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!”
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.
The Oilers appreciation will also be expressed throughout the season with a number of incentives, including:
- 83 pairs of tickets to be given away during the 2013 regular season
- 64 photo prize sessions involving one of the Oilers
- 14 locker-room tour prizes
- 4 Gold pairs of season seats
- 2 trips on the team charter to road games
Probably the most exciting giveaway this season, though, involves the 93 Jerseys contest.
The winners receive an autographed jersey of a current or former Oiler. These jerseys were frozen inside huge blocks of ice and displayed outside prior to the game.
Oilers Fans Dreaming of Championships
Yasmeen, Majeda and Mariam, three young local supporters, have attended games for more than 10 years and joined in the opening-night cheers with huge smiles. In answer to the “Why the Edmonton Oilers?” question, Majeda was firm in her response: “Because we will be the best team. If not this year, then soon. We are optimistic.”
Unfortunately for Edmonton fans, the home team, which is loaded with young talent, looks like it is still a goalie and some defensive discipline away from being a contender.
They lost 6-3 to the Sharks, but for the die-hard fans who are only too happy to watch their team — win or lose — the relief that comes with the return of their beloved game far outweighs any score on the board.
Tips on How to Be an Edmonton Oilers fan
If you are new to Canada and/or hockey and would like to become an Edmonton Oilers fan, there are some important rules that you need to adhere to:
- Only wear your Oilers jersey on game days!
- Cheer loud and often and learn the Oilers theme song, “Let’s go Oilers, let’s go!”
- Drink draft beer! Yes at $8 a drink it will cost you your first month’s wages to go to a game but it’s worth it!
- Practice manoeuvring through the stadium with burgers and hot dogs in one hand and a beer in the other.
- The most important games to attend are Edmonton Oilers versus Calgary Flames, aka the Battle of Alberta.
- On that note, learn to hate the Calgary Flames.
(Thanks to Mike Miller for his Oilers fan tips.)
Best Hotels in Edmonton for Hockey Fans
There are many hotels in Old Strathcona and downtown Edmonton that are close to public transportation and convenient for hockey games. The Westin Edmonton often hosts the players from the opposing team and has indoor access to the Light Rail Transit service. For a more price-conscious option, the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Edmonton North is close to Clareview LRT station and offers rooms from $130 per night.
How to Get Tickets to an Oilers Game
Although the Oilers’ games are sold out well before every game, you can find some seats for sale on Ticketmaster.ca. Prices range from $60-$300 for most regular-season games. The other option is to use a ticket reseller, which can be found online or through a hotel concierge.
Directions to Rexall Place
There are plenty of parking options close to Rexall Place, although the closer you park, the more money you are likely to pay; expect to spend $5-$20 per vehicle.
Public transportation in Edmonton is cost efficient and easy to use and the LRT service stops right at the stadium. Bus and LRT passes cost $6 round-trip for adults and youth.
Food and Drink at an NHL Game in Edmonton
There are plenty of concession outlets in the stadium selling anything from hot dogs and pizza to wings and beer. A slice of pizza costs around $6.25 and a cup of beer $8.
Okay, not a well used term yet, but it should be!
Oilers fans can often be found pre- or post-game, or watching on a big screen if they don’t have tickets, at a number of establishments in downtown Edmonton and Old Strathcona. Some favourite hockey haunts are The Pint, Hudson’s Canadian Tap House, O2, Druid, and Sherlock Holmes.
More Information on the Edmonton Oilers
Address of Rexall Place: 7515 118 Ave NW, Edmonton, AB (see map below)
Official Team Website: http://oilers.nhl.com/
More Facts: The 50/50 draw at Tuesday’s game had a prize value of $80,177.50. The previous high was $69,722.50 last February 15 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The 50/50 is a lottery popular in Canadian hockey rinks at all levels where half of the money from raffle tickets sold goes to charity and the other half to the winner of a random draw. … Programs for the Edmonton Oilers home games are free.