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Fresh starts, fresh tracks

July 4, 2011

Oilers rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins addresses the media on the first day of prospect development camp. Photo courtesy of the Edmonton Journal.

This is an article about fandom. And my teams. And why I like them. I write a lot about the Bruins, since, well, born out of geography, I bleed black and gold. But I have expanded this past year, and I want to expand my writing as well. And so, in these next four posts, I will write about my four teams. “My” is a strange thing to write when it’s followed by “four teams,” but hey.

They are the Bruins, the Blackhawks, the Islanders and the Oilers. Starting backwards here, we will commence with the Oil.

I like the Oilers. I have a few hunches as to why, because there are lot of reasons I shouldn’t. Yeah, sure, there’s Gretzky, but I wasn’t alive then. I really took to them since the drafting of Taylor Hall last year. And it’s stuck ever since.

Here are just a few of the circumstantial and emotional reasons why:

a) I was working a job this past year that required long hours and resulted in strange schedules. Namely, the fact Edmonton and Western Conferences games were on late wasn’t a problem for me. I could watch them just fine. In fact, a 10pm game over dinner was pretty wonderful.

b) GameCenter Live, which I received as a birthday gift, made this all possible.

c) Edmonton currently has this magical hold on me. It’s a mystifying, northern place, deep in Alberta, and quite frankly, it’s captivating. I desperately want to visit. I want to see the heavy snow, feel the winds, know what it’s like the NHL’s most northerly city.

And then, well, it’s all about the on-ice product. That trumps all. If it’s not fun to watch, don’t watch it. There was a reason why I was lured in game after game, whether the Oilers were being walloped by mightier teams or forcing shoot-outs against middling clubs like the Ducks. It didn’t matter. They have a magnetic field.

Here’s why:

a) Youth. Nothing beats youth. Green hockey players cutting their teeth while dead-last in the league, no shot at the playoffs. It’s compelling drama, yet the stakes are at once very high, and very low.

b) The players themselves. It’s not just any youth, it’s Magnus Paajarvi, Jordan Eberle, Linus Omark and Taylor Hall. And in time, it will be Martin Marincin, Oscar Klefbom, David Musil and the boy in this photo, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. That’s all all-star cast. It really is. And they play with lightning, with electricity. The Oilers scouting staff has been blessed with great picks, but surely they’ve also made sound decisions.

c) The Western Conference is still novel to me. I grew up watching the Eastern Conference. The extra hour gained by living in Chicago and the pursuance of the Oilers have enabled me to watch teams I rarely paid attention to. But more interestingly, watching the Oilers struggle to understand what makes the Red Wings, the Kings, heck, even the Blue or the Preds, great, is fascinating stuff.

But really, if I had to boil it all down to two core motivating factors, I think it would be the allure of mystical Edmonton, with Rexall Place rising from the dark of oil fields, and the fumbling youth, from Omark to Nugent-Hopkins. I know they may end up in a lottery position again next year. I know they will struggle. But I am focused on watching a rebuild from the ground up in a city that couldn’t possibly love hockey any more than it already does. I love hockey, but sometimes sharing it will others, even in Original Six cities like Boston or Chicago, is a challenge. So I appreciate Edmontonians complete devotion to the sport.

I don’t know what will happen in a few years. Will they have a new arena? Will they pan out? Will players leave? They’re starting at square one, and as a New England-transplant living in Chicago, I am signed on for the ride.


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