It is very important to pay close attention to the 2010-11 Edmonton Oilers. Savor the moments, take strong mental notes. Make sure those images will last a lifetime.
We’ve been through some things together
With trunks of memories still to come
We found things to do in stormy weather
Long may you run.
Long may you run. Long may you run.
Although these changes have come
With your chrome heart shining in the sun
Long may you run.
I was a Boston Bruins fan before the Alberta Oilers rolled into my part of the world (small town Saskatchewan). I remember listening to the transistor radio and the stories of the new league "raiding" the NHL. Everyone was "jumping" or "jumping back" and honestly I wasn’t aware of many names signed by that first team. All of us knew Al Hamilton and Jim Harrison, and many other fans knew about Ross Perkins and Rusty Patenaude and the others. We’d get to know Patenaude well, listening to the radio back then it was impossible to miss him (Patenaude scored 159 WHA goals) and many others along the way. Bill Flett, Frank Beaton, Dave Dryden, Brett Callighen, and true legends like Normie Ullman and Jacques Plante.
EVERYONE knew that entry into the NHL meant the big time, the ultimate show. That first training camp meant all kinds of changes (the Oilers would get all of their draft picks signed, EDMONTON appeared under NHL TEAMS in the Hockey News every week) and we knew national media men like Frank Orr were following the Oilers and writing stories about them (Orr picked the Oilers to finish 5 out of 6 in the Smythe, 79-80). Jim Matheson was the Edmonton expert, he suggested Edmonton would finish 3rd of 6 (Oilers would split the difference and wind up 4th).
I remember the anger when finding out Bengt Gustafsson had been awarded to Washington (the NHL "rules" were as vague then as they are now) and felt pure joy the first time Gretzky visited Maple Leaf Gardens (it was golden). I remember 99 not winning the Calder and hoping Cam Connor would get healthy and the heartbreak that was trading Ron Chipperfield.
Risto’s shot from the point, Dave Hunter taking penalties before the end of the period (Sather benched him for it), Gretzky-to-MacDonald, the sheer power of the not-yet-grown-to-maturity-but-still-a-load Mark Messier. Kevin Lowe learning the trade quickly on the blue, heart and soul Lee Fogolin and Pat Price always a little aloof despite the skill. All the goalies before Ron Low arrived to settle everything down and Dave Lumley’s playoff goal.
79-80. Of the 40 men who skated in Oiler colors that season, I can probably tell you a credible story about 30 of them. I bet there are many Oiler fans who could do better than that, as this town loves their Oilers and the game of hockey. About half a dozen were still around when the Stanley’s came, and many were lost along the way. Callighen’s career went sideways courtesy an accidental stick from Brad McCrimmon, Don Ashby was lost in a crash and Blair MacDonald lost a battle he had no chance to win.
So take it from an old guy: enjoy this, and don’t miss a minute. When training camp opens, be there if you can. Even today’s media conference to announce the numbers, or the rookie camp this weekend. When the boss offers tickets this winter, grab them and hold on to your hat. And don’t get caught up in "well these are nose bleed tickets" crap: Wayne Gretzky taught me a lot about the game of hockey when I was sitting in the rafters.
We don’t know how far these kids are going to take the Oildrop, but we do know it is going to be a helluva ride. Drink deep.