There's a definite chill to the air in the mornings now, school has started again, and Starbucks locations everywhere are filled with offerings of pumpkin-flavoured everything. It's official. It's fall. With the arrival of fall comes the beginning of hockey season, and the seemingly endless coverage of Edmonton's premier hockey team. The Edmonton Oilers will once again be nightly news (as if they haven't been since the draft of Connor McDavid), and the city will once again be saturated with all things Oilers for the course of the NHL season.
However, there are other options for hockey to be found in Edmonton if the NHL doesn't isn't what you're looking for. Maybe it's too expensive or not family-friendly enough with its late start times, or maybe losing really gets you down. Maybe the NHL just doesn't do it for you. Whatever your reason for looking beyond the NHL and the Oilers, Edmonton still has plenty of hockey for you to enjoy.
First off, there are the Edmonton Oil Kings. The WHL franchise was revived in 2007. Since that time, they have been to the WHL finals three times, won two Ed Chenowyth Cups, one Memorial Cup, and have made the playoffs six of the eight years they've been in the league. They've had more success than the Oilers in the last decade or so and have developed several players who have either made the NHL - Lazar and Pysyk - or seem poised to do so - Samuelsson, Lowe, Jarry, Griffin Reinhart, and Brossoit.
The Oil Kings have a decent returning team highlighted by returning draft picks - Brett Pollock, Dysin Mayo, Brandon Baddock, Alec Dillon, and Aaron Irving - and Oilers Development Camp invitees - Lane Bauer and Tyler Robertson. With the addition of new talent from their draft pool, the Oil Kings will hope to make the playoffs again this year. Providing fans with more wins than loses and a constant level of competition are compelling selling points for the Oil Kings. When the more affordable ticket prices, family-centred events, accessibility to players, and the ability to still spend ridiculous amounts of money on merchandise are added to the equation, the Oil Kings might be exactly what fans sick of the NHL are looking for.
The Oil Kings also have the added bonus of starting their season at the end of September. Their home opener is September 27, but the preseason has already begun. For those desperate for their hockey fix, the Oil Kings look like a good option.
However, if the Oil Kings don't particularly catch your attention, there is another option. The University of Alberta has two hockey teams that might interest you. The first is the Golden Bears. This is the men's team, and it is among the most-decorated teams in CIS sport. They are consistent performers. The last two seasons have seen them hoist the CIS National Championship. The program has won the National Championship a record 15 times and draws almost exclusively on graduates from the WHL.
The second team found at the University of Alberta is the Pandas. This is the women's team. While games are sparsely attended, the Pandas are a competitive program with several national championships and an Olympic Silver Medalist found in their history. CIS is one of the highest levels of women's hockey found in Canada, and as such is filled with strong players. Haley Wickenheiser, for example, is a recent graduate from the University of Calgary's program. The Pandas are an excellent choice for anyone with an interest in women's sports, women's hockey, or learning more about women's hockey.
Hockey games that the University of Alberta are affordable. With the most expensive ticket being $16.00 and games in the afternoons and with earlier (6PM) start times on Saturdays, hockey at the University is both incredibly affordable, competitive, and family friendly. There are also teams found at MacEwan and NAIT for both men's and women's hockey if the University of Alberta isn't convenient. All things considered, there are a host of CIS and ACAC from which a discerning spectator can choose.
Finally the AJHL has teams located in Sherwood Park (the Sherwood Park Crusaders) and Spruce Grove (the Spruce Grove Saints) for those hockey fans who might find coming into Edmonton proper all the time cumbersome. Though the AJHL is the level below the WHL, it is still a competitive league. Canadian Olympian Shannon Szabados spent time in the AHJL and with both MacEwan and NAIT.
Edmonton is alive with options for fans to find readily available hockey beyond the Oilers and the NHL. Unfortunately, many fans see supporting anything by the NHL as a step down. After all, if these players were as good as the ones in the NHL, they'd be playing there. While this is true in some cases, the argument is less compelling in others. Teams like the Oil Kings and Bears have players who are incredibly talented. While the Oilers have players like Hall, Eberle, and McDavid, they also have some players of questionable talent like Gazdic.
At the end of the day, there are options for those fans looking for something different than or in addition to the Oilers. None of these teams will eclipse the popularity of the Oilers and the NHL, but it's good to have options when the price or the losing just get to be too much.
Games have started but local teams can be found in action around the city throughout September.