THURSDAY’S STORY LINE: On Aug. 25, 1982, Oilers defenseman Nick Schultz was born in Strasbourg, Saskatchewan. Four and a half months later, on January 10, 1983, Wild defenseman Tom Gilbert was born in Bloomington, Minn.
Like many young boys growing up and Canada and Minnesota, the two dreamed of playing in the NHL. In 2000, Schultz’s NHL dream was close to becoming a reality when he was drafted by the Minnesota Wild.
On Oct. 14, 2001, Schultz played his first NHL game for the Wild. It was against the Edmonton Oilers and it was the first of 743 games he would eventually go on to play for Minnesota. The 30-year old still holds the franchise record for most games played.
As Schultz was finishing his first season with the Wild in 2001-02, Gilbert’s NHL dream was closer to becoming a reality. Gilbert was selected in the 2002 NHL entry draft by the Colorado Avalanche.
Gilbert never played a game for Colorado because he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers during the 2003-04 season. Gilbert played his first NHL game with the Oilers on Jan. 10, 2007. It was the first of 384 games he played for Edmonton.
Gilbert was the Minnesota boy living out his NHL dream in Edmonton, while Schultz was playing out his dream in Minnesota.
On Feb. 27, 2012, the two defenseman’s paths were altered. The then 29-year-olds were traded for each other.
Minnesota was looking for more of a puck-moving defeseman, and Gilbert fit the mold. The Oilers were looking for a solid, stay-at-home veteran defenseman. Schultz was it.
“If you look at the trade, I am sure both teams got what they were looking for,” Gilbert said.
While hockey-wise the trade made sense, the news came as a shock to both players.
“It came as a big surprise. … I had no idea,” Gilbert said after a recent practice at Edmonton. “It didn’t even cross my mind, so when it happened it was a big surprise. Playing for the same team for six years, you never think you will leave.”
Schultz and his wife, Jessica, had planted deep roots in Minnesota, and at the time the news was surprising.
“It is something where it was hard to leave Minnesota,” he said. “We really enjoyed it there and enjoyed being there. I think same with Tom here, he enjoyed being in Edmonton; it was a shock for both guys, but now you kind of move on and move forward. He is back home, I am a little closer to home here, playing a team that I kind of cheered for and rooted for growing up, which is kind of fun. So hopefully it has worked out for both teams.”
While adjusting to the surroundings may have come easy, adjusting to new teams and new systems didn’t.
“Being on a team for so many years it is the same thing over and over,” Gilbert said. “The same kind of system the same players. You know everybody, you know where they are going to be on the ice, what kind of players they are. So, going to Minnesota it just was a big adjustment to quickly learn the system as quick as I can.”
Almost a year later, both players have adjusted to their new teams, and Thursday night in Edmonton both Schultz and Gilbert will face their former teams for the first time — something both players are looking forward to.
“It will be a fun game playing against the guys you played with for six years,” Gilbert said.
Schultz was able to catch up with some of his former teammates and team trainers Wednesday night at dinner and is looking forward to seeing them on the ice.
“It is exciting looking forward to tonight and kind of getting it over with,” he said. “It is going to be strange playing against the team that I was drafted by and played for, for a lot of years, but I am excited to get out there.”
LINEUP NEWS: Justin Falk, Zenon Konopka and Johan Larsson will be healthy scratches against the Oilers. Niklas Backstrom is expected to be in net.