I don’t recall the exact day I started cheering for them, but I became a fan for two reasons: my favourite colour and a strong dislike for the Montreal Canadiens. I was nine years old when I decided I liked the Hartford Whalers. Growing up outside Edmonton I was an Oilers fan, of course, but the Whalers became my other favourite team. Their logo was, and still is, the greatest in NHL history and their original green jerseys were top-shelf. I went to a french immersion school in Beaumont, and that fueled my disdain for the Habs, so it was an added bonus the Whalers were in their division.
Being a Whalers fan wasn’t easy, and I didn’t jump on the Bandwagon when they were a top team. They didn’t make the playoffs the first three years I cheered for them, and had I known they would only win one playoff series, I might not have started cheering for them at all. But being a fan isn’t just about winning. That is a bonus, and when they swept the Quebec Nordiques in the Adams division semi-final in 1986 I was pumped.
They met the arrogant Canadiens in the Adams division final and pushed it to a seventh game. Growing up, we had a steady diet of Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens games on Hockey Night in Canada. It was rare to see Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Vancouver or Quebec, although you could get some Nordiques games on channel 11 (French). I grew up on the farm and we had three English channels, CTV, CBC and ITV, along with RCN (Radio Canada Network en Francais). I would watch RCN for hockey and it was where I first saw one of the greatest TV dramas ever, Lance et Compte. The series aired on CBC in English as He Shoots, He Scores, but RCN carried it longer.
It focused on an NHL hockey club, Le National from Quebec City. It was a classic 1980s TV show and easily the best TV sports drama show I’ve seen to date.
They had a young star, Pierre Lambert, fresh out of junior, an older, skilled star, Marc Gagnon (who was played by actor Marc Messier), a tough guy, Mac Templeton, and other players like Lambert’s childhood friend Denis Mercure. Looking back, that show depicted NHL hockey very well. It was also where I learned about the ladies…hello Suzie Lambert. The hockey scenes were pretty good, and I wonder if the writers knew something we didn’t because one of the storylines in season three, 1989, was how Le National was in financial trouble and they needed to win to keep the team. The Quebec Nordiques relocated after the 1995 season to Colorado.
I was able to watch the odd Whalers games on RCN when they played the Nordiques, and of course when they played Montreal or Toronto on CBC. Blaine Stoughton was my first favourite Whaler. He scored 52 goals the year I started following them, and after him came Ron Francis and my all-time favourite, Kevin Dineen.
The 1986 playoffs was the worst time of my life as a young hockey fan.
I watched in horror as the Whalers lost game seven in OT to the dreaded Habs. Some plucky rookie named Claude Lemieux scored the winner. Gawd I hated him. Then the next night, April 30th, Steve Smith’s infamous goal knocked the Oilers out. To be honest, the Whalers loss hurt more. I’d seen the Oilers win two Stanley Cups, and the Whalers never had any success. April 29th, 1986 is still the most upset I’ve ever been over a sporting event I watched. I was crushed much worse in games where I played and we lost, but as a fan that night was the worst.
The loss to the Habs, however, strengthened my bond with the Whalers. I had the luxury of enjoying the Oilers winning ways, but the Whalers were the lovable losers I so badly wanted to win. They finished first in the Adams division in 1987, the only time they didn’t finish fourth or fifth, but they lost to Quebec in the first round. They never had home ice advantage again in a playoff series, and they never won another series. Dineen returned to Hartford in 1997, after a brief stint in Philadelphia, and he scored the final goal of the season. A month later, their I-won’t-write-his-name owner announced they were moving to Carolina.
When they moved, my love affair ended. I couldn’t cheer for them in Carolina. They didn’t have the epic green jerseys and their logo was hideous in comparison. It was a good 15-year run as a fan, but I had no connection to Carolina.
My connection to the Whalers is still alive today on my radio show. We play the Brass Bonanza, The Whalers goal song, coming out of every commercial break as part of Positive Friday, but when they moved to Carolina I cut them out of my hockey watching.
Today, for me and many other hockey fans around the NHL, the Hurricanes are a team that doesn’t invoke much emotion. Oilers fans might have some dislike due to 2006, but even with that defeat you don’t hear animosity directed at them like you do Calgary, Vancouver, Anaheim, San Jose, Toronto or Montreal. The Hurricanes are in the league, and they have some really good young defencemen, but they don’t generate much emotion from the fans across the league.
Does anyone truly loathe the Hurricanes or their fanbase? Maybe some young kids in Alberta are big fans like I was, but it seems very few have a strong disdain for them, which is never good for a sports franchise. You want your fans to love you and opposing fans to hate you. It keeps you more top of mind and generates more emotion in the building at games.
Oilersnation will be more on edge for this game than most encounters versus the Hurricanes, but that’s mainly due to the Oilers early-season funk. They’ve lost three in a row. Cam Talbot has been pulled in two of his last three starts. The Oilers defensive zone coverage has been spotty and they have scored five goals in three games. The frustration brewing in Oilersnation is focused solely on the Oilers, but the Oilers need to be prepared for a tough test.
Carolina skates well. They are very structured. They have some really good defenders whom we rarely talk about in Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. They have young, skilled forwards with Jeff Skinner, Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Viktor Rask and Elias Lindholm. They aren’t flashy. They don’t have a superstar, but they will be prepared.
Laurent Brossoit gets his first start of the season. It is the 11th start of his career. He’s made two relief appearances this year, and he’s stopped 25 of 27 shots for a .926sv%. Including last season, he has a .927sv% in ten appearances. This is his third career start versus an eastern conference opponent. He allowed six goals in a loss to Columbus on March 4th, 2016 and allowed three in Tampa Bay on February 21st, 2017.
Matt Benning skated this morning but was off the ice early. He is sick and will not play. Brad Malone was recalled on Sunday and he will play his first game as an Oilers tonight and wear #24. It will be Malone’s 177th NHL game, but his first since April 9th, 2016, when he was a member of the Carolina Hurricanes. Malone’s last NHL goal came on December 3rd, 2015, and his last assist was February 29th, 2016. He only had one point in his final 40 games with Carolina.
He split his time in the AHL last year between Hershey (52 games) and then 19 with the Chicago Wolves. He was part of the Kevin Shattenkirk trade last season going from Washington to St. Louis.
Teravainen – Staal – William
Skinner – Rask – Ryan
Aho – Necas – Lindholm
Nordstrom – Kruger – Jooris
Slavin – Pesce
Hanifin – Faulk
Fleury – Carrick
Necas, the 12th pick this summer, will make his NHL debut tonight. Someone to watch for. He is a dynamic player.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
The Carolina Hurricanes continue their inaugural road trip of the season with their only visit to Edmonton on Tuesday night. When they arrive, they will square off with one of the more potent attacks in all of the NHL. Defending Hart Trophy winner Connor McDavid leads the Oilers early in the season with five points in his first four games, which is what you would expect from a player who tallied 100 points last season as he led the Oilers to their first playoff appearance since the surprise meeting with the Hurricanes in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers extend their home winning streak versus Carolina to five games. They have only one home loss versus Carolina since 2004, which occurred December 7th, 2011 when they lost 5-3. Tonight they eek out a 3-2 victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers PP wakes up and scores the second PP goal of the season.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Malone makes an immediate impression and picks up his first NHL point in 20 months.
Recently by Jason Gregor:
- NHL stats and trends: Best start of a Hall-of-Fame career
- RNH: Last year I wouldn’t have tried that play
- Leon Draisaitl misses intense practice
- Slow start shouldn’t equal panic
Source: Jason Gregor, Verified Twitter Account, 10/17/2017, 12:30pm MST