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A Jussi role

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Markkanen may get the start tonight against former Oilers teammate Ty Conklin
Joanne Ireland, The Edmonton Journal
Published: Wednesday, January 31, 2007

EDMONTON - They sat side-by-side in the locker room, competed toe-to-toe for playing time in the Oilers net, then veered off in very different directions.

Jussi Markkanen stepped into the spotlight in the Stanley Cup final before settling in as this season's backup; Ty Conklin headed to obscurity. But as fate would have it, there is every chance Markkanen and Conklin will be standing at opposite ends of the ice at Rexall Place tonight, each determined to make a save, a stand ... a statement.

Conklin, who went from the NHL's free-agent market to the AHL's Syracuse Crunch, was called up by the Blue Jackets following knee surgery to Pascal Leclaire. Conklin was then elevated into the role of starter after Fredrik Norrena left the ice Saturday with a groin injury.

"That's always good to keep in mind, that things change in a hurry -- either way. You just can't get comfortable, you have to push to get better every day," Markkanen said. "That's what he has done and that's what I have tried to do, too.

"If I play (tonight), it would be great. It doesn't change much when the game starts, but it would be fun because we know him so well."

Markkanen made his 11th appearance of the season in Saturday's 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings, and played so well that he positioned himself for a second straight start.

Head coach Craig MacTavish wouldn't say whether he will stick with the Finnish veteran tonight or go back to Dwayne Roloson, but he did say he fully expects Conklin to play like he has something to prove.

"If motivation counts for anything, it will be a pretty good performance on his part because I'm sure he's highly motivated," MacTavish said. "I know how competitive he is, how he would frame this situation. He would be looking at it as a great opportunity, as most guys would. We're going to try and make it tough on him in this building, as tough as we can."

Conklin played his first game for Edmonton in 2002 and his last in a fateful playoff relief appearance against the Carolina Hurricanes last June. Markkanen, who hadn't played a regular-season game since March, took over from there -- and now it is Markkanen and Roloson who sit side by side.

Roloson has played in 44 of the Oilers' 50 games.

"I think about last year," Markkanen said. "I played regularly before the Olympic break; then after that I didn't play at all. It is a little bit different this year, but you just try to adjust and be ready.

"Obviously it isn't the perfect situation, but you just have to work hard -- and it is still a good spot to be in because you challenge yourself every day to be ready," said Markkanen. "Some days are harder than the others, but whether you start every 10th game or every second game or nine out of 10 games, your job is to stop the next puck. Then if you're winning, it's easier for the coaching staff to put you back in."

"Obviously, it pushes you," Roloson said, "but we really are pushing each other to get the final result, which is to get a playoff spot. It's just a unique situation because you don't find that in too many other sports, where you have two guys who are good friends battling for the same job. And it is great when he plays well. It's great for the team."

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