City of Believers: Edmonton ready for Oilers to take home the Cup

As the minutes ticked down in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, thousands of Oilers fans rose to their feet.

As one they sang Bon Jovi’s Living on a prayer, they shouted Shania Twain’s “Let’s Go Girls” lyrics and finally sang “We want the Cup” over and over until the final buzzer sounded.

Outside, the excitement continued: 104th Avenue was closed in front of Rogers Place as thousands of people flooded the road — shouting, shouting and high-fiving strangers.

The Edmonton Oilers defeated the Florida Panthers 5-1 to set up a best-of-seven series that started with three losses for Edmonton.

The Oilers have held off the Panthers’ attempts to win the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup with three impressive wins in a row.

If the Oilers can win Game 7, it will be a historic comeback.

And in a city that has remained committed to its hockey team after decades of losing, and now that Edmonton is suddenly, improbably, so close to actually winning the Stanley Cup, things are about to boil over.

Players in orange and blue hockey shirts on skates raise their hockey sticks in the air.
Edmonton Oilers players celebrate the win over the Florida Panthers after Game 6 action of the NHL Stanley Cup Final in Edmonton on Friday. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Make no mistake: a sold-out crowd at Amerant Arena in Sunrise, Florida, is loud, too.

On Monday, Panthers fans filled their home court and roared to life when the Florida team scored. It’s respectable hype for a hockey team with an arena built on the edge of the Everglades.

But it just doesn’t compare to the electrified, bone-shaking energy of a packed Oilers barn.

When Warren Foegele scored the opening goal on Friday, the eruption in Rogers Place was deafening.

Outside the arena, the atmosphere was like bananas. When Zach Hyman scored the Oilers’ third goal, the Moss Pit exploded. Splashes of beer shot into the air and a young man in a white Oilers jersey briefly surfed over the heads of his fellow fans.

Some people – specifically Nikita Zadorov of Vancouver Canucks – have argued that Edmonton Oilers fans are so diehard because they have nothing to do here but watch hockey.

A shirtless man waves a sweater over his head amid a partying crowd.
An Edmonton Oilers fan takes off his jersey as he celebrates with the crowd at the Edmonton Ice District during a break in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Edmonton Oilers and the Florida Panthers on Friday. (Timon Johnson)

But longtime fans claim it’s more complicated than that.

Zach Laing, news director of Nation Talk — an independent sports reporting platform that started as a fan-run site in Edmonton in 2007 — says he thinks the team’s golden era of Stanley Cup wins began in the 1980s, when the franchise was still newly planted was the seed for a fanbase that will never give up on his team.

“They had such a good start as a franchise that the level of fan involvement in the team was immediately very high,” Laing said in an interview on Friday.

“Even when this team was consistently one of the worst teams in the league, they still filled the stadium and still had fans cheering. The support for this team never went away.”

The golden era ended after the team’s last Stanley Cup victory in 1990. Then the hard times began.

The next time the Oilers reached the Stanley Cup Finals was in 2006, when the Oilers lost to the Carolina Hurricanes.

Oilers fans excited after Game 6

After the Edmonton Oilers defeated the Florida Panthers in Game 6 of the playoffs, Oilers fans are looking forward to Game 7.

That series went all the way to Game 7 and was marked by post-game riots on Whyte Avenue that resulted in broken store windows, fires and police patrolling the streets in riot gear.

Then came the decade of darkness – a difficult time for the team that ended with the arrival of Connor McDavid, who many argue is the best hockey player in the world today.

During McDavid’s tenure, the team has made several playoff runs, even reaching the Western Conference finals in 2022.

Despite a rocky start to last season, a new head coach and a historic streak of consecutive wins have turned things around. Suddenly, the team is as close to the Stanley Cup as it has been in almost two decades.

As the Oilers’ successes have increased, it has brought an undeniable vibrancy to the city.

On game days, bike paths, buses and the LRT are filled with commuters wearing Oilers jerseys.

Streets and roads are filled with vehicles decorated with Oilers flags, and some enthusiastic fans have gone so far as to mount oil derricks on the backs of pickup trucks, driving around honking their horns and staging impromptu moving pep rallies.

Businesses across the city have put up signs cheering on the team, and downtown office towers have painted windows with blue and orange murals.

The cup competition has brought a much-needed windfall to downtown Edmonton, says Puneeta McBryan, CEO of the Downtown Edmonton Business Association.

She says each game draws tens of thousands of people downtown.

“It’s a bit indescribable, to be honest, because it’s so unexpected. Every week that goes on, every game we win, it’s this bonus round of injection of economic impact, vibrancy, community spirit, confidence in our downtown and more. positive prospects for our companies. Like it’s just, this momentum is unstoppable,” she said.

A shirtless man holding a drum sings while standing among a crowd of Oilers fans.
Edmonton Oilers fan Colton Crowe sings the national anthem of the United States, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” at the Edmonton Ice District before Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Edmonton Oilers and the Florida Panthers on Friday. (Timon Johnson/CBC)

But as attention turns to the city’s core, it is abundantly clear that the significant social challenges that have increased during the pandemic remain.

Key, large retail spaces that department stores have lost in recent years remain empty, and when downtown office workers were sent from home in March 2020, a fair share never returned.

The lingering and deadly consequences of the opioid epidemic remain painfully visible: Edmonton’s homeless population has skyrocketed during the pandemic, and many of the people who remain unhoused and struggle with addiction and mental health issues spend their time on the streets around Rogers Place.

While the playoffs have certainly been a boon for bars, restaurants and hotels in the arena district, economists have warned it’s best to temper expectations that a Cup run will be a windfall. People who spend thousands of dollars on tickets in June may spend less money on vacations and trips later in the year.

Sports fans hold up a sign reading
Edmonton Oilers fans hold up a sign Friday ahead of Game 6 of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final against the Florida Panthers at Rogers Place. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Going to an Oilers game isn’t an option for many fans; watching fanzone gatherings and parties as close as many Edmontonians can get to a game.

The cost of regular season tickets makes it out of reach for many fans to enter Rogers Place for an Oilers game – especially during the playoffs.

On Friday morning on Ticketmaster’s website, the cheapest seat in the arena cost more than $1,000, while a single verified resale ticket for a seat in Row 1 behind the goal line was listed for an eye-watering $9,176, including taxes and fees.

The inaccessibility of games in a city with a young, increasingly diverse population, in the midst of an affordability crisis, is something the Oilers and the NHL may have to consider at some point.

But on Friday it didn’t dampen the excitement as longtime fans and bandwagon jumpers alike crowded into bars and living rooms across the city – ready to spend a beautiful June evening living and dying by the fortunes of a hockey team that is breaking. hearts for decades.

As fans filed out of the arena Friday evening, a middle-aged man in a navy blue T-shirt with an Oilers emblem stood happily slapping the hands of those who passed him.

“We did it, we did it!” he exclaimed, seemingly in awe.

It was an incredible turnaround, as the Oilers started the series with three losses.

“The general consensus was that the Oilers were done,” Laing said.

Winning Game 7 after the comeback would be a feat not accomplished since 1942, when the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Detroit Red Wings after initially losing three games in the series.

“Anything can happen. And I think the Oilers have really shown that they can be a resilient team,” Laing said.

“They’ve talked a lot in these playoffs about playing their best when their backs are against the wall, and that’s really what they were able to do here.”

With the opportunity to accomplish something that hasn’t been done in decades, the Oilers enter Game 7 in Florida with the hopes of a city on their shoulders.

Despite their already extraordinary turnaround, the Oilers still face tough odds. But doubt has no place in a city of believers.

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