Fever Pitch

Photo credit:USA Today
1 month ago
Here we are and isn’t it amazing?
I first started writing publicly in February 2006, and that spring, the Oilers took us on an amazing ride. It ended in heartbreak, but I will never forget that playoff run or that team. As this Oilers team has picked up steam and marched to its date with the Florida Panthers, it’s gotten me thinking about many things, among them the passage of time, my old man, my son, and what it means to be a fan.
When I posted my first story, I was 38 years old. I had a two-year-old daughter and a son, born in October 2005. Dad was almost 74, healthy as a horse. (He turned 74 on the day that Carolina (spits) beat us out in game seven.) My beautiful dog Ben was seven, just like the white pattern on his black chest.
Here we are, 18 years later. I’m 56 (!!!). My oldest daughter just finished her third year of university. My son is 18 and he and I just rampaged through Spain for a week and a half, eating and drinking and wandering the earth. My youngest is finishing grade 10 and will be 16 in just over a month.
Dad has been gone for just over five years now. He would have been 92 in a couple of weeks. I miss him every day but he lives on in me, in his grandchildren and in everyone he influenced with his enthusiasm and passion for life. He left a great legacy. And Ben is gone too, 14 years now, hard to believe.
I am not one of those people who thinks that time roars by but as you get older, it is moments like this where you realize that it moves. Oh man, does it move. Some of you were not around in the glorious spring of 2006. Many of you were but you are too young to remember that Oilers’ team and their amazing run. And even the dynasty years would be hazy for anyone under 40.
Crazy when you think about it.
And yet we are all bound together by this team. Whether you think Holland is a genius or you think this year’s run would have happened years ago if he was any good at his job, whether you love Evander Kane or hate him, think Evan Bouchard isn’t any good (I don’t think anyone thinks that anymore but…) or … well, whatever your opinion, we are all here together, cheering for the same outcome, all part of the same tribe.
We will all remember this team. You can bet on it, win or lose. I remember that 2006 Oilers team like it was yesterday, just as I remember the Jays’ teams of the late ’80s and early ’90s. They stick with you. I could probably name everyone who played even one game for the Oilers in the spring of 2006.
It was a very different team than this one. That team had a few more drafted and developed players, and on top of that, they had a few guys, like Jason Smith and Steve Staios, who might as well have been Oilers picks. They had been through the wars and had been part of the team’s core for years by the time 2006 rolled around. This team has a few more free-agent signings, but that one was built more through the draft and trades.
But that team … man oh man what a team. They had one superstar, Chris Pronger, and a few famous players … Peca, Smyth, and maybe Samsonov. But there were a lot of mid-round picks and the majority of the club had honed their craft in the minors. The Oilers had been underdogs since the early ’90s and while they had scored a couple of major first-round upsets in the late ’90s this team embodied the spirit of those clubs: hard-working and smart and underpaid (until that run lol).
They were an eighth seed but while everyone played that up the reality is that they were a very good club that was almost sunk in the regular season by terrible goaltending. Kevin Lowe had a run for the ages in early ’06, picking up Roloson, Spacek and Samsonov (and the weirdly, criminally underused Dick Tarnstrom. I still have no idea all these years later why they did not play him). While the team didn’t go lights out after that it was pretty clear that if they got by Detroit, then they could go on a run, and they did.
Pronger was the man but the team’s heart and soul were Gator and Staios, Smyth and Horcoff and Pisani. Man oh man. I never could understand why fans didn’t love Shawn Horcoff, a guy who absolutely worked his bag off to become an NHL player and then become a top-line player. A guy who loved his team and would do anything to win, famously diving face-first to try and block a shot in those playoffs. Anyhow that was the team, they were a lunch bucket crew but like their top forward, old Smytty, their skill was underrated (except for the magical Ales Hemsky).
What a team. I loved that team. And when they lost… well it was heartbreak. And Horcoff said famously about the disappointment that what made it hardest is that it might have been their only shot. And he was right.
And now here we are.
This team was the underdog last series and are again in this final. But unlike those 06 Oilers they have the pedigree and the fame. The best hockey player on the planet and his running mate, the indomitable Leon Draisaitl. The Nuge and Zach Hyman. Nurse. Bouchard. And maybe a bit more infamous, Corey Perry and Evander Kane. This team has been waiting in the wings for years and now here they are…
They are not as lovable as those ’06 Oilers. It’s a lot easier to relate to Ryan Smyth than Connor McDavid. 97 does things that no player who has ever lived can do, Smyth scored a lot of goals off his ass. An underdog (even though those Oilers and Smyth were criminally underrated) is easier to love … but of course, I love this team too and like you, I will be living and dying with them these next two weeks. (I was watching a Stars game with my son and he was amused to see me so worked up. Generally, I am even-keeled, although he, if anything, is even moreso).
I suspect that if they can keep the band together that this will be the first of a few kicks at the can for this club but as we know, nothing is guaranteed, even if they keep Drai and Connor for the next decade. Injuries, bad luck, hot goaltending … shit happens.
Dad was a Chicago fan and when they won the Cup in 1961 with a team that included two of the best young players of that era, Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull, he was 28 years old, just married and a few years away from starting what would be his lifetime job. The Hawks looked poised to be a dynasty and with the best centre and left winger of that era, two of the all-time greatest, and a strong supporting cast, you would have figured they would celebrate multiple championships. They weren’t the Leafs (57 seasons without even making the final!) but the next time they won the Cup Dad was days short of his 78th birthday (!), had been married for 49 years (!!) and had been retired for 16 years from a company he worked for 30 years (!!!). (Then he got to celebrate two more 😉 ).
Time moves … and nothing is guaranteed.
Take it all in folks and enjoy it!!!
Go Oilers!!!
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