The 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs are finished and the dust is starting to settle for the NHL for another year. All except for Ovi, who may still be drunk. As I look back on the season as a fan of hockey, there were some great stories: the aforementioned Alexander Ovechkin hoisting his first Stanley Cup, the John Tavares / Long Island saga, the Golden Knights surpassing everyone’s expectations, the highlights, the lowlights, and everything in between.
Looking back as a fan of the Oilers? Well, it’s mostly lowlights, unfortunately. A team seen around the league as one poised to finally become competitive again after an impressive 2016/2017 season. Connor McDavid’s performance that season had the city drooling and patiently waiting for hockey to start up again to see what else this team had in store for their faithful.
And then last year happened.
Finn O'Hara photographs Connor McDavid for Adidas.
Connor McDavid is a Canadian ice hockey centre and captain for the Edmonton Oilers of the National Hockey League (NHL) – check out the series https://t.co/aJiQyKiIuI #nhl @adidasCA pic.twitter.com/7eTUhKHKVb
— INSTITUTE (@instituteartist) April 12, 2018
What happened? Well, it’s been well debated and documented about how many players didn’t live up to expectations, there were rumours flying around about struggles in the dressing room, multiple players admitting confidence issues, etc etc etc. Sadly so few of us really knows what happened behind closed doors, or in some people’s heads, but what we as fans do see is still important to us who still hang on. And this year there was a major shift in attitude. And here’s a small idea on what might help.
Nail Yaupov will be known for his rink-long goofy sliding celebration. Theo Fleury doing more or less the same. The Ovi stick on fire dance. The Crosby Olympic glove toss. The epic Bobby Orr flying picture. Let’s even look closer to home the last few Oilers years. Georges Laraque jumping into the glass. Pat Maroon with both hands held high gliding backward into the boards. The Taylor Hall glove drag. Kassian and his missing tooth yell. The McDavid double fist pump.
I bet Every Oilers fan, and most around the league can recall some sort of memory of most of the examples above. A celebration is infectious. It invigorates your linemates that get to join in on the fun. But it’s so much more than what just happens on the ice. An exciting celebration affects and pumps up the other players on the bench, the coaches, as well as the fans both at the rink and watching on TV. A happy celebration can make us all feel like we’re all a part of the experience, just as the team or player that just scored are enjoying themselves.
That didn’t happen last year for the Oilers. Sure, it was a disappointing season through and through. But even when there was some momentum in a game or a stretch of a few good games, I found that the majority of the goals the Oilers scored was celebrated with an obligatory, non-emotional ‘pat pat’, followed by a leisurely skate past a bench filled with other players with the same stone-faced expressions.
Those were the moments that can really drag, not only yourself and teammates but your whole community’s spirit right to the bottom of the mud puddle. Despite having such a bad year, the players are still playing a game they love, their coaches love, and their fans love, not ignoring the fact they get paid well to do so.
I’m not suggesting that the celebrations would have turned the season around, or solved whatever problems were plaguing the Oilers last year, but actually enjoying the moments that most players in the league enjoy might have helped stave off basically hitting the bottom of the league (sigh …again).
A friend once told me when I got robbed in Europe, “you can tell the strength of a person not how he acts in times of good, but in times of bad”. Even during the Decade of Darkness, the Oilers still put on a show and kept people interested in coming back. While I really hope the Oilers do better next year, if it goes sideways again I at least hope they give the fans at least something to hold onto.