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Happy Anniversary!

by Jen Sharpe / Edmonton Oilers
What a difference a year makes. At this time last year, I was a wide-eyed Manitoban, slightly freaking out about my first (and hopefully only) NHL call-up, and frequently wondering aloud “What’s so bad about the Flames anyway? I don’t get it.”

But that’s all changed, my friends. My eyes have returned to their normal state and the NHL thing causes far fewer freak outs than it used to. And I GET the Flames issue. Oh, I get it alright – and for all it’s worth, I agree.

To be honest, I sort of forgot that it was my one-year Oilers anniversary until I received a very kind card from Lead Team (our management group) that thanked me for my contributions over the past 12 months.  Everyone signed it, and though I can’t read half the messages due to sloppy creative handwriting, I’m sure they are heartfelt. And I appreciated the card. A cake would have been nice, but I won’t complain (out loud).

At that point, I thought it might be a good time to share what I’ve learned over the past year. You can take these lessons and apply them to your own life (encouraged) or take these lessons and toss them out the virtual window (likely). Your call.

1 -  Oilers fans are everywhere. EVERYWHERE. Including here, and over there. And probably under your stairs.

As I’ve stated on 1,126 previous occasions, I spent four seasons with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose prior to joining the Oilers. The Moose are a successful team and they are an NHL-caliber club on multiple levels; as such, they have a lot of fans.

But my experience in Moose-land left me dangerously unprepared for Oil Country. First of all, it’s called Oil COUNTRY, and I’m assuming that’s because there are enough Oilers fans to populate and sustain a small- to medium-sized nation. I see you – and your matching Oilers logos – everywhere: at the car wash, crossing the street, on the news, installing cable in my apartment, playing the role of “Groom” in my best friend’s wedding.

It’s quite overwhelming – in a good way. I certainly don’t have to explain or justify my job to anyone while immersed in Oil Country. You immediately know what I’m talking about, and you often know the subject better than I do, which makes me a bit nervous but I’m trying to get over that.

Keep up the good work, at any rate.

2 – “It’s Gagner, not Gagne!” and other errors that will not be tolerated

 We all make mistakes, but some mistakes are costlier than others. Early in my Oilers tenure, I was asked to write a game recap. With Rookie Camp fresh in my mind and Training Camp still underway, I had the names and faces of approximately 83 players swirling around my head. No excuse for misspelling the name of our top sophomore, but that’s the only excuse I have. Sam Gagner was Sam Gagne in that game recap, and with head-spinning swiftness, this error was promptly broadcasted on a handful of message boards.

Now thankfully, I was wise enough to choose a career path that facilitates editing. Unlike a newspaper journalist, I was able to quickly log into the page, add that elusive ‘r’ and pretend like nothing happened.

But I’m coming clean now, and you can all rest assured that such an error will not happen again. Other errors that you will not see from me are: OIlers (note the upper-case I), wrong name to the right photo or vice-versa, or spelling Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson in one of the thousand or so forms that differ from the correct form.

It’s a work in progress. Some areas I still need to work on: powerplay/power-play/power play, memorizing the Cup years (that’s a bad one, I know), and finding better headline descriptors for Flames game recaps (you can only use “smother” and “burn” so much).

3 – Just because someone bakes it, brings it to the office, puts it on the counter at reception, and encourages you to eat it, it doesn’t mean you have to eat it.

I’m still working on that one.

4 – Just say no to that extra pair of shoes or last-minute Starbucks visit

I was lucky enough to travel with the team on four trips this past season, including a five-day excursion to Colorado, Chicago and Minnesota in March (read all about it here). Although I was taught this lesson on the previous trips, the mid-western experience embedded it into my brain: over-packing and dawdling are two of the major no-nos when travelling with the team.

Of course, I was far too terrified to break either of these rules, but I was reminded of their significance at every turn. When boarding the plane, you definitely don’t want to whack Rod Phillips on the noggin’, so try to bring the smallest bag possible. When leaving the plane, you definitely don’t want to hold up the players by struggling to lift your possessions out of the overhead, so try to bring the lightest bag possible.

Timeliness is even more important. When meeting in the lobby before practice, you definitely don’t want to be the last person on the bus – mostly because the bus won’t wait for you, but also because it would be mortifying. When finishing up post-game video and audio after the game, you REALLY don’t want to be the last person on the bus – mostly because the bus and then the plane won’t wait for you, and also because it would be mortifying. (Are you noticing a trend?)

Here are some other less-important lessons I learned while travelling with the team:
  • Just because the chocolate bars, chips, sandwiches, wraps, and other delicious snacks on the plane are free, it doesn’t mean you should eat them. At least not all of them.
  • When lost in the bowels of foreign arenas, walk with purpose and pretend to text someone on your BlackBerry. If that fails, follow Rod Phillips – he knows how to get everywhere.
  • The seats on the plane recline REALLY far. Take advantage. It’s quite comfortable.
  • Although you may think they want to know, all your friends don’t really want to know how you’re enjoying the sights and sounds of an NHL game in Chicago courtesy of the Oilers. It’s a good story, true, but they really don’t want to hear about it.
  • If you can’t identify an item in the media buffet, you probably shouldn’t eat it. One exception is if it looks especially delicious.
5 – Don't take it for granted

This applies to more than free food. It’s easy to get jaded or burnt out or weighed down by the expectations and demands of my job, but I’ve got it pretty good and I try really hard not to forget it. Like any job, there are pros and cons, but the pros far outweigh the cons on almost any given day.

I’ll admit that there were some tough days over the past year (the days after we were eliminated from playoff contention, for example), but something or someone inevitably reminded me why I’m here and why I make sacrifices to be here. Do I have lots of free time in the winter? No, but since hibernating isn’t an option, watching hockey for a living is a pretty decent alternative. Do I miss out on some get-togethers with friends and family because there’s a game on? Of course I do, but I surround myself with people who understand and they get over it (eventually).

I’m sure I will learn a lot more this year, and I look forward to keeping you posted on what’s going on in Oil Country headquarters as the season progresses.

Happy Anniversary!
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