Losing not fun in 'City of Champions'

ROBERT TYCHOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 1:21 PM ET

EDMONTON -- When it's been almost two decades since a team last opened a playoff series at home, it learns how to accept a little criticism.

Or a lot of criticism.

And since their long gone glory years, the Oilers have been ripped more than tight jeans at a Meat Loaf family reunion.

But this year was different. It's been a while since the city was this down on its hockey team. Higher expectations mean a longer fall and these 78 games seemed like one long cliff dive.

The big black cloud that followed them since October was relentless.

Meaner.

More intense.

Zamboni driver

From too many goalies, to too few goals, to Dustin Penner, to Shawn Horcoff, to Erik Cole, to Ales Hemsky, to where's Rob Schremp, to the power play, to penalty killing, to the veterans, to the kids, to faceoffs, to charging for autographs, to the Zamboni driver and the never-ending Craig MacTavish cacophony, fans found a grocery list of reasons to grill the team.

The tension is thick in Edmonton, and it's reflected in their home record (20-17-3 on the road, 16-16-6 at Rexall Place).

Inside the dressing room and out, it just hasn't been as much fun being an Oiler this year.

"I'm a little disappointed why it's like that, whether it was because of the expectations we put on ourselves at the start of the year, or the personnel, or style of play that we have now as opposed to other years, but it has to change, it's not healthy," said captain Ethan Moreau. "There's way too much negativity. It seems like nothing was really positive all year. It's tough to play like that when you have that cloud around your head.

"I'm not sure what's changed ... but moving forward we have to find a way to get that positive environment back."

It won't be easy.

They're missing the playoffs again, for one, and recent off-ice developments are hardly the cornerstones for reassurance.

Fans who expect major decisions in the organization to be made with due diligence and professionalism, with end of season exit meetings, with Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini sitting down after a period of reflection and charting a course for the future, were dumbstruck Thursday night.

With one strange text message from the back seat of a car, owner Daryl Katz stepped all over his management team and gave an already angry fan base the impression that decisions here are now based on little more than the impetuous whims of an owner.

True or not, it only adds to the mounting unrest.

"It was a frustrating year, everyone had high expectations for this team," said centre Kyle Brodziak. "It's tough to be really positive about the fact that you've been playing inconsistent."

MOUNTING UNREST

It'll take some work, from all levels of the organization, but Moreau says they have to make going to the rink in Edmonton fun again.

"We've addressed that in the room," he said. "That's one of the things that we're known for, guys working hard, but they really enjoy what they do and they enjoy the city that they play in.

"We have to get better at creating that atmosphere in the room and not letting external issues or controversy affect how we play."

The bottom line, from Katz to the Zamboni driver, is winning. Winning cures all.

"Losing's never fun, it's not supposed to be fun," said Brodziak. "At then end of the day you still have a job to do and when you're not getting it done it's not supposed fun.

"The bottom line is we just didn't win. We didn't get the job done and that's what generates the frustration. If we we're in the playoffs right now, we're a lot happier bunch, and that's the way it's meant to be."


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