People say “I didn’t choose the team, the team chose me.” Most people were born into the Oilers. The northernmost team in North America, a cold city in a bleak north, a blue collar town, oil country. It’s not forced, but organic. When you’re born and raised in Montana, as I was, you’re taught to love the elk and whitetail, to respect shed eagle feathers, and to feel at home under a wide open sky. It’s part of who you are, so you love it. You could try to stop loving the mountains, but it wouldn’t hold. So the inhabitants of Edmonton, I imagine, those born into the Oilers, feel – they could follow a different team or renounce hockey altogether, and maybe some do.
But the ones who stay, they don’t do it out of a sense of obligation or tradition. It’s because they love the Oilers.
I live in Los Angeles. The city’s team is the Los Angeles Kings. I have a crown decal on my car’s rear window, a Kings keychain on my keys, and postcards of the players adorn my cubicle at work. I came to love the Kings because of geography. I love them because I’ve connected with them, I’ve been to their games, I know their traditions and their history and their style. They’re my city’s team. It’s easy.
When Milan Lucic signed with the Edmonton Oilers in 2016 instead of re-signing with the Kings, I was crushed. He was my favorite hockey player. He was the strongest emotional tie I had to the black and white. I had fallen for his style of play, his family’s frequent trips to Disneyland, his fists, his goofy smile. I wanted him to do well, and the Kings by extension.
Without Looch, I still loved the Kings, but it was different. It was a staunch, stubborn love: for Los Angeles, for the friendships I’d made through the Kings, for Kopitar’s dog, for Bailey and the goal song. For familiarity.
“Why the Kings?” people asked, and still ask. Before I moved to LA, my best friend chose the Kings because they were local. So I followed her lead, and here I am. I’m a Kings fan.
But. I also love the Oilers.
“Why the Oilers?” A harder question to answer. “My favorite player left the Kings and signed with Edmonton,” is the easy answer. The short answer. What’s the long answer?
I hated the Oilers. I absolutely wished they would fall off the face of the planet; I wanted Edmonton to be swallowed in a black hole, spit out Lucic at the last moment, and deliver him back to me in LA. I hated that they were a terrible team with a star player who I knew could never save them from mediocrity at best. I knew they’d choke, be dead last in league standings, and there would be Milan Lucic, chained to them forever. Dead in the water.
I don’t do things by halves. I don’t enjoy things casually. I invest all of myself in everything I do. I love things so intensely that I get half sleeve tattoos dedicated to video games, I move overseas for a year, I cry myself to sleep over fictional characters. So when I fell for hockey, I fell hard for Lucic; and when I fell for Lucic, I fell even harder for hockey. He embodied hockey for me. He was slow but strong, quick to anger, physical and rough, and he could score goals. In my eyes, he was perfect.
So when he packed up and left Los Angeles for Edmonton, I was devastated. I hated seeing him in orange. I hated Chiarelli. I hated Hunter the Lynx. I hated Rogers Place. Most of all, I hated Connor McDavid. When asked why he chose to sign with the Oilers, Lucic said he wanted to play with Connor, the bright young star. It would be a great opportunity to play with that burgeoning talent.
Connor took Looch from me. I’d never forgive him.
When the season started, I watched the Oilers for Lucic; I wanted to see how he’d play with the new group, hoping they’d be awkward and clunky and that nobody would fit together, like a jumble of jigsaw pieces from different puzzles. But he fit. And he fought. In his first game, he fought for his new captain, Connor McDavid. He made it clear who he was: Milan Fucking Lucic, Connor McDavid’s big winger, a protector at last.
Begrudgingly, I kept watching. I started to hate Connor less. I began to enjoy the speed of the Oilers, their scrappy tenacity, the players as individuals. And within a month I wasn’t hate-watching the games, I was watching them for enjoyment because I wanted Looch to do well.
I wanted, against all expectation, the Oilers to do well.
good morning oil country ???????? pic.twitter.com/KzSzoDoVnp
— meg s.s. (@megsauce) May 10, 2017
Suddenly, I didn’t hate Connor McDavid anymore; I loved him. I fell for his awkward demeanor, stilted interviews, terrible acne, and intense devotion to what he loves – hockey.
There was no switch that flipped in my brain. There was no moment when I chose the Oilers. I wasn’t born into them, and they aren’t my city’s team. But they got to me, somehow, despite my stubbornness. They wormed their way into my heart: this group of resilient young men, Hunter the Lynx, Rogers Place, Edmonton, Lucic in blue and orange, all of it.
That’s still not an answer. So. Why the Oilers?
They have an energy. The city of Edmonton has an energy. The only way I know how to describe it is – warmth. This city, this spot of light in the middle of the winter tundra, (a city I’ve never even been to), lights up with blue and orange.
The city is so united in its passion for the Oilers, I can feel it down in Los Angeles. Edmonton lives and breathes hockey. The people who live there aren’t afraid to go all in with their love. They’re like me – they don’t do hockey by halves. The Oilers, for many, are everything. Their fans have been loyal through dark, bleak times. Times that I, as a new hockey fan, still can’t imagine. Yet here they were, so devoted to their team and so full of love, so open to new fans and so welcoming, that it was impossible for me not to be swept up in that energy. That warmth.
And the players themselves are so clearly tight-knit, such a family and a cohesive unit that supports and fights for one another, and it’s such a pure, rare thing to see. I fell for that family, despite myself.
The moment in Game 6 against the Ducks in round 2, when Kassian scored and shared his celly with a fan in the stands – it so perfectly encompassed what it is to be an Oilers fan, and what I love about hockey. Fans and players are symbiotic, amplifying each others’ emotions until they’re at max capacity. Everything a player does in that arena is for his teammates and his fans, and everything a fan does is for her hockey team. Chanting and stomping and singing, it’s for the players. When Kass locked eyes with a fan in the stands and screamed in victory, he said yes – I see you, I fucking appreciate you, and we are here celebrating together in this breathless moment. All of us.
Are the Oilers the only team with a devoted fan base? Not even close. But they have Lucic. And they are warm and kind, and a family of enthusiastic, emotional, crazy hockey fans – just like me. I love this team, these players, with all of my heart. I loved watching them all season, and I loved falling in love with them.
I live in Los Angeles. The city’s team is the Los Angeles Kings. But the Edmonton Oilers? They’re my team.
— meg s.s. (@megsauce) May 15, 2017