SUN Hockey Pool

Fans have right to voice their displeasure

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:43 AM ET

There's something to be said for venting.

The return of Chris Pronger should be therapeutic for Edmonton Oilers fans who've been waiting for the opportunity to bray until they're blue in the face and call Pronger names.

If that soothes the wound Pronger inflicted on the collective psyche of fans by asking for a trade last June, so be it. My over-under on the first "Pronger sucks" chant is 20 minutes before the pre-game warm-up.

If nothing else, all this fuss should put a charge in the old rink tonight, and there's nothing wrong with that. Heck, it might even provide the Oilers an edge, which is something they can use after getting pasted 6-2 in Anaheim in the first meeting of the teams Oct. 25.

But if you think anything yelled or chanted or scrawled on a sign is going to make even an iota of difference to Pronger or rattle him, think again. My guess is he'll have a helluva game just because, well, he can. Sticks and stones ...

'READY TO PLAY'

"He's tough," said Craig MacTavish. "His credentials speak for themselves and, obviously, he treats the game in a very professional manner. He was a picture of professionalism when he was here.

"He's ready to play every game. He's mentally focused. He plays the game at a high intellectual level ... a lot of people would be affected by what I anticipate will happen here, but he won't be. He's one of the few guys who can just block this out and play through it."

As passionate as Oilers fans are, the obligatory razzing should be in good fun, although I'll bet more than the usual number of leather-lunged knuckleheads fuelled by beer and stupidity will be pitched into paddy wagons by the end of the night.

"I think this is their time to vent, let loose and get it off their shoulders," said Steve Staios.

"He's a pretty focused guy. I know there's going to be a lot of emotion in the building, hopefully to our advantage ... I'm sure he wishes things worked out differently here, but that wasn't the case.

"He's probably pretty prepared to hear the reaction."

Fans convinced Pronger stiffed or slighted them by ducking out on his five-year contract without any explanation have a right to voice their displeasure. Just don't think it'll mean a damn thing to No. 25.

"Do they really need an answer? He's gone," said Shawn Horcoff. "Whether they get one or not, it's not going to make him come back. Personally, we didn't need one. He's gone. It's a business. We understand that. He made a decision that helped his family."

Still, Horcoff gets it.

"From a fan's perspective, I do understand it," said Horcoff, who is pals with Mike Comrie, another fan favourite. "Let's be honest, I used to be a fan and I'm still a fan of the game.

FRUSTRATING TIMES

"When I think about my favourite football team or whatever, if they lose a superstar player, of course you're frustrated because that hurts your team's chances of success."

There's nothing Pronger, who had three assists Oct. 25, can say that'll undo the ill-will his trade request generated.

Is it really any surprise he hasn't even tried? In concert with that, the success Pronger and the Ducks are enjoying has got to be particularly frustrating.

"Chris was a huge part of our success last year," Ryan Smyth said.

"If he's a guy on your team, you love him. He plays against you and you hate him. If fans can boo the Great One, they can boo anybody. Gretz had that, too, when he came through here."

Bet the farm, Pronger would like nothing better than a little more of that success tonight. A win is the ultimate shut-up, isn't it?

"Especially in a town like this, when you lose a player of that calibre, it hurts," Horcoff said.

"Fans take it personally. They feel like a part of the team.

"My Team My Town is our motto here. When you have 40 owners who are local business people, fans feel like they own part of the team and so they should. It hits home a lot more."


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