Edmonton, AB - Back in the late '90s when the Oilers desperately needed corporate support, Copper Jackets member Fred Foord and his coworker Lorne Newton spearheaded an idea to pack the building now known as Rexall Place and provide an alternative to Edmonton's diehard hockey crowd.
"The Oilers were in trouble and there was talk about losing them," Foord said. "Bill Hunter, Cal Nichols and the guys were putting things together to try and keep the team in town -- so the idea that Lorne brought to me was, 'Let's buy some season tickets and do our part.'"
The plan? Eight season seat sets were purchased, set aside and allocated to those who couldn't commit the time or money that comes with a complete, 45-game package.
Divided into 11, 22 and 33-game packs (participants also have the option to invest in a complete set), it's done through a draft that allows members to assemble their own season-long schedule. 16 years later, the event is bigger and better than ever. What started with eight packs grew to 92 in 2011, and it's now reached the century mark -- all in First Truck Centre's name -- as 2012's bounty was divvied up this past Tuesday night at TELUS Field.
"You get some people that only choose weekend games, people that only choose weekday games -- and the Original 6 are always popular," Foord explained. "You'll also see people that hit the same game twice and end up with four seats to it. We've had people with as many as six. Everyone loves it and the excitement is like this every year. Everyone's pumped."
Fuelled by beer and mixed drinks, burgers and other delicious pub grub, Foord stands at a podium and begins shouting out the selection order. The participants, seated at various stations around TELUS Field's Home Plate Club, quickly consult a weathered and heavily scribbled-up checklist while reporting back to Foord.
With only moments to decide, their code letters and the game number are communicated for all to hear: "Echo Foxtrot! Game 41!" On to the next one in seconds -- and that April 13 date vs. Calgary was a popular choice.
"We certainly want the last game of the season," said Kris Morra, a third-year buyer who hadn't yet experienced the event. "My husband usually comes, but I'm pretty excited to be here now to see what goes down, and it sounds like it's a pretty crazy event."
The Morras were originally invited to the group by their friends, Cam and Jan.
While single-game opportunities were limited, as well as the challenge in scheduling that comes with a predetermined mini-pack, Kris and her husband settled on an 11-game pack when they began three years ago. Today, they're considering increasing that number if the pocketbook will allow it.
"I think it's going to be a pretty exciting season with the young Oilers. We're looking at games when it's warm outside," Kris laughed.
"I'd love to buy more."
In a little over three hours, 14 pairs to every game were distributed to the happy customers. Of the 100+ members of the group, 72 are now proud owners of full season seat sets and were not in attendance Tuesday night. If you're interested in becoming a member, sadly it's a club almost as exclusive as the Stonecutters.
"The only way you can get into this group is if somebody leaves it, because we can't get anymore season tickets," Foord laughed.
With 16 years now in the books, Foord is pleased with what's been accomplished and with the relationship he's helped build with the Oilers. In return, the club continues to show its appreciation by donating the venue, prizes and other perks to the group that helped keep hockey in Edmonton.
Nowadays, it's an ongoing tradition that helps epitomize the passion and enthusiasm seen only in Oil Country.
"This is hockey in August," Foord said, smiling. "Our relationship with the Oilers has been really good and the reason being, they appreciated that when they needed us, we were there. We've grown it into something big -- I believe we're the largest single season ticket holder the Oilers have.
"We've done our job. To grow it from eight season tickets [to where we are now], we're pretty happy."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick