silent with one second assist on Kadri’s PP goal. He played 16 minutes but continues to be a shadow of his old self… The Oilers welcomed back a number of their 2003 first Heritage Classic roster for a first intermission salute: Fernando Pisani, Raffi Torres, Jarret Stoll, Ales Hemsky, Jason Chimera, Georges Laraque and Marty Reasoner, along with coaches Billy Moores, Craig Simpson, who was doing colour with Chris Cuthbert on the TV feed, Charlie Huddy and Pete Peeters, GM Kevin Lowe, and equipment guys Barrie Stafford and Lyle Kulchisky… Commonwealth Stadium became the fifth outdoor facility to host two NHL games. The others: Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Heinz Field and Edgewood Tahoe Resort… Kadri is an old hand at hockey outside. This was his fourth outdoor game, so been there, done that…Jack Michaels and Bob Stauffer did the CHED radio play-by-play at field level next to the penalty box. Same for radio voice Derek Wills and Meaghan Mikkelson, who just retired from playing internationally for Canada, on the Calgary side of things.. “I do have some warmers for my feet,” said Wills, who only had dress shoes…. Raphael Lavoie is making it difficult for the Oilers to keep him down on the farm with four goals and seven points in his first five games in Bakersfield. He even had a spirited fight Saturday with Travis Barron who picked the scrap, in a 5-1 Condors’ W over Tucson… J.J. Watt, the retired, fantastic defensive end, offered up a haberdashery critique of the Oilers Heritage Classic royal blue and jersey, gold pants and gold gloves. “Oilers uniforms look absolutely incredible. There is no denying that,” said Watt on X, the old twitter. He’s right. Calgary’s were more traditional, red and white, with some orange lettering for Calgary on the logo. Watt loves hockey. He grew up in Wisconsin and played from four to 13 years old until his football prowess took over… No helmets in the pre-game warmup. Toques all around for the skaters, both teams… As expected, the Oilers went with seven D Sunday, dressing Vincent Desharnais…. One of the oddities of playing in football stadiums for hockey players is the vastness of the dressing room for the home side. The Oilers were in the Elks’ quarters, a room big enough for 45 active CFL players for games. Calgary had to dress in the much smaller visiting CFL room… Flames top defenceman Rasmus Andersson sat out the fourth and final game of his suspension for a last-second hit on Patrik Laine… Calgary was also without forward Adam Ruzicka (shoulder), who skated Saturday, but didn’t dress.