Okay, there's no other way to put it-- it's getting really weird now.
Two straight wins against the Flames to start the season was like two nice Chupa Chups Cremosa pops, followed by a palette-cleansing loss to Buffalo that felt as rudely familiar as a cozy, worn-out blanket you've used for ten years. As you settled in for another season of signature Oilers-style hockey, instead of losing like they should, the Edmonton Oilers stupendously go on to win five straight against some pretty good teams. What? How? Why?
After the two wins against Carolina and St. Louis I was absolutely thrilled after the conclusion of each match, history having taught me these are rarer instances than not, treasuring the two points like pearls I personally unearthed in the ocean. I screenshotted the NHL standings page consistently after the first few games, knowing this first place position would only last for one or two more games, max.
The decisive win against Winnipeg was when I started to be at a loss for what exactly to feel-- it was an odd combination of joy, disbelief, incredulous confusion, and anxiety. Instead of shouting loudly in a public space like I usually do after a rare win, or forcefully procuring a high five from my non-hockey watching friends in my vicinity, I simply stared ahead in shock and covered my mouth with my hands, eyes misty with a myriad of emotions-- a casual observer would have thought I just watched a Thai Life Insurance commercial on YouTube. I didn't know what to feel-- am I allowed to be happy? Is this real life? Are we…good?
The feelings I am experiencing now go against everything I've learned to be within the realm of appropriate emotions as an Oilers fan. I come within centimeters of feeling proud, but retreat quickly, feeling that these arrogant emotions are base and immoral for a person like me, for a team like this. The self-deprecation and coping methods I've mastered have hardly been used thus far, rusting away silently as the team rattles off defiant win after win. But like a fragile snowflake that will melt at any contact, why am I still afraid to fully embrace this happiness and hold it in my hands?
It truly speaks to the amount of repetitive scarring this fan base has endured over the past ten years that optimism and hope are things felt with extreme caution and anxiety-- for the first time, after putting our hearts in incredibly vulnerable positions by simply being an Oilers fan at all, it seems we've encountered a situation that requires embracing an even more vulnerable disposition-- believing we actually have a good hockey team to cheer for.
Instead of elation and pride, the general sentiment from Oilers fans is one of utter disbelief, tinged with the trademark self-deprecation that's buffered the heartbreak and disappointment of late. It's as if we've been conditioned to expect nothing, and don't know what to do with ourselves when met with some success. I didn't know joy could be a difficult emotion to grapple with until this season-- afraid of being burnt again, I hesitate to truly soak in the happiness of these increasingly convincing wins, lest it be snatched away from me rudely the next game, and then for a few more, and then inevitably for the rest of the season.
To help us all cope with these very complicated times we live in, I've produced a little guide to the steps involving with coming to terms with this year's team.
The first step is inevitably a rejection of the situation playing out in front of our very eyes-- there is just no way the Edmonton Oilers are actually a legitimately good hockey team. You will ignore the standings, the scores, categorize the timely goals and spectacular saves by Dadbot as flukes, and instead point to the fact that it's only been nine games, we've been consistently outshot and outchanced and, well, it's the Oilers.
This skepticism is only natural-- despite a flurry of offseason movies, many of them controversial, no one expected the Oilers to be a very good team this season. We still have HOLES, everyone, big gaping holes! Even as the wins pile up, the defense stabilizes, and goaltending becomes ever more reliable, there is something about it all that is rather unbelievable. And for many, this very step in the journey involves just that-- disbelief, denial, a rejection of the idea that this team could be first place in the Western Conference.
Okay, the Oilers are winning, but Oilers fans won't be caught dead gloating about their team anywhere. True to their tireless conditioning as fans of a perpetual basement dwelling team, responses to posts about recent Oilers wins contain sentences mostly formed as questions-- Are we good? Why am I asking this? What is happening?
Much of this reaction stems from a natural reflex developed over the years, and another part of from a latent instinct to protect ourselves from the backlash we expect when the Oilers (inevitably?) fall back to their old ways. If we make fun of ourselves throughout the process, at least when we start losing we can say "we told you so," in a really sick, miserable way. The amount of belief placed in the team may actually be much higher from fans of other teams-- Oilers fans, living in their universe of scientific pessimism, have survived emotionally by expecting absolutely nothing for perpetuity, and we will continue to use this as a defensive shield.
Secretly, a tiny part of you starts to allow yourself to believe, just a little bit. But something unforeseen happens. Seeing the Oilers perched up high in the standings is not only unfamiliar, but strangely anxiety-inducing. It's like having bought a new white sofa-- you don't want anyone to sit on it, lest they ruin the blank beauty of this perfect piece of furniture. For the first time, we're not losing--we also actually have something to lose. Any loss will be an ugly blemish on our beautiful record and place in the standings .
You start to think of the ways this season could unravel. Every time the opposition scores a goal, you think, "There it is. That's the tipping point. They'll give up another goal, lose this game, then lose all the other games." Any time a player falls or grimaces slightly, you start projecting the lineup with them out for the rest of the season. You start hoping Dadbot's twins have nice, regular sleeping schedules so he continues to function like a wall. In short, you're even more stressed than when the Oilers were losing regularly.
You allow your mind to wander to even more dangerous places. You told yourself not to, but those 81-1-0 fantasies make your heart flutter sometimes, and visions of McDavid dancing through hapless defenders to score the game-winning goal in a playoff series start to proliferate. You tried to keep expectations tempered and make sure you don't get too excited by this start, but goshdarnit you're a really thirsty hockey fan. From time to time, the word "what if" pops up in your head-- what if this is the team you've always dreamt of? What if you can finally look a Flames fan in the eye and cackle in their face? What if greatness is closer to reality than you thought? WHAT IF?!
After a series of turbulent emotions experienced through stages, you reach eventually reach a state where you just enjoy the situation for what it is. The Edmonton Oilers are playing good hockey-- think about that sentence from the perspective of you from a year ago, three years ago, or six years ago. What a great time to be alive. Stop thinking so much and just enjoy the good hockey playing out in front of you--we've developed enough tough skin over the years to absorb the shock of losing, should that be the future direction of this year's team. And if this team really is the real deal, I trust that with time, we will eventually open our brittle hearts to that most foreign emotion-- pure joy.
Let us know how you are coping with this year’s emotionally confusing team in the comments below!