SYLVAN LAKE, Alberta -- One of the quirks of this town being equidistant between two NHL franchises is it becomes a bit of a battleground for fan allegiances.
When the Calgary Flames arrived in Sylvan Lake for the morning skate Wednesday in advance of a preseason game against the Arizona Coyotes as part of Kraft Hockeyville, there were plenty of Edmonton Oilers jerseys in the crowd.
Some of those Oilers fans were happy to see someone they have cheered for when the Coyotes arrived. Sam Gagner spent the past seven seasons with Edmonton before landing with the Coyotes after being traded twice in a span of hours, first to the Tampa Bay Lightning and then to Arizona.
"I saw a few Oilers jerseys but didn't see the backs of them," Gagner said when asked if he saw any of his jerseys in the crowd. "I got a few 'miss you's,' so it was nice to hear from Oilers fans but I'm excited about my next chapter."
Ganger is one of several Coyotes with ties to the area or to Alberta who will be in the lineup at the Sylvan Lake Multiplex. Another is goaltender Brendan Burke, who is slated to play in the third period against the Flames.
Burke was a sixth-round pick (No. 163) by the Coyotes in the 2013 NHL Draft. His father Sean played for the Coyotes and he grew up in the Phoenix area.
His family also has a cabin here in Sylvan Lake and he spent lots of time here in the summer.
"It was kind of a coincidence that the Coyotes are here playing in Kraft Hockeyville, so I'm really excited," Burke said. "I went to a couple hockey camps there and played there a little growing up. It is home for me and I'm really excited to be part of this.
"It's the best of both worlds. Growing up in Phoenix, Phoenix was my home team. Coming here in the summers, I would skate here. It is playing for my home team and playing on home ice. It is definitely exciting. I'm just looking forward to the opportunity."
Ganger spent part of his summers in Edmonton when he played for the Oilers. He said he never made it as far south as Sylvan Lake, but as a member of the Oilers he has spent time in small Alberta communities like this one during team functions.
"That was the great part about playing here is the passion people have for the game," Gagner said. "I think you see that at an event like this. Everyone is excited to be here and passionate about the hockey."