Very few people seem to care about hockey on the West Coast. It’s not like at home where hockey is a lifestyle, woven in to the Edmonton identity alongside cold weather and seasonal road construction. In Edmonton, you see people wearing hockey jerseys year round. I’ve seen people transporting hockey gear on public transit and I mean even I’ve shot a puck at a net before (I’m the athletic equivalent of a pylon). Hockey is important.
Things are different on the island though. People here like baseball and soccer and recycling. I’m sure there are fair-weather Canucks fans who’d jump on the bandwagon if that team ever gets good again, and Victoria does have a WHL team that made the playoffs this year (Go Royals!), but still, nobody seems very excited about the ol’ game of stick-puck. So when the Oilers made it to the post-season this year and I was really excited about it, that excitement fell on mostly-deaf ears.
It was weird.
I’m used to hockey being a point of conversation. You know? Kind of like the weather. Even if everyone isn’t watching the games everyone usually has an idea of how the team’s doing. It’s plastered all over the city in different ways by different people. Edmonton loves the Oilers. Like, really loves them (even when we hate them, we still love them). I don’t know if there’s a group of fans who loves their team more than Edmonton’s fans love the Oilers. Even at the ugliest points in the club’s history, the arena was selling out. Heck, during this year’s playoff run the arena was selling out when the team was playing AWAY games. Like I said, hockey is important.
I’m sad that I couldn’t be home to experience this playoff run firsthand, but luckily for me this time around Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat exist so I was able to experience it all vicariously. And I cried, oh how I cried, at each post and tweet and short video. They were tears of longing and joy. It made me miss my city. It made me miss belonging and being a part of something larger than just myself sitting in my den drinking too much and shouting at the Sportsnet panel. So, I booked a flight home for June. I couldn’t get away sooner than that and I had faith that my team would go all the way. Because I always think they’re going to win, every game. And sometimes I’m right and sometimes I’m wrong, but regardless I believe it every single time they play. I was wrong last Wednesday when the Oilers dropped Game 7 to the Anaheim Ducks, 2-1. And it bummed me out, I’m not going to lie. I didn’t want this season to end–I don’t think any Oilers’ fan did.
I know you might be thinking that it’s just a game, it’s just hockey. And you’re right–it is a game, and it is hockey. But it became more than that to me. It’s been almost nine months since I moved to Victoria and it’s been a hard nine months. I’ve had to make all new friends and learn how to function alone and get used to a brand new city. These are all exciting things but they’re terrifying things too. Sometimes it was all too much to handle and I really missed home and I was sad and I was lonely and I just needed that feeling of belonging. And in those moments I could turn to hockey. I could turn on Sportsnet. Or I could listen to 630CHED online. Or I could turn to Twitter and read tweets from the Edmonton Oilers and the fans. I sometimes would just watch the video–you know the video? The one that they play before the games on the jumbotron? Yeah, that one. I’d just watch it and cry because I missed home so much. Hockey made me feel like I was still connected to my hometown and the people in it.
So, last Wednesday, when that final horn honked and the game was over, I was sad. I was selfishly sad. Because the thing is, watching the playoffs was the most fun I’d had watching hockey in a long time. And the Oilers had a great season. And it was refreshing to watch meaningful hockey again. But I didn’t want it to end before I made it home in June. Because I wasn’t ready to let go of hockey… because it felt like letting go of home.
I also just really, really, really wanted us to beat the Ducks and wipe that smirk off Getzlaf’s face. But hey, there’s always next year!
I feel better about it now–it still stings a bit, but the pain has mostly faded. And I still have my trip home to look forward to in June and I’ve realized that even if there won’t be hockey to watch, there will still be plenty of people talking about the Oilers online and that might be just enough to fill the void. At least, it’ll hold me over ’til the pre-season.
I might not have hockey to plan my life around anymore, but I’m glad that the Oilers let me hold on to hockey for a little bit longer at a time when I needed hockey the most.