GDB LXXI: Why we watch

On a wing and a prayer seems like a fitting theme for tonight as Devan Dubnyk goes for his first NHL win. Dubnyk is 146 minutes away from setting the NHL record for most minutes played without registering a win; and he’d love to avoid that illustrious honour.

Watching the morning skates today I recalled the Oilers’ home opener v. the Wings in the 1997/98. I shared season tickets with my buddies, Hutch, Onion and Pretty Boy. We had two seats so we split into two groups. I went to most games with Onion.

Onion and I have been buddies since grade four and we’ve been through a lot of monumental events together. He is a diehard Oiler fan. He’s married now with two kids, but he still bleeds copper and blue. He has a 1000 (not sure it is that big, but it’s almost an entire wall) inch projector screen TV framed into his basement wall. And normally that is awesome, but it’s made this season more painful for him because the mistakes seem bigger.

I played hockey with Onion until midget. He wasn’t the fastest skater, but he backchecked like a demon. He couldn’t break a pane of glass with his shot, but in tight he had the softest hands and he’d go shelf regularly. He was there the first time I got drunk. In the parking lot of J.H Picard, we shared/chugged a mickey of Silk Tassel and then sprinted into the dance before it hit us.

We celebrated Stanley Cup wins during the glory years, and I watched him die a slow death in the mid-’90s. Onion convinced us we should buy tickets in 1996 when the team was threatening to leave. He couldn’t stand Tom Poti, but loved Doug Weight. Like most Oiler fans he appreciated Bucky’s willingness to do anything to win, and cringed when he inevitably took another beating at the hands of Bob Probert or some other heavyweight he had no business fighting.

After the stunning upset of the Stars in the spring of 1997, there was a glimmer of hope that the Oilers were starting something good again, when we went to the home opener in October of 1997. The Wings were in town. Steve Yzerman, Sergei Federov and star-studded cast were here, but the Oilers had opened with a win on the road and were undefeated so Onion was pretty stoked.

Onion has the smallest hands of any guy I know, but he can crush pints like no other. He showed up at my house at 5:05, and we had a few pre-game pops. We took a cab to the campus LRT and were at Skyreach for the warm-ups. Back then we used to sneak in a mickey, so after buying a coke, and dumping half out and replacing it with Silk Tassel we headed to our seats.

It was the worst home-opener in Oiler history. They trailed 8-0 after 40 minutes. Up until that game, Onion refused to leave early. We had to stay until the final buzzer every game; because he always believed the team could come back. Not this night. After 40 minutes, Onion was disgusted and we hopped the LRT back to the University and ripped it up on Whyte Ave.

Onion was incensed that night. He could always find a positive in a game, but 8-0 was too much for him. I was a fan, but I can honestly say I was never as passionate as the Onion. Even after that debacle his loyalty never wavered. But for one night, even the most loyal fan can reach their breaking point. I don’t get to watch as many games as I used to with the Onion, but when we chat he is still as passionate as ever. He has his favourite players, and those he can’t stand, and even though he knows the inevitable outcome of most games he, like most of you, still soldiers on. Why? because he’s an Oiler fan, and that’s what you do.

I mention that story, because this season seems like Groundhog Day for Oiler fans. Wake up, hope for a win, watch the game, yell at the TV, go to the Nation so you aren’t alone in your pain and repeat.

You are almost numb to the emptiness, and tonight you will watch your 30th place team take on the healthy and more talented Detroit Red Wings.

Nick Lidstrom will play his 1,400th game tonight, and barring some stunning upset he will get a win.

Watch out for the Wings PP tonight. With Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen healthy the Wings PP is very dangerous. Pavol Datsyuk’s game is coming around and Henrik Zetterberg is also finding his stride.

Oil hurting

Sam Gagner will play but his knee has been bothering him for a few weeks, and according to Pat Quinn it has affected his skating. Gagner has 41 points, and is eight shy of his career high. He will play with Zack Stortini and Chris Minard, but will get some PP time.

Patrick O’Sullivan is out and it looks like Mike Comrie will sit again. Quinn said his veteran players will rotate taking a seat in the pressbox the remainder of the season.