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Tait: A love affair with hockey

Cam Tait writes about a young man with autism who is a massive hockey and Oilers fan

by Cam Tait @camtait /

It's rather ironic Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving just a few days before the National Hockey Season opens, and, specifically, the Edmonton Oilers home opener Wednesday, October 12.

Oilers fans are getting ready for a new chapter in the franchise with the move into Rogers Place.

Fans like 21-year-old Ryan Wolfert, who works as a merchandising assistant at Lexus of Edmonton.  

"I think the Oilers will do great this year now that they are in the new Rogers Place," said Ryan, a young man with high-functioning autism.

Ryan was part of the 50,000 people who attended the September 10 Open House at Rogers Place.

"... I love mechanical stuff like trains and cars and more especially watching the way they work and the controls, lights, gauges and screen. And that jumbotron is now one of them. I can't wait to go to games at Rogers Place and create lots of memories there."

Hardcore Oilers fan? Absolutely.

The love affair began when he started watching the team in the 2006 Playoffs. They made it all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The following season he went to his very first Oilers game against the Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes.

"The Oilers won the game," said Ryan who remembers the score: 5-2. I couldn't believe it. It was an exciting experience to be at the game and that got me into wanting to go to more games."

Since then, Ryan has attended five Oilers home games a season - until last year. He went to 13 games.

"When I go to the games I stay till the end of the game and cheer them on and support them even if they are not doing well and don't win," said Ryan.

"This is what I love to do." 

One night was extra special: the final Oilers night the team played in Rexall Place, last April 6.

Ryan's tickets for the game were his 21st birthday present from his parents. He says it was a great experience and he got to see his favourite player, Connor McDavid, score a goal.

And speaking of Mr. McDavid... 

Ryan and his family are members of the Royal Glenora Club. In the summer of 2015, the Oilers were skating at the newly renovated hockey rink at the Royal Glenora.

Ryan watched a few practices and then a very special moment happened.

"After one practice I met Connor McDavid and he autographed my flags and jersey like the other players did," said Ryan. "That was quite the experience for me."

"Connor is such a talented and fast young player and the way he skates is amazing. He can out-skate many players and that is a huge help for the team to succeed. He is so amazing to watch which I believe is now one of my favourite Oilers players. I got to have a picture taken with him and not many people get to do that."

Ryan made a point of contacting the Oilers to let them know how much the team means to him.

So, as we all sit around the Thanksgiving dinner table this weekend, we give thanks for the upcoming hockey season; and not just for the teams.

But fans like Ryan, too.  

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