I went to my first game when I was five years old. At that point, I was more concerned about stuffing my face with coliseum snacks and hot dogs than I was about hockey. Playoffs were a fairly regular occurrence in this point in time for the Oilers.
My first true Oilers memory that still holds through the test of time is Game 7 in 1997 against the Dallas Stars (one of our biggest rivals at the time): Curtis Joseph with the immaculate glove save, and Todd Marchant streaking down the right side behind the defenseman and tucking it upstairs to clinch the series. I was watching with my family, and the entire room roared a boisterous cheer. This is truly what sparked my passion for hockey and the Edmonton Oilers -- sharing these memories with people I care about, and celebrating the success of the Oilers as if it were our own.
After that, season after season the Oilers carved an identity of being a gritty, hardworking team. This was confirmed in 2006, when we just squeaked into the playoffs and made the incredible cup run. I was fortunate enough to be at game 6 against the Detroit Red Wings, who, at the time, were top dogs coming into the postseason. Down 2-0, the Pisani led the charge back scoring two to bring the boys right back into the game. Rexall Place erupted with cheer and began taunting Detroit’s netminder Manny Legace. Drawn out chants of “Manny…Manny” filled the stadium and surely got to the goalie’s head.
With the score 3-3 and just over a minute left, Sergei Samsonov connected a cross-ice feed to Ales Hemsky, who buried a one-timer to clinch the first series win in eight years. Rexall Place was electric, just as the playoff slogan entailed. Chants of “Let’s go Oilers, Calgary sucks” roared across the coliseum. What a time to be an Oilers fan, with the entire city honking horns and waving flags, celebrating as one.
After every goal and every win, the city would erupt with car honking and cheering. Oilers fans on the streets became instant friends, and Whyte Ave became the hotspot destination postgame. This city and its people were almost completely unified to the naked eye, and I haven’t seen that type of pride and enthusiasm since.
Then began the “Decade of Darkness.” Chris Pronger almost immediately left the city after playoffs resulting from a widely-rumoured off-ice incident. He had to leave Edmonton “for personal reasons.” His first game back as an Anaheim Duck, there was a sign in the crowd that perfectly chirped Pronger. It read “I hate Pronger… For personal reasons.” His departure opened the floodgates for a dumping of talented players such as Jarret Stoll and Ryan Smyth to begin phase one of the rebuild. Oilers began to lose their identity as being a hard-working, gritty team, and instead became the laughingstock of the league.
As a teenager and a young adult, every off-season renewed optimism within myself and the city, only to have our hearts broken by mid-December. I don’t think anyone expected the process of rebuilding to keep us from the postseason for ten full seasons.
Yet, despite the perennial basement-dwelling Oilers, we the fans stuck by their side. Sure, many people complained and rightfully so, but Rexall continued to sell out, and our loyatly never quivered.
Perhaps the hockey gods recognized this, and the second coming of the Great One was sent our way. On June 26, 2015, the Edmonton Oilers drafted Connor McDavid, which sparked an exponential change of culture within the Edmonton Oilers.
New star player, new stadium, new coach, new management, and newly refreshed optimism. Things weren’t going to be the same under the new regimen, and they certainly aren’t. Our Edmonton Oilers are currently poised to make the NHL Playoffs for the first time since a teary goodbye in 2006. Intensity continues to rise both on and off the ice, and is acting as a perfect segue into the playoffs.
I think I can speak for a large quantity of Oilers fans when I say I’ve been waiting my entire adulthood for this moment. The general temperament of the city has moved in a positive direction. Oilers fans are reinvigorated and starving for playoff hockey, the car flags are starting to prop back up throughout the city, and a sense of companionship is developing once again within the fan base. What an exciting time to be in this great city, cheering on a team we can all be proud of.
It’s difficult to put into words how much this means to myself and fellow Oilers fans. I still get goosebumps thinking of the 2006 playoff run, and I know that this team has the potential to overshadow those distant memories. Savour it, Edmontonians! I’ll be out there celebrating with you. We can share more than just beers and cheers; we can also share the memories we’re about to make. It’s more than just a game: it’s a part of our identity