SUN Hockey Pool

Regaining an identity

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:08 AM ET

Tradition, as we've all watched this season as the Edmonton Eskimos struggle to keep their 34-season streak of making the playoffs alive, can be an albatross.

For the Oilers last year, it was just the opposite. Their own remarkable run ended in 1992. Last year was the regaining of an identity that had been lost.

No new National Hockey League team had ever experienced the success of the Oilers - making the playoffs every single season in the league, winning a Stanley Cup in their fifth season and winning five in a span of seven seasons.

LAST UP IN 1992

One by one, the banners were raised to the roof until they ringed one end of the rink by the time they put up the last one in 1992.

It should be a momentous occasion when that new banner - Western Conference Champions 2005-06 - joins all the others up there tomorrow night.

When the Oilers made it to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final last year, they not only matched the Calgary Flames' run of the previous hockey season, but regained an identity.

"Going For Six in '06" was different to "The Drive For Five" 16 years earlier.

It wasn't a story about a city that was spoiled by success, but a city which had gone 16 seasons without coming close to experiencing what they had once taken for granted.

It was about a franchise that had almost been forced to fold because of the economics of the league and about a 25-to-1 longshot team and a city which gave the Stanley Cup playoffs an environment never before witnessed.

Sixteen years Paul Lorieau had waited to sing O Canada at the Stanley Cup final and then he didn't get to sing it. Instead he thrust his microphone to the crowd after the first few bars for them to sing, as they had since the second round of the playoffs - a scene certain to be repeated as the fans remind themselves and the Oilers what it can be like here when they make it happen in Stanley season.

Tomorrow night's banner-raising should be a celebration of being the most successful team since they came into the league.

A seventh trip to the final. The New York Islanders in the same span had made it to five, New Jersey four and Montreal, Detroit, Calgary and Philadelphia three. The Toronto Maple Leafs hadn't been to the final since 1976.

Thanks in large part to Ty Conklin, the Oilers didn't win a sixth Cup. But they'd been back and the next closest is four by the Islanders and two by New Jersey, Colorado, Pittsburgh and Montreal with Calgary, Tampa Bay and the New York Rangers having one to show for that span of time.

The Oilers, last year, played their 251st playoff game and reclaimed the lead in that category for post-WHA merger statistics. Philadelphia, in that span, has played 248 and Montreal 245.

Maintaining the identity regained, maybe best illustrated by that last stat, is what this season should be all about.

MAKE THE PLAYOFFS

The goal for 30 teams in differing degrees is always to win the Stanley Cup at the start of the season. But in Edmonton it's first and foremost to make the playoffs again to prove it wasn't a fluke and have the chance to experience, as players and fans, what was experienced here last year.

Homegrown 14-goal Stanley Cup playoff hero Fernando Pisani put it as well as anyone.

"We have a taste of what it's like to go far into the playoffs. Now that we've had that taste, we kind of want to have that taste again."

Coach Craig MacTavish puts it another way.

"Our players are very committed to getting back to prove it wasn't a fluke."

Watching that banner go to the roof tomorrow night and seeing it up there all year should be inspiration for this year's perspiration.


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