Story by Karen Evenden
EDMONTON, ALBERTA -- If you happen to visit Edmonton this week, one of the first things you will notice is the buzz. After a 113-day lockout, the NHL is back and for a city that reputedly "bleeds orange and blue," spirits couldn't be more high.
Nicknamed the City of Champions, Edmonton welcomed back its Oilers -- who have won five Stanley Cups in their history -- on Tuesday night. Avid fans citywide were joyful for the first home game of the 2013 season.
Yet, for a newcomer, the gripping question is, So why hockey?
Mike Miller, local resident and die-hard Oilers fan, says it is because Edmonton is a winter city. "Many kids grow up playing hockey on local rinks, pretending to be some of the greats like Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Coffey ... too many to list!"
Former Dynasty Endures Tough Times
The Oilers' teams from the 1980s featured Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, and are considered one of hockey's dynasties. The franchise has fallen on rough times lately, however, failing to reach the playoffs for six straight seasons. Still, the supporters don't go away.
"It's our fans and our passion for our team," Miller says about what makes the Oilers stand out among other NHL clubs. "We can be dead last in the standings and still sell out every game."
Case in point, the home-opener against the San Jose Sharks. Like the previous 277 Oilers games at Rexall Place, this one was sold out. A capacity crowd of 16,839 jammed into the arena as they have since the streak began on November 29, 2005. Already this year, all Oilers Mini Packs (four, six or seven games, which consist of the same seat for all games in the package) were snapped up within two hours of going on sale. There's even talk of building a new 18,500-seat arena to accommodate the enthusiastic fan base.
At Tuesday's opening ceremonies, almost every seat was occupied by 8 pm and as O, Canada! was played, not only did every single able spectator stand, but the crowd completely drowned out the vocalist.
When the first goal was scored by highly touted Oilers rookie Nail Yakupov, 8 minutes, 25 seconds into the first period, the deafening response from the fans reflected months of pent-up zeal and optimism.
In gratitude for the loyalty, the Oilers have made conscious efforts to reward fans following the labour stoppage. Each spectator was gifted with an $8 food or beverage voucher on arrival at the game and opening-week discounts included 40% off merchandise and 55% off on concessions.
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