I woke up at 5am Wednesday morning. Couldn't sleep. I got up and random thoughts started sliding through my head. The first was what happened Tuesday night. Did they? They did. Edmonton made the playoffs. Yes the Oilers with their first chance to clinch a post-season berth did so. Normally that's a little early to get the day going but when your thoughts are happy ones, why go back to sleep. I'm sure some were just getting started on their night's sleep after what went on at Rogers Place and who can blame them.
Whomever decided on making March 28th Fan Appreciation Night for the Edmonton Oilers should run out and get a lottery ticket. Albeit it probably felt like the Oilers won the lottery and not the kind that allows you to pick first overall. Those days and selections are long gone. Timing is everything and the organization had it in their planning and on the ice. All fans were given popcorn, a poster and a flag. Some left with TV's, gift cards and one lucky pair of people received tickets for two anywhere Air Canada travels. I guarantee you they weren't the only one's flying after Edmonton beat LA 2-1.
The scene that was set at Rogers Place and spilled out into the streets bringing back memories of what the people of Edmonton experienced in 2006. 11 years is a long time. It gives you time to reflect on what life was like back then. First off there was no Twitter. Facebook was in its infancy and so were my kids. Three, five and seven. Heck, I was still in my thirties. It was a time that the city was two colours: copper and blue. My kids were just in the process of reading and writing yet they were saying Smyth, Pisani, Pronger and Roloson. I had never heard them talk hockey. Yet they were bringing home Oilers names like it was their homework and they were 'studying' their favourite topic every second night in front of the TV.
2006 was a World Cup year for soccer. Our company, @Sportsnet, had the rights to the biggest sporting event on earth. I was scheduled to cover it. 42 days in Germany. Traveling the countryside from venue to venue following the big stories and matches. Until it got underway I was to cover the 'Big story' at home which was the Oilers making the playoffs. Having snuck into the post season in their second-last game, the expectations for Edmonton were low. Somebody forgot to tell them. They knocked off Detroit in six and it was another half dozen games to dispatch San Jose. Suddenly, a dilemma was building. Was I supposed to stay on hockey or move to soccer? My bosses asked me to decide. I couldn't and asked them to make the decision. They decided on hockey over soccer. As it turned out, Italy made it to the final and won. Edmonton also made it to the final but didn't win. No regrets about club over country and I still got to cover a goal-scoring Italian (Fernando Pisani).
Video: FAREWELL REXALL PLACE | Part 5 - 2006 Playoff Run
There's no cheering in the press box. We are there to cover a game and not to express our feelings but instead to discuss the facts. It was pretty hard to do that having grown up a kilometre from Rexall Place (Edmonton Coliseum and then Northlands Coliseum). I'll never forget the night of game five with Steve Staios in the penalty box when the mayor of Little Italy (Pisani) scored shorthanded to keep the Oilers alive. I let out a yell and started distributing high fives like I was in my basement but I wasn't. I was in Carolina. I was admonished for doing it by other members of the media. They were right. I was wrong but it never felt so good to be wrong. While the games were unpredictable so was the passion and the reaction of those that follow it.
That's why it was so liberating to see people at Edmonton's new arena react as they did. It wasn't just in the downtown of the Alberta Capital where the joy was spilling out into the streets. The Oilers have fans all over the world and they rejoiced in different time zones but for the same reason. While it feels like guaranteeing yourself a playoff position is the finish line in essence it's just Edmonton settling into the starting blocks and ready for the starters gun to go off for the race to the Stanley Cup. While one question was answered there are so many that lie ahead. Where will Edmonton finish? Who will they play in the opening round? Will they have home ice advantage? Time and games will reveal all the answers needed.
Once my work was complete at the rink, I headed home and placed a phone call to my kids who are in Winnipeg visiting my wife's side of the family during Spring Break. I spoke to my daughter. She was five in 2006 and now is almost sixteen. She said "Dad, I'm so proud of them." I know she wasn't the only one. Congratulations to the Oilers and their fans and enjoy the playoffs.