“There aren’t actual Edmonton Oilers fans, are there?”
I heard this playful comment after I told a group of ladies that I needed to hurry home to watch the Oilers’ game.
“I mean, they’re doing so badly, who could actually cheer for them?”
I always appreciate a well-constructed bit of sass. But, I’m a girl who grew up in Sherwood Park in the 1980s and 1990s. I have distinct memories of gathering around our tiny television to watch Gretzky and Messier fly around the ice. Despite being so young, I understood that Edmonton was on an intense, hockey-fueled high. No matter who you talked to about hockey, they knew exactly what the Oilers were up to – everyone from a mullet-clad head-banger to an NHL-obsessed grandmother.
As a young girl, hockey was not on the top of my priority list. But, as an adult, I remember the moment I re-discovered Canada’s favourite game.
I spent much of my youth in Edmonton listening to Nirvana and Tom Waits in dimly-lit bedrooms, writing stories on scraps of paper. I also had over-the-top artist friends who took every opportunity to read their brilliant and absurd poetry in my ear, often in the most awkward scenarios. Sitting on a bench in the middle of a food court, hearing stories from budding writers was strange, but exciting.
One night, my friends decided to go to a sports bar to share our newest haikus and prose. With my back to a twenty-foot screen, we were unaware of an important Oilers’ game against the Dallas Stars that was about to begin. I kept noticing groups of fiery-eyed patrons rolling into the establishment, wearing their Gretzky and Smyth jerseys. After the Oilers scored their first goal, a packed room of (what appeared to be) total maniacs stood on the tables, howling joyously at the screen. Completely unfazed waitresses slipped in and out of cheering customers who were, literally, on the edge of their seats.
Despite the insanity, my friend continued to read words in my ear. And, while he tried desperately to recite over the hoots and hollers, he eventually gave up. Our attention had completely shifted to the elated hockey fanatics, banging their fists on bar stools. It was the first time I had watched an Oilers game without my family and I knew, right then, that I was hooked.
“How can you say there are no actual Oilers fans? Don’t you remember the Edmonton riots in 2006?”
“Yes, but the rioters at the Canucks game weren’t hockey fans.”
In 2006, I was living beside Mill Creek ravine in a neighborhood situated on the east end of Whyte Avenue. I was attending classes at University of Alberta, which is close to the extreme west end of the same street. Getting home was never a problem. Buses would regularly run from one end of Whyte Avenue to the other and I would usually be home in fifteen minutes. Walking home was doable, but it took an hour, depending on my route.
During the Edmonton hockey riots of 2006, the buses did not run down Whyte Avenue – it would have been impossible to do so. The reroute was so far away from the action that it would take an hour or two to pick up new passengers at the university. The riots went on for a full week, completely blocking Whyte Avenue, from 107th to 99th street. Being a people watcher, I would often make the hour-long trek home to see the insanity first-hand.
Amongst the rioters, loyalty to the Oilers was sometimes unclear. Did they gather with other hockey fans to express their extreme delight about the fact that their favourite team was in the playoffs? Or, were they just interested in climbing roofs, setting fires, and flashing their privates? Being in the middle of the action, it was obvious that the Oilers maybe possibly winning a Stanley Cup was in the forefront of all the chants, hollers and high-fives. It was just a giant handful of nitwits who were making the scene look zombie apocalyptic. Hockey riots often start with overzealous fans, but then attract the foolish onlookers who are just there to smash and steal.
My love for the Edmonton Oilers is still great. Moving to Fort St. John has taught me to love the game even more. Fort St. John is a diehard hockey town and there are enthusiasts that follow teams from all over the league. I’ve met many loyal fans of the Canucks, but also the Bruins, Habs, Leafs, Red Wings… and, unfortunately, Flames.
I’m joking about the Calgary Flames, but I wouldn’t be an actual Edmonton Oilers fan unless I threw some sass their way. As Stompin’ Tom says, “The best game you can name is the good ‘ol hockey game!”