*Hello. I’m Cory, your friendly neighbourhood Oilersnation editor. Between cleaning up Strud’s articles and begging Gregor for tickets, I occasionally generate my own Oiler-related material. Here’s the first. Enjoy!*
The second last playoff game I attended was in the spring of 1997. I was in eighth grade. A week earlier, Todd Marchant scored the biggest goal of his career, after flying down the right wing in Dallas. I flew off the couch and ran across the basement to scream in the face of my sister who, for the most part, didn’t care. Hours later, when I stopped screaming, I had the greatest idea of my pre-internet life. My aunt lived in Winnipeg, an hour ahead. She could call Ticketmaster before anyone in Edmonton. I had to be at the next round.
We played Colorado, the defending champs. I arrived early at the temporarily named Edmonton Coliseum, taking in the outdoor pre-game and thinking ‘This must be what tailgating in the U.S. is like.’ My favourite part was stomping the Patrick Roy effigy for the news cameras. I brought my trumpet from school to belt out the only five notes I knew, hoping for the crowd response, “Charge!” It didn’t happen, at least not the way I’d hoped, because the crowd never got quiet enough to hear some skinny teenager trumpeting pitifully high up in the second level. Not that I cared. The Oilers won game three, their only victory of the series, and it was so loud I couldn’t hear my own screaming in my head. The next day a Journal article described the atmosphere, saying something similar to: “The crowd was so into it they gave a standing ovation when, down by one in the final minute, Colorado went offside.”
The last playoff game I went to was game three in Montreal last week, a scant 14 years (?!) later. Here’s what happened.
The Hab’s outdoor pre-game was small because of construction on what I assume will be the walkway up to their main entrance. This delayed getting inside, where things weren’t any better. To put it nicely, the guts of the Bell Centre were underwhelming. The hallway, at least on the third level, was shockingly narrower than Rexall’s. During the first intermission, it took so long to get out of the washroom we ran out of heckles for the guy in the Stamkos jersey and just waddled out together in awkward silence. I barely had time to buy an 11-dollar beer and get back to my seat.
The seat, and everything that appears on TV, was great. The playoff intro was more intense in person, even if the kid missed his mark on the final ‘flaming’. The music was better than Rexall’s, but so was the music at my buddy’s kid’s second birthday party last weekend. Sitting up high, I paid attention to the big screen action, and it seemed smoother than the stunted show we get at Rexall. They also had LED signs facing the nosebleeds, spelling out ‘CA-REY’ and ‘LIIIIIND-BACK’ when appropriate. It kept the crowd going between whistles.
I was most anxious to hear how much more noise the extra few thousand people would make. It was certainly the loudest building I’ve been in since ‘97, but I could still hear myself scream. Seems like that’s a result of larger building acoustics, because everyone was going off, which will likely be the case in Rogers Place.
As per the Canadian (and Canadien) reputation, the fans were knowledgeable. I found that French people say ‘Oui’ more often than we say yes, and they usually say it twice. This made it hilarious to my Anglophone ears to hear the woman beside me scream ‘Wee-wee!’ over and over. As much as I hate hearing the ‘Ole-ole-ole!’ chant on TV (it’s not French or hockey related!), I was a gracious guest and gave it my all. The best wave made about five-and-a-half laps during one commercial break, which was impressive, but far from the longest I’ve seen, an 11-lap whopper at Commonwealth Stadium.
After Subban made the Lightning look so silly he nearly skewered Palat, and the Habs won, I still wanted to check out the rest of the Centre, hoping I somehow saw only the worst 5% of the building. Unfortunately, I splurged on a few more beers and didn’t want to wait for the bathroom again, so I bailed and headed back to my hostel around the corner. From there, finding a place to celebrate was simply a matter of following the loudest ‘Ole’ chants around downtown Montreal.
So it’s obviously tough to compare the two. My emotional investment made the ’97 game a religious experience, whereas last week, I was more of a progressively drunker observer. And when it comes to Canada, hockey is hockey (except Vancouver). But I did leave with a perspective on how bad our aging barn isn’t. I’m excited as anyone for the new arena, but now I have a greater appreciation for the time I’ve spent in Northlands. It may be a sad reality, but game six against Carolina – arguably the most dominant Oiler win of all time – could be the last playoff game played in that historic building.
A more optimistic way to
spin frame it is that, barring Gretzky’s summer return, the sixth Oiler cup will come under a new home roof. So while we’re all drooling over sketches of giant scoreboards and dual rinks, let’s appreciate the wide hallways and comparatively cheap beer we already have. Because no matter how new, no rink looks good from the bathroom.