They came like jilted lovers demanding an explanation.
Edmonton Oilers fans waving signs and wearing defaced Chris Pronger jerseys yesterday booed the erstwhile No. 1 defenceman turned public enemy No. 1.
"I'm bitter about it still," said Morinville's Michael Turchanski, 16.
"He signed a five-year contract and he leaves after the first year. Some sort of explanation would be good. It's just like getting dumped."
Turchanski and his buddy Tyler Velsink, 16, wielded an orange sign that read: "Stronger without Pronger."
They weren't the only ones who warmed up their vocal chords to give the man once considered the cornerstone of the franchise a welcome as frigid as a cold November night in Edmonton.
It seemed so far removed from the halcyon days after the NHL settled its bitter lockout and paved the way for small-market teams like the Oilers to sign players like Pronger and Michael Peca (he left after a year). It was Aug. 5, 2005, when the Oilers introduced the duo to a throng of cheering fans outside their offices.
It didn't take long for fans to start talking Stanley Cup. And the Oilers obliged, going all the way to the finals before losing to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Days later, the six-foot-six Pronger requested a trade. Rumours swirled around the city about why and radio call-in shows were jammed by callers sharing their theories.
Pronger was traded to the Anaheim Ducks and made his return last night to Rexall Place.
No one could feel as ripped off as 19-year-old Justin Derudder, who dropped $250 for a Pronger jersey last year. He crossed Pronger's number out with a red X and wrote "worthless" under the 44.
"I thought he'd be here for a while," he said. "I was pissed off (when he left)."
Josh Slager and his son, Tyler, 11, waved a sign that read: "Pronger without a cup: priceless."
"I feel cheated," said Josh, 30. "I cheered my heart out for him in the playoffs. It feels like players aren't supporting the fans like the fans are supporting the players."
He said Pronger was the biggest name player to play for the Oilers since the days of Gretzky, Messier and Coffey.
"I think Pronger stung the most. We thought we were turning the corner. The only thing that made it worth losing the Stanley Cup is Pronger didn't get to carry it. That hurts like hell to say."
Katie Dahlgren, 20, and Mike Sawchuk, 19, made a homemade sign that read: "Hunting for Duck #25" on one side and "Without Pronger, we're stronger" on the other.
"We don't like him very much," said Sawchuk. "He was so good here and then he left like a little bitch."
Dahlgren, like others, had the same question: "I'd like to know his personal reasons for leaving."