On Saturday night, the hockey season officially started for me as I went to the Saddledome to watch the Oilers take on the Calgary Flames. While I had seen bits and pieces of the Oilers first three games, Thanksgiving travel and playoff baseball had taken priority over watching the team. Shameful, but I will be paying attention for the next 78 games and then hopefully for some playoff action up in Edmonton.
Saturday also marked the continuation of a tradition of father and son watching hockey. My parents were in town from Saskatchewan and I was fortunate enough to score a couple of tickets to the game. I am not sure if it is the economy or the Flames pathetic offseason *, but the days of every game being sold out are gone.
* I am referring to the Flames keeping Darryl Sutter as GM, and bringing back Tanguay and Jokinen. It has been great talking hockey with Flames fans for a change. There is a clear shame in their eyes at the team’s refusal to acknowledge that a slow and old team full of no trade clauses isn’t the recipe for success. Sitting at the rink with my dad Saturday night got me thinking back to the first game he ever took me to. It was Toronto and Montreal at the old Maple Leaf Gardens, circa 1981 or 1982. My only memory from the game was Guy Lafleur racing down the right wing with the puck, hair flying in the wind as he drove the net. Someone put him off balance and he slammed into the post, back when they had those metal pegs to anchor the net. I think the net moved about four inches and I thought, “Man that looks like it would hurt”. Actually, that doesn’t sound anything like a thought coming out of a six year old. It was probably more like, “Cool!”
We probably went to ten or twelve games while we lived in Southern Ontario before making the move to Saskatchewan. Memories are hazy, but it seems like we only ever saw Detroit or Chicago play. I remember John Ogrodnick score four goals one game. I remember Allan Bester and his Cooperalls hiding under his pads. I also remember meeting Don Cherry in the parking lot on the way into a game and getting an autograph.
I still get to a game with my dad about once a year. For some reason those memories popped into my head on Saturday night. I think it had to do with some genuine enthusiasm on my part for the Oilers. Every Oiler fan knows the story: we were great back in the day, have smelt like bad cheese the past few years and now have some hope in the names of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi. I had not seen much of the rookies and could not wait to see what the future might have in store for Oil Country.
One game is an extremely small sample size, but I was suitably impressed with the young talent during our 5-3 loss to the bad guys. Eberle, Hall and Horcoff were -3 for the night; largely due to Hall floating around the ice looking like he was trying to find spots to get fed the puck. A good strategy in the offensive zone, but painful to watch in the Oilers zone. Eberle showed some poise with the puck and some creativity around the goal.
MPS was the star of the three, both on the score sheet and in terms of his overall play. He was fast, he was strong and he looked dangerous all night. The only two Oilers I would rate higher for the game were Hemsky and Penner, who were lethal on the first line all night. Hemsky in particular looks like a man possessed with becoming one of the top talents in the league. He was simply better than everyone else on the ice, Jarome Iginla included.
The back end was shaky as we all knew it was going to be this season. The Oilers were outshot 46-30 and offered up a number of stellar scoring chances to the Flames. Alex Tanguay’s first period breakaway goal was the direct result of Theo Peckham moving himself right into no man’s land after the Oilers turned over the puck. We could hear the brain fart all the way up in section 204.
All said, my enthusiasm for the season is mostly justified. We are going to be a good, exciting team that is going to win a lot of 5-4 games and lose a few 7-1. It will be tight going for a playoff spot, but management brass seems to have bought themselves a couple of years to right the ship. If the Oilers keep their effort level the same as Saturday night, fans will leave entertained and optimistic about the team’s chances going forward.
As for my dad, he has somewhat secretly moved to the dark side over the years and started cheering for the Flames. I think it has something to do with the autographed jersey’s my brother-in-law butters him up with every Christmas. In any event, he attended the game with a canary yellow sweater and red golf shirt underneath. Because sons are always gullible around their fathers, I called him on the attire before the game yet believed his story that he liked the Oilers and was excited about the young players. Midway through the first period Tanguay scores on a breakaway and pop is giving me the ‘in your face’ move and high fiving everyone he can reach. He had a fantastic time watching the Oilers crumble in the third period. If only there was some way the hockey gods could punish such a display.
As we got back to the car after the game, we were greeted with a parking ticket on the windshield of the car. The best part was that we had borrowed my brother-in-laws car. Hockey gods, a tip of the cap to you!