I’ve got to admit, I had no idea what I was in for as I drove to Earl’s restaurant on 170th Street and 100th Ave. in late February of 2008 for a lunch meeting with three guys I’d never met to talk about getting involved with a website that I’d never heard of. I had no idea what Oilersnation was and I wasn’t sure what to make of the guys who were pitching me – online, the fanboys paying for the grub and the gab went by the names Bingofuel, Wanye Gretz and SquireYEG. Sure.
From what I could gather from a quick peek on the internet, this website about the Edmonton Oilers had no writers with any hope of putting together a compelling sentence and nobody with much of a clue taking notice of what they wrote in the comments section. Little did I know that, in many cases, the people on both sides of that were one and the same – these three website guys, hardcore fans of the Oilers who’d staked their turf and were determined to have their say with Oilersnation.
Between stints at the Edmonton Journal and Edmonton Sun, I was coming off 18 years of writing in the dailies, the majority of that time with a great gig as a beat man covering the Oilers. Fly around. Watch hockey. Get paid. After 11 years at the broadsheet, I’d moved to the tab for the same job but a little more money. It seemed like a good idea at the time. That started to go sideways not long after the arrival of a new publisher, who decided I just wasn’t his guy. In January of 2007, in the middle of the season, out the door I went. Now what?
Back then, I thought I was doing the Oilersnation guys a favor by giving them a few minutes of my time. I was a year removed from that unexpected career curveball and we had a new baby at home, but newspaper revenues hadn’t completely imploded yet. I was confident another MSM writing gig would come along eventually. Until it did, Oilersnation needed a writer and a writer I was, so I told the website guys I was in — even if they intended to pay me with buttons and compliments about my good looks to start. The first item I wrote is here. Nine comments.
10 YEARS LATER
Ten years later, here we are. It turns out just about everything that went through my head in that first meeting was way off. Bingofuel, who cashed out of Oilersnation years ago after his shares reached $42 million each, Wanye and SquireYEG are a lot smarter than I thought they were. A lot smarter than me. They doubled-down on legit by adding radio man Jason Gregor to the fold as a writer a few months after I started. Later, they added Allan Mitchell, who’d been blogging for 50 years before I knew what blogging was, and Jonathan Willis.
What started out as one website for friends, family and a few fans of the Oilers today stretches across the country as the Nation Network and draws millions of page views. There’s a clothing line, beer and the Little Brick, which doubles as Nation headquarters. I’m told Wanye owns 40 per cent of the luxury suites at Rogers Place. Me? I accepted long ago that next MSM writing gig isn’t happening, but nine years of co-hosting the Gregor Show on TSN 1260 through last May and scribbling here has kept my head in the game and my fingers on the keyboard.
I take no joy in seeing the newspaper business I grew up in wither on the vine and become a shadow of what it once was, but that’s not my fight now. Writing here has allowed me to say things I couldn’t say in the dailies, write in a different way than I could in the dailies. I’ve written about my son, Sam, who is the light of my life, and my wife Analyn, who has made possible everything that matters to me now. I’ve learned to appreciate the insight that comes from many of the fans, our readers. There is diversity here. If what I write and how I write it isn’t your thing, there’s another item and another point of view coming down the pipe.
Hockey talk aside, there’s always been a place here for stories from the heart, stories about people and life that have nothing to do with how good or bad the Oilers are at any given time. The stuff that really matters. I can’t get enough of that. After 10 years, I also believe that a sense of community within, and giving back to the community at large, has grown as Oilersnation has. I see it with all the charitable work Gregor does and the meaningful causes the people who run this website get behind. That aspect alone forms a connection for me with this 10th anniversary I never imagined when I wrote that first story a decade ago.
Back in January, I joined up with the Mustard Seed and Jasper Place Wellness Centre to help promote Hockey Helps the Homeless. It runs May 11 and is a major fund-raiser that helps both outlets carry out their work with the homeless and less fortunate in Edmonton year-round. The Oilers’ alumni is involved. So is Oilersnation – some of the proceeds from the 10th anniversary party Saturday at The Pint are going to HHTH.
Getting involved with the Mustard Seed has been the most rewarding work, easily the most important work, I’ve ever done. When I approached the people at Oilersnation about coming on board to help with this cause, they jumped in without hesitation. While there isn’t much to celebrate Saturday in terms of what we’ve seen from the Oilers this season, there’s more to this bash than wins and losses. Oilersnation, the website Bingofuel, Wanye and SquireYEG believed in and dragged to life, is worth celebrating. Doing everything we can to help the homeless in Edmonton is worthy of our time and effort. Saturday, they intersect.
I never, not in my wildest dreams, saw this anniversary or the work I’m doing with the Mustard Seed and HHTH coming when I kept that lunch date 10 years ago. Absolutely everything in my life has changed since then. Here I am today, grateful for both.