SUN Hockey Pool

Electric Avenue

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

If they didn't know before why it's called the Heartland of Hockey, the newest Edmonton Oilers know it now.

If a few forests worth of newspaper stories, saturation coverage on the TV-casts and being stared at in public like they were walking with Brad, Angelina and Bigfoot weren't hints enough, the earful they got on opening night was.

Up until two days ago most of them had only heard about Edmonton's passion by word of mouth. Now they've seen it at full playoff volume and still have the goosebumps to show for it.

"A lot of arenas are loud, but this building just seems to have that aura about it," said Todd Harvey, who had his cage rattled a few times here as a Dallas Star. "I've been here in the playoffs and seen it from the other side and it's tough. It's hard to explain, but it is different here."

Pronger has heard loud rinks before, but never has he felt the passion he felt on opening night at Rexall Place.

"Home openers are pretty electrifying to begin with," he said. "But there just seemed to be an extra buzz in the building that you could sense from the crowd and it was a lot of fun to be part of."

'I HAD CHILLS'

Welcome to Edmonton. When your team is winning, and looking as good doing it as the Oilers did on Wednesday, there aren't many better places to play. Ask Jarret Stoll.

"When we were coming out I had chills," he said. "Seeing the fans, the towels, just how loud it was."

But passion is a two-way street, as Edmonton's 2004 power play is well aware. As ready as this city is to lift you with its energy when you deserve it, it's just as quick to turn up the heat when you don't. And unlike most NHL cities, where players can seek refuge behind the NFL, NBA and MLB, there's nowhere to hide.

"That's what you want," said Michael Peca, who knew what he was in for when he came here. "I don't think it's a good character trait to want to play somewhere where there isn't that pressure. You don't want the ability to go and hide. You want to be in an environment where people care. You need to be held accountable."

And in few places do they hold you more accountable than on Wayne Gretzky Drive.

"You have a whole community making sure that you give an honest effort," said Peca.

The Sharks always played to packed, raucous houses in San Jose, the best sunbelt market in the league, but Harvey says it's just not the same.

"San Jose has great fans, but they don't know as much about the game. They're learning, they're even booing when the power play sucks, so they're starting to catch on, but it takes time.

NEW FACES

"But in a Canadian city the fans know what's going on and they expect the best from you every night. That comes with pressure and you can either use it to your advantage or it can eat you up. We have enough guys in this room who know how to react to stuff like that."

Because they've seen it enough to appreciate its value. With new faces and a new world order in the NHL, head coach Craig MacTavish says it was good for the 2005 Oilers to realize how much they mean to the city, and how much the city can mean to them.

"Seeing the dedication that they displayed was an important lesson," he said. "Our team is one that very much thrives on that type of electricity and energy. It's a team that our fans are going to readily identify with in terms of our work ethic and physical play. We're going to really feed off one another this year."

In L.A. they say it's good to be a King, but nothing beats a market where hockey wears the crown.

"I've never had that chance, and it's one of the reasons why I did come here," said Harvey.

"I was excited to have the opportunity to feel important. It's not that you don't feel important everywhere else, but hockey means something to the people here, and as a player that makes it mean a little more to you."


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