Edmonton, AB - Fuelled by complimentary popcorn, hot dogs, beverages and good times, thousands of Oilers Season Seat Holders packed the Shaw Conference Centre in downtown Edmonton on Saturday.
Between 1:30 and 3:00pm, attendees hit various stations around the spacious ballroom, getting a rare and exclusive opportunity to snap a photo and spend a moment sharing stories or a quick laugh with their favourite players.
"When I walked in here around 2:30pm and saw the amount of people, I was blown away," said General Manager Steve Tambellini, who was thrilled to have gotten the opportunity to mingle with the club's valued customers. "These are important sessions. We normally don't get a chance to sit down and share our thoughts on team direction and how they feel about things.
"You can ask any question," he added, smiling. "We're pretty open about how we feel about our team, our city and where we're going."
At 3:15, the Oilers' signature goal horn serenaded the crowd, catching their attention and drawing interest to the hall's centre stage; there, the voice of the Oilers, Jack Michaels, introduced Tambellini and President and COO Patrick LaForge, where an hour-long hot stove beefed with fan-submitted questions grilled the club's brass.
Topics such as the new downtown arena, the organization's long-term outlook as it wades through this rebuilding process, and the Oilers' commitment to internal development – highlighted by the success with the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons – were all candidly addressed.
With a closing note about not settling for a post-season berth, striving higher and aiming toward Stanley Cup championships on the horizon, the crowd hooted and hollered in approval and in support of the team's arrow-up direction.
"Kevin (Lowe) and I talked a couple years ago about what we thought we needed to do to reboot this organization, and reinforce the qualities that we feel are needed in order to bring a championship here," Tambellini explained.
"The entire organization understands where we're going and how we're going to do it. Are there some difficult things to come along the way? Absolutely. But we're trying to prepare a foundation that allows us a chance to compete for Stanley Cups. We're not looking for little things to help us get better now. We're looking for big pieces in this organization that are going to fuel us for great success."
Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the emergence of Jeff Petry, who's stood up as one of the team's top rearguards this season, were all named as the general manager addressed the crowd. But beyond the squad's on-ice endeavours, the Oilers' plan to become one of the NHL's elite can also be evaluated by another in-the-works enterprise.
In providing a quick progress report on the heels of a 16-year Season Seat Holder's question, LaForge provided some additional details on the team's downtown venture, including conceptual slides of the Oilers' future home.
"There's a lot to do, but there's certainly the right amount of skill and genius to get it done," he said.
As Jack Michaels said with a quick quip, the ‘elephant in the room' continues to be the $100 million needed to complete the project's finances. That, as LaForge explains, is now in the hands of the City of Edmonton.
"The Katz Group will be entering into a lease agreement (35 years, along with a location agreement that will last equally as long) with the city-owned arena," he explained. "It does include the use of revenue the city would get from other places, like provincial grants."
Although updates are minor at this point, there's forward momentum as the arena is now in the design stage.
Just as the club and its valued customers are, the Oilers and the City of Edmonton are working as one.
"Season Seat Holders are like shareholders in a company," LaForge said. "They're with you a long time and they have a large investment of their time and resources to attend games and participate in all the things going on. They had a chance to interact, ask questions and engage.
"I don't know that it could be any better."
"I thought it was awesome," added Brett Barker, an Oilers Season Seat Holder since 2008. "It was a good experience to come and do this, to have fun and interact with other Season Seat Holders, the players and the GM."