I posted something about the Oilers on social media a week or two ago and my sister said, “Wait. Why are you watching hockey?” and I said, “Because playoffs and bandwagons?”
But that’s not true. Not entirely.
It is true that I don’t watch regular season games, but I’ve loved the Oilers for quite some time now so I don’t think I can really claim to be jumping on a bandwagon. Not really.
I’ve always sort of resisted the idea that one should choose a sports team to cheer for based on proximity. It’s kinda ridiculous when you think about it, especially since if you’re talking about major league sports (and for the sake of this blog post I’ll be talking about the NHL) most of the players on that team probably came from away.
I grew up in Southern Alberta. Hockey was integral to life where I lived–you either played it or watched it or both. I spent a fair amount of time in arenas and I loved it. The game. The food.There’s something about the smell of an arena, of the ice… but I digress.
The closest NHL team to me geographically was the Calgary Flames. So I cheered for the Flames. I never really felt an affinity for them but everyone I knew cheered for the Flames (probably because those were the games we saw most on television), so I did too.
As I got a bit older we moved to a different town, still in Southern Alberta, still in the Flames catchment area. Hockey was slightly less of a Big Deal there, but still plenty big enough. I started collecting hockey cards (I still have them. Well, most of them. My brother used some of my ProSet cards as target practice. Because that’s what brothers are for, amirite?).
I developed a thing for goalies. My favourites were Manon Rhéaume:
and Patrick Roy:
So while I still vocally cheered for the Flames I also quietly cheered for Montreal.
But I never really felt like either of those teams were my teams.
Some years later I had a baby, and I was going to school, and working and, well, hockey pretty much dropped entirely off my radar. Then I met Jo, fell in love and moved to Edmonton to live with him.
I grew up on farms and in small towns and then suddenly here I was in Edmonton, the “big” city. And when I first moved in with Jo the neighbourhood we lived in was one of the more poverty and crime-stricken ones in the whole city. There were used condoms and hypodermic needles in the grass up against the playground’s fence, lots of prostitutes and homeless people and more than once our street was blocked off by the police. One house across the street from us was a drug house that had an armed dude standing at its gate once a month or so (during delivery days, I assume), while another had working girls coming and going all the time. To say I found the transition from town to city difficult would be a huge understatement.
We moved to a different part of the city not long after but despite the fact my mother now referred to Jo, Dani and I as ‘city folk’ I still didn’t feel comfortable. We were pretty far away from downtown or Whyte Avenue and buses made me anxious (What if I took the wrong one? What if I missed my stop?) and I didn’t know anyone except Jo’s family, Dani’s teacher and a couple neighbours who I had nothing in common with (and who played their music far too loud). Jo was worried I was turning into a “weird hermit” (his words LOL) but I didn’t know what to do about it. I was completely out of my element and floundering more than a little.
We bought a house (in part to get away from the loud neighbours) and moved again. This neighbourhood suited me better. It was central, but not too central. I could walk anywhere I needed to go, but it was also right on a major bus line. I started to settle into this new location, this new life, but still… a bit out of my element.
And then the Oilers made the playoffs and I started paying attention to hockey again.
It was in the air.
By the time the Oilers made it to the finals hockey was everywhere. People were talking about it on the radio, in stores, on the streets. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing Oilers colours–painted on the windows of businesses, worn on people’s backs or on flags hanging off cars.
It was awesome.
Once the Oilers got to the Stanley Cup finals I was in love, and not just with the team but with the city.
The games were broadcast everywhere. I’d go to the grocery store, Canadian Tire, a restaurant–it didn’t matter–the game would be playing overhead. I’d run into the gas station for a pop and ask the stranger behind the counter “What’s the score?” and not only find out but start a whole conversation. When games were won our quiet little residential neighbourhood erupted in honking horns and airhorns and shouts and celebrations. I felt like it brought everyone together–the whole city.
For that little window in time the Oilers made Edmonton feel like a small town and I fell in love with it. And that is why I love the Edmonton Oilers. Why they are my team. It’s not because of proximity, it’s because of that feeling they inspired in me. The role they played in my finding my home.
I don’t watch regular season games (and for far too long that’s all we’ve had here in Edmonton) but my team has made the playoffs again and it feels good. Man it feels good.
LET’S GO OILERS!