It may have been the Edmonton Oilers second day of training camp, but for nine-year-old Lucas Baldwin, it was his first day — and first time ever — watching the NHL team train in the Leduc Recreation Centre, Friday.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “I even got my jersey signed!”
The Atom AA defenseman, who has been playing hockey for five years now, was enjoying his PD-day break from school and was about to sit down to lunch when his mom came down with some exciting news.
“We had heard that in the past that (the Oilers) practice here but we’ve never been fortunate enough to be here at the same time," said Tina Marie Baldwin, 41.
"I happened to be on Facebook and saw that they were here…so I went down and I said, ‘Hey buddy, the Oilers are at Leduc, do you want to go?’ and he’s like, ‘Ugh, yea!’”
Though their last minute attendance couldn't grant them access to the seating above, Lucas and his mom were more than happy to watch the players through the viewing glass and in the warmth of the recreational centre’s hallway.
It was an exciting morning for Oilers fans all around, and the players themselves could feel it too.
“I wasn’t here in Edmonton all summer long but as soon as I got here you can tell there’s a different feeling around town regarding the Oilers and that’s great,” said Taylor Hall.
Hundreds were in attendance, all of which were randomly selected from the thousands of entries in the Training Camp Priority Draw.
And with a crowd like that, there tends to be additional security on scene as well.
“There’s security guards walking around, there’re police officers at the rink and that’s certainly a change for us. I think it’s because we have a new player coming in and I think everyone’s excited for that. It’s great for our team and it’s great for our fan-base,” he said.
Wearing their own orange and blue jerseys, fans could be seen throughout the hallways, anxiously waiting to catch a glimpse of the players as they made their way from their off-ice warm-up to the change room.
“I think it’s really exciting,” said Tina Marie.
“I think it’s amazing for someone like (Lucas) — who eats, sleeps and breathes hockey — for him to be able to come to just a regular old recreation centre and be able to watch his idols on the ice. As a parent, it just makes me so happy, because he loves it. And it’s good, he likes to watch the drills and see what the big boys are doing.”
CHANGE IS IN THE AIR
The stands were tightly packed as fans — young and old — filtered into the upper deck to watch the players make their way onto the ice.
There are fresh faces both on and off the rink this year, and it's created a newfound atmosphere of energy that has not gone unseen by the Oilers players.
|Photo by Andy Devlin. |
“We love having fans around and they got to see the pace of practice that the coaching staff is expecting out of us now. So I think all the cards are out on the table for fans to see,” said Oilers goalie Ben Scrivens.
“We’re not trying to hide anything in the room about what’s expected of us from the coaching staff, and you know, they’re not trying to play mind games with anybody, you’re expected to work hard and anybody who was here today was able to see that and see it first-hand. That’s a great experience for all the young kids who are able to come out and watch us."
The season has yet to begin and already it has seen devoted fans return and newly acquired fans appear, but regardless of their tenure of support for the team, their passion and excitement has spread like wildfire.
"It’s a different time, it’s a different change, a different era I think," said Bob Paulic, 45.
Bob has been a long-time fan, but this is his first time attending the Oilers training camp.
"There seems to be a lot of build-up this year, it’s very exciting, I just want to see what they have," he said.
IF YOU BUILD IT, FANS WILL COME
Along for the ride is 13-year-old Nicolas Paulic, who can't wait to see the team put some winning numbers up on the board.
"I’m looking forward to (watching) Connor McDavid and I think Jordan Eberle is pretty good," said Nicolas.
Bob agrees, but believes that the fan-expectation and pressure for a successful season, which may be weighing on the 18-year-old centre, shouldn't all be focused on him.
"Oh well of course Connor McDavid, but the rest of the team as well,” he said. "It can’t just be on him though, it has to be everybody."
The reality is that the Oilers may very well be on track of finding a successful footing once again, but as with any journey, it all starts one step at a time.
"This is definitely the most excited that I’ve seen Edmonton for sure," said Oilers Jordan Eberle.
"I mean, there’s definitely been excitement every year, with every organization — there’s a new season, you get a clean slate — but this year, especially with what’s going on, it’s great."
The right-winger is likely referring to the new faces that will be joining the Oilers on the ice and behind the blue line.
"I think in our room, we’re just excited to get back and start playing hockey again. For us, training camps are going to be about us and getting our work habits back, getting into the mentality of the team system that we want to play and all around focus for getting ready for that first game. I strongly believe that we have to get off to a good start, that’s going to be huge for us."
One thing is for certain — the fans will be there, ready and waiting.