Oilers prospects strut their stuff with Fighting Sioux


Centre Chris Vande Velde can't brag, at least not with portfolio, about his latest attempt at fitting in with the boys on the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux hockey team.


Centre Chris Vande Velde can't brag, at least not with portfolio, about his latest attempt at fitting in with the boys on the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux hockey team.

"We all decided to grow moustaches this year," the Edmonton Oilers draft pick said before departing for the NCAA Frozen Four playoffs which begin today at Denver's Pepsi Center.

"Mine is coming in pretty thick, as you can see."

At six-foot-two, 204 pounds, Vande Velde cuts an intimidating figure. But his playoff moustache? Nothing more than a patch of fuzz.

"Yeah, it's kind of at the bottom of the scale," he said. "But it's just for fun. Kind of a superstitious thing."

The Oilers are sure to keep a close eye tonight on the action from Denver as Vande Velde, defenceman Taylor Chorney and the Fighting Sioux take on Boston College in one sudden-death Frozen Four semifinal.

Notre Dame and Michigan clash in the other semifinal. The winners advance to Saturday's NCAA championship game.

"It's a little bit different from the playoffs in Canada where you have seven-game series," said Chorney, 20. "That's awesome, too. You get to develop a little bit more hate for your opponent.

"For us, it's one game and you're done. So that one game you're playing is so intense.

"You've got your lives on the line. We kind of thrive in that situation."

Fighting Sioux defenceman Joe Finley (Washington Capitals), forward T.J. Oshie (St. Louis Blues) and Chorney all turned down professional offers last year for one more shot at an NCAA title.

The time has arrived, and the entire town of Grand Forks is buzzing. Forget about the world men's curling championship. Hockey fans are driving 14 hours through the night to watch their beloved Fighting Sioux.

Those stuck at home have already reserved the best tables near big screen televisions in bars all over town.

"My dad won a championship here in 1980," said Chorney, the son of former NHL defenceman Marc Chorney. "I wasn't even born then, but he's told me plenty of stories about that and how close he is, still to this day, with those teammates from back then.

"We've built those same kind of relationships throughout this year, Now it's time to finish it off."

Eager to earn NHL jobs

The Oilers selected Chorney in the second round (36th overall) of the 2005 NHL entry draft. The six-foot, 182-pounder is blessed with outstanding speed and puck-moving ability.

In 42 games this year, he has three goals and 21 assists along with 24 penalty minutes.

Chorney is expected to sign with the Oilers at the conclusion of the Frozen Four. He said he can't wait for the chance to fight for a job and potentially crack the lineup of such a young, exciting NHL team.

"I think it gives me hope," he said. "They're willing to give young guys some chances.

"For a defenceman, it seems like a lot of guys now are really gearing themselves to the offensive side of the puck. But you can't play at the next level or at any level if you're not good in your own end. My dad has always taught me to take care of your own end, and then have fun when you get the puck and make some plays."

The Oilers selected Vande Velde in the fourth round (97th overall) of the 2005 draft. The 21-year-old power forward

is expected to return to the University of North Dakota for at least one more season.

In 42 games this year, he scored 15 goals and 17 assists and garnered 38 penalty minutes.

"The whole season has gone well," he said. "I play on the power play. I play in all situations. I've had a good year to my standards.

"Being a power forward is my game. I like going to the net. I like being physical."

Especially with a national championship on the line.