I went to the game last night.
For whatever reason, I don’t really make it out to many games. But my mom and I hadn’t been to a game together yet this season, and we wanted to do that, and this was the only option left that would be reasonably priced, so we went for it.
Like any other scoreboard watching junkie, when there was a stoppage in play, I had my eyes on Winnipeg and Minnesota. Every possible option. The Flames can make it in on their own, but some help would be nice.
But the real game to scoreboard watch hadn’t started yet. In the intense but awesome hell the NHL scheduler unknowingly bestowed upon us, at the very least, sense was present to stagger the Flames and the Oilers. Because a Flames/Coyotes and an Oilers/Kings game in April needed to be staggered, right? All eyes were gonna be on the province of Alberta. Totally.
Catching the score a minute into their game, I happily commented that it was still tied. Progress in Edmonton! Maybe there was hope after all. Haha, not really though.
Intermission leaves you time to do things, like tweet out stupid comments and check team corsis. After all, I can’t exactly watch the Oilers right now, but a corsi chart should give me some idea as to just how badly they’re being outplayed, and how much longer it’s going to be until the Oilers’ PDO caves in on them this one game– It’s tied. No wait, now the Oilers are ahead.
That was the moment I started feeling it. That disgusting, sickening feeling that you try to suppress, because you know better, but it claws its way out from deep inside you and you wonder if you just ruined everything. Kind of like when you involuntarily start thinking the word “shutout” and then two minutes later your goalie gets scored on (if your goalie is Jonas Hiller, it may or may not be his own fault. I love you Jonas, but, oh my god).
“The Oilers are out-possessing the Kings. This isn’t going to last, obviously, but it’s still tied, so you know, maybe they can do it. They’ve come this far. Maybe they can do it.” You try to shut up your thoughts because you don’t want to ruin it, but your team is so close to the playoffs, and it’s been so long, and you don’t want to say goodbye to this loveable group on a frickin’ Saturday afternoon, because seriously, ending the season on a matinee? That’s not right.
And it’s so close you can taste it. Hope. Hall, Omark, Paajarvi, Eberle. Remember that? Except this version is better. And probably more gut-twisting.
“Let’s go Oilers!” was a common chant I heard throughout the night. Especially when my mom, fidgety and impatient, was checking the scores on the NHL app and then viciously punched my arm and thrust her phone in my face to get my attention, and I involuntarily shouted, “IT’S 3-1 EDMONTON,” and my section went into an absolute frenzy.
There were roars as the Flames staved off Arizona’s empty net attack, but there were even more when Kristin Hallett told Matt Stajan in his post-game that it was 3-1 Edmonton. (It was actually 3-2 at that point, and people yelled at me for pointing that out, but, I mean, you can’t get your hopes up. Right?)
We stuck around, because trying to exit the press level in the Saddledome while everyone else is exiting the press level in the Saddledome is insanity. And also because you just knew they were going to start showing the Oilers game.
Which led to one of the most surreal, but awesome, moments of my sports fandom life: hanging around a smattering of Flames fans, sprinkled throughout the Saddledome (I understand the concourse was very full, but we did not make it out there), staring at an Oilers/Kings game and just waiting for the moment the Oilers were going to blow it. But for once, somehow, not to gloat.
Not to crow and cheer as the “next year is our year” fanbase floundered and embarrassed themselves for the eight billionth time within the last five years (plus!).
But to pray they would, for once in their lives, hold on to a lead.
Much like fans in Vancouver and Winnipeg. All of western Canada, except probably some of those in Edmonton – this is a really good year for tanking, or so I hear – with their eyes glued to a game with half a period to go in the midst of an improbable score, watching the minutes melt off and, in my case at least, making stupid, panicked noises every time the Kings had the puck in the offensive zone.
And chanting “Let’s go Oilers!”
And cheering whenever they cleared the puck from their zone. Especially when it was a controlled clear.
Martin Jones is out of the net, and oh god, the Kings are possession demons and they’re too good to miss the playoffs, who is even on the Oilers’ defence, “Tyler Pitlick” is a vaguely familiar name but seriously who’s that, Anze Kopitar is terrifying, EDMONTON IS CONTROLLING THE PUCK THROUGH THE NEUTRAL ZONE, THE KINGS AREN’T CLOGGING IT UP, IT’S IN and we’re all losing it over an empty net Oilers goal, because they actually won a game. In regulation.
Someone in the Saddledome presses the goal horn. The victory horn. The building is still full of Flames fans who have refused to leave because important things are going on, and are just now starting to make their ways out. Blessed be the ushers and security staff and everyone there who puts up with the fanatical, nonsensical behaviour sports fandom encourages, like being genuinely, genuinely thrilled that your most hated, historical rival, in a rivalry that goes far beyond hockey, just won a game. Everyone’s watching, and cheering, including the building itself.
The last time the surge of a playoff push was this intoxicating was 2010-11. The team got off to a bad start, improbably rebounded (remember that pre-Christmas 3-2 shootout win over the Dallas Stars? That was the night Jamie Benn bloodied Jarome Iginla, and Alex Tanguay had those ridiculous little back-to-back snipes to tie it up late and then win the shootout), and got eliminated in the midst of their penultimate game, a 6-1 thrashing of the Oilers (some things just don’t change). It was the little veteran-laden team that almost could, just one year removed from the post-season and ready to get back in it.
It was also a time of meaningful scoreboard watching, because the Flames needed help to get back into the playoffs, and they didn’t get it. They weren’t too far off, but the hole was dug too deep and they finally ran out of chances.
Four years later, and the Flames cannot be eliminated in the midst of their penultimate regular season game. They couldn’t have been, anyway; this time, though, Flames fans camped out in their hockey home, staring up at the jumbotron or at screens on the concourse, praying for the NHL’s laughing stock of the last several years to do something right for once, and were rewarded.
It’s not like our collective willing made it happen, but it happened.
The next generation of players, and they’re getting the help the previous couldn’t. That’s the part of this that makes it feel kind of… well… fate-y.
I tried to think of some specific aspect of the Flames to write about, I really did. I have a list of backup ideas in case I get stuck and everything. But instead, I cheered for the Oilers, and as their game went on, it morphed from a hope I was trying to beat out before giving it the chance to mutate into anguish to something very, very close to the desperation I felt watching the Flames defend against six Coyote attackers. And I bounced out of the Saddledome, feeling so good and so right and laughing about the improbability of it all.
It wasn’t that I’ve never cheered for the Oilers to win a game before – I’ve never done it so strongly. I’ve never done it in a hockey arena. I’ve never done it surrounded by others, all wearing red, all wanting that one thing to happen as a (rather vocal) collective group. I’ve never been part of a community wanting an Oilers victory so bad we could taste it, the air heavy with it and with the cheers and screams ripped from throats and sounding so right above Flames ice. And that thought just dominated me, so I wanted to write about it.
Last night I went to a Flames game, and I shouted “Let’s go Oilers,” and it felt right, and everything was good.