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BLOG: A different atmosphere

The Oilers got their first experience of playing without fans in the building during Tuesday's Battle of Alberta

by Paul Gazzola / EdmontonOilers.com

EDMONTON, AB - No 'Let's go Oilers' chants, no national anthem choir and no screams for players to "shoooooot!"

National Hockey League action has returned, but for now, without the energizing seventh man

For the Oilers, who know all about the wavering decibel levels of Oil Country, playing in a mostly-empty arena took some adjustment but didn't detract from the ultimate goal of skating away with a 4-1 victory against the Calgary Flames in Tuesday's Battle of Alberta pre-postseason matchup.

This will be the new norm for the League as it embarks on the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs with its Hub City format, situating 12 Eastern Conference teams in Toronto and 12 Western Conference clubs in Edmonton.

Rather than playing to the melody of discordant crowd commotion, dead silence surfaces from the arena bowl. And without the rallying cries, kicks and screams of a passionate fan base in the building, a made-for-television set design is providing arena pageantry.

Video: OILERS TODAY | Post-Game vs CGY 07.29.20

"To be honest, it felt like The Twilight Zone," goaltender Mike Smith, who stopped 19 of 20 shots in 30:02 of ice time, said. "Definitely one of the oddest games that I've played since I've been in the NHL."

What helped get past the obvious void left by 18,000 devotees was the task at hand: An exhibition Battle of Alberta grudge match.

"It took probably the first period to get used to it," Oilers Captain Connor McDavid, who tallied twice, said. 

"You had two teams that don't like each other very much. It didn't feel too different that way, but we got more and more used to it as the game went on."

Replacing buzz from the fans is what gets declared by the players, referees and coaches on the ice: Skaters dishing chirps or voicing their disagreements with the officials, referees advising on how to stay out of the box mid-play and coach's hollering for line changes on the fly.

Video: POST-RAW | Tippett 07.28.20

"It is different, that's for sure," Oilers Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "You get out there and it just doesn't have that same feel as when you have fans. I tend to block out the crowd anyway, but when the game's not moving and you're looking around, it's a little different. 

"Definitely a different atmosphere in the building."

What won't be uncommon to hear during press availabilities is the emphasis on remaining steadfast mentally. Smith confirmed that keeping a level head during games will be paramount and could be the key to having a deep run.

"It's the same boat for every team," said the netminder. "Every team is going to have mental challenges with creating your own energy and creating your own emotion. 

"That's what's going to make this tournament so unique and difficult to win."

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