SUN Hockey Pool

Win or lose, Oilers fans a passionate bunch

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

At some point against Philadelphia the Edmonton Oilers are probably getting booed.

The fans might jump on someone for a dumb mistake or rag on the power play for over-passing and under-shooting, and if they sense a lack of effort or anything remotely resembling the disinterest shown in the loss to Calgary, they will rain venom till their throats hurt.

And when the Oilers score, all will be forgiven. The same people who just vented all that hostility will scream and dance like they just won the lottery.

Win again, and maybe there’s another 16,839-person group hug like the one that followed Friday’s slump-ending 4-2 win over Carolina - a heartfelt ovation caught even the most veteran players totally off guard.

“It kind of makes you believe that they understand a little bit how hard it’s been for us,” said winger Patrick O’Sullivan. “It’s difficult when you’re losing and as a player you think maybe nobody cares or nobody understands. It was nice. The players enjoyed that and obviously the fans enjoyed the fact that we finally won a game.”

That the place was sold out for a team that just lost 20 of its last 21 games says all you need to know about Edmonton’s passion for the Oilers. That they gave the troubled hockey club a roar like that, after a stretch like this, tells you all you need to know about their capacity for understanding and compassion.

“They’ve stuck with us through this whole thing,” said Sam Gagner. “That’s what makes it so fun to play here. We lost 20 of 21 games and we’re still selling out, they’re still here. There’s times when we get booed, but for the most part, when we score, they’re genuinely excited.”

They also get just as excited when the Oilers don’t score, which doesn’t always make for a pleasant atmosphere, but there’s no on-off switch when it comes to passion.

“When things are going good, they’re really happy, and when things aren’t going good they express that, and that’s good,” said O’Sullivan, a former LA King. “I’ve played in a market where nobody cared, it didn’t matter either way. This year isn’t a great example because we’ve struggled so much, but a little bit of pressure from the fans from game to game is good, it can give a boost to your team. It’s exciting.

“That’s why you play when you’re growing up. You want to play somewhere where hockey is important, and obviously they care about it here.”

It makes them wonder what it would be like around here if the Oilers ever got really good again.

“That playoff stretch (in 2006), I wasn’t here for it, but the guys were telling me how crazy it was,” said Minnesota-born Tom Gilbert. “Every game, the whole city would go nuts. That’s what makes playing in Canada great, when you have a whole city that goes nuts for their hockey team.

That’s what you want to play for. There’s not a better feeling than that.

“We haven’t given them much to cheer for, so it was really nice to hear that Monday night.”

“We’re going to get things turned around here and we’re going to be a really good team again somewhere down the line,” added Gagner. “When it happens it’s going to be a very rewarding feeling. It’s going to be fun around here again.”

Monday night moved everyone. Well, almost everyone. Dustin Penner isn’t sure if he’s buying the fans’ post-game salute.

“I don’t know how much of it was a sarcastic tone,” said Penner. “It was pretty voracious, but I think there is a bit of sarcasm veiled in it. After only winning one game in the last 22 they were cheering like we never won a game before.”

Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all.


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