With Saturday’s amazing victory over the Ducks, The Edmonton Oilers have secured a spot in the Big Show. The Stanley Cup finals. The stuff of street hockey dreams. The dream that Edmonton fans have been dreaming for over a decade. This is a huge deal. And not just for the city and for hockey in Edmonton and Canada in general, but for the citizenry. I know of no other event that inspires 20,000 people to burst onto the streets in spontaneous displays of happiness (and drunken idiocy, as the case may be). Of course, 90%+ of the people currently enjoying the Oilers’ run, myself included1, were nowhere to be found in the regular season. As my love Justine, fairest of fair weather fans, stated when buying her Oilers car flag this past weekend, “This isn’t about hockey. It’s about community. And heroes.”
It’s true. Nothing galvanizes this town more than a winning hockey team. I was a boy of twelve when the Oilers won their first Stanley Cup in ’84. The exploits of Gretzky, Kurri, Fuhr, Messier, Anderson, and Coffey are forever imprinted in my brain, as is the image of young Gretzky hoisting the cup over his head. An amazing, and proudly embellished memory. I haven’t been a huge hockey fan for many years, and I’m still not, but this past weekend I pulled out my prized Gretzky autographed hockey cards. Just to remember. Back in ’84, I waited in line for three hours to get his autograph. Those cards are among my most prized possessions, even though they sit in a dusty drawer most of the time. Will today’s young Oilers fans remember Smyth, Pronger, and Roloson in the same way? I hope so. I dearly do. We all need childhood heroes. We all need our own “golden age of hockey”, as Ken Dryden famously noted2.
Then there are the celebrations, shenanigans, bare titties, bonfires, stabbings, and general shitheaded mayhem on Whyte Avenue. While the stupidity of a few jackasses makes for good headlines around the country, this run at The Cup is far more than just an excuse to party. It’s a place and time revisited. We’ve been here before and we know it’s sweet and fleeting. It’s been a fuckuva long time since we last drank from The Cup. I think we’ve been longing for hockey heroes. We need players, and people in general, who inspire us to believe that anything is possible. That an eighth place team, whose playoff entry depended on another team’s loss (not win, not tie, but loss), could win the prize coveted by every red-blooded Canadian. And I think that most of us in this city believe, whether we just started to or have for many years.
Here’s to the Oilers, bringing home The Cup.
1 I went to three games this past season. I paid for two of them.
2 “The Golden Age of Hockey was when you were eleven years old.“ – Ken Dryden
StreetRag is an urban weblog and podcast about the city of Edmonton, which is located in the province of Alberta, Canada. It is authored by Edmonton-based writer, web advocate, and poet Michael Gravel and is updated frequently with written urban vignettes, amateurish photographs, deuteronomous audio material, barely coherent musings and rambling ecumenical treatises. StreetRag is a love letter to a lonely prairie burg struggling with its big city ambitions and small-town feel.
The city is Edmonton. It's a subject, not a passion. E-Town is almost universally derided by outsiders as an unlivable tundra wasteland populated by oil-hungry redneck conservatives who despise the arts. All of that is true. But it's not the whole story. There is beauty here. Dusty snowfalls. Brilliant summers. A stunning river valley. A diverse arts community that flourishes. It's a place that inspires a gray relationship - not all good, not all shitty. For that reason alone it is lovable, for what is life but a grayscale?