Is it possible to have suffered more as a hockey fan than Oilers fans have in the past ten years? The answer might surprise you. Unless you think the answer is, no, no way in hell. Then the answer won’t surprise you.
But that’s not to say being an Oilers fan is the worst thing ever. Not at all, in fact, far from it; it’s one of the quirkiest, funniest, and most close-knit fan communities in all of sports. What’s the expression, extreme suffering and depression brings people together? I might have made that up, but the point is, if you are thinking of becoming an Oilers fan, or are simply an Oilers fan who for some reason forgot what it’s like to be one, here is a handy dandy guide to making sure you never feel out of place.
1. Be self-deprecating, everywhere, all the time, no matter what
It is your ultimate emotional shield against terrible results, insults from Flames fans, defensive zone giveaways, injuries so frequent you considered holding a subtle exorcism outside Rexall Place, and any mention of words like Craig MacTavish, "Visually Better," Nikita Nikitin, or "Norris Potential." The more you cheer for the Oilers, the more you find it difficult to write even a single sentence without a tinge of self-mockery and sarcasm. Remember, kids- if you make fun of yourself, others cannot do it (note: this is not scientific).
2. Know your team’s season will continue during the World Hockey Championships
Oilers fans are used to their season ending early in May, when other teams' fans are just getting hyped to cheer on their team's Stanley Cup run. But that's okay, because every year, the Canadian roster for the World Hockey Championships is eerily similarly to the Edmonton Oilers lineup, making it the natural extension of our season. From Taylor Hall to Jordan Eberle, Connor McDavid to Cam Talbot, each year, without fail, the team provides the brightest young stars to support the Canadian quest for the World Title. We don’t hear the appreciation come through often, but we’ll say it anyways-- you're welcome, Canada.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs, to be honest, are not very important-- wouldn't you much rather be called World Champions? That has a great ring to it, in my opinion. What do Playoffs even feel like, anyways? Probably not that great, if I were to guess.
It's also a time of year when you get to see players who usually look sad and dejected wear very foreign expressions. Is that…joy you see on Taylor Hall's face? You, like the players, are reminded how very nice it is to win, and question why we cannot have more of that in real life, and question why there is now a lonely tear rolling slowly down your left cheek.
3. Love Connor McDavid with a level of love you had reserved for your (future) children
You might sometimes catch yourself and wonder if it is really okay to adore a precocious, serious 19-year old boy with this level of intensity. I'm here to tell you that yes, it's okay, you are normal, and we all feel the same way.
Watching Connor's silky mitts navigate the puck around helpless defensemen as he returns from his clavicle injury. Watching Connor masterfully duck loaded questions from reporters hoping he'll say something wrong. Watching Connor pose for selfies with teammates who obviously (and of course they should) adore the living mittens out of him.
One of the best parts about being an Oilers fan is being able to watch this young man grow up on and off the ice. His maturity was already at a remarkable level when he was drafted, forcing us to all take a good hard look at ourselves at 18 and bow our heads in a moment of shame and embarrassment. He represents so many things to the organization that the fanbase had a collective mass bleeding when he broke his clavicle last year, so much so that the word "clavicle" still sends shivers down my spine, and because of which I will be referring to it as the c-word from now on.
I will confess to owning an Aloe Vera plant, which I named "Connor McDavid," a subtle nod to Connor McDavid, purchased from IKEA (the best place to acquire potted plants of all varieties) shortly after the c-word injury occurred. My friends looked on with a mixture of amusement and thinly veiled judgment as I watered the plant, praying out loud for his speedy recovery each time I did so. This is the type of thing Oilers fans do (or at least I tell myself so).
Seeing him as the face of the franchise, representing the club with such poise, class, and humility, brings some much-needed pride for Oilers fans. Seeing him on the ice is simply a gift, reason enough to keep watching Oilers games deep in a season when Playoffs were as likely as Sidney Crosby ever growing a beard that doesn't cause strain to your eyes. He is your bulletproof vest in hockey forums where other teams' fans will taunt you mercilessly but fall silent when you mention McDavid, because both you and all those mean fans know they want him but they cannot have him because he is an Edmonton Oiler.
And that sweet thought alone allows you to drift happily to sleep each night, visions of dekes and toe drags dancing around your head.
4. Constantly threaten to stop watching/supporting this team, but never follow through with it
Every year, at multiple points during the season, the Oilers will lose in really embarrassing fashion. It is especially painful when you pay good money to see the game, like forking over $200 for lower bowl seats at the ACC, thinking "they must win against the Leafs, right?" only to see the Oilers lay an egg with a 3-0 game and be taunted by Leafs fans after the game. That is like being beaten by a 4-year-old cousin at Sudoku and having him laugh in your face about it. Those are both totally not true stories.
After these games, you will write post-game comments on various blogs and forums along the lines of "I'm done. I'm so done with this team, and this time I mean it. Such disappoint, etc." After typing this, you might miss one game, perhaps two, but soon you will find yourself watching Oilers games again like nothing happened.
Perhaps a month or two later, the Oilers will suffer a similar blowout and you will type the above comment again in the same forum, thinking you are serious this time but knowing in a very deep part of yourself, a part you refuse to acknowledge, that it's never really the end. Some things in life, like poutine, Nutella, and the Oilers, you just can't live without.
5. Believe the world is conspiring against you
From former players playing like demigods against you, a ceaseless parade of injuries to your best players, to refs being biased on just about every call against the Oilers, part of being an Oilers fan is thinking the world is genuinely out to make sure your team never wins, because the Gods have deemed it so and so it simply will be so. Never mind that the world or any God that exists has no real reason to conspire against the Oilers, nor do they even really care or have even heard about them. But anyways, just don't expect any lucky bounces or breaks your way, like, ever. You’ll see.
It is quite simply a fact of life that any ex-Oiler, regardless of their current quality of play on their new team, is pretty much guaranteed a great night on the scoresheet when they return to play the Oilers. Devan Dubnyk (5-0 record against Oilers in 2015 season), David Perron, Gilbert Brule, Andrew Cogliano, you name it. Every time you see the return of a former Oiler, it’s like they take beast pills before the game.
After last season's injuries to Jordan Eberle, Oscar Klefbom, Connor McDavid, Benoit Pouliot, Nail Yakupov and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, you would not be surprised at all to hear before next season begins that Leon Draisaitl is out 6 months having broken his leg after tripping on a water balloon while eating Halver Hahn at Rhein Park, and Taylor Hall is out for the season because his right arm has simply stopped functioning for no apparent reason (I’m currently knocking frantically on every wooden surface and tree within sight).
You hate video replay because every video replay is reviewed in Toronto with a filter called "Let Us Never Give the Edmonton Oilers a Break or Justice of Any Sort." You hate offsides because they are only called against your own goals, even when it wasn't even actually offside. Everything is terrible, you haven't won for a really long time, and you just cannot understand why at this point, everyone still wants to make it even harder for you to win.
Whether there is a real universal conspiracy or not, make sure to complain about it because complaining is kind of fun, even if you know nothing will ever be done about any unfairness the team is subject to. Complain with other fans on Reddit or Twitter, where other people will make clever gifs and memes you can giggle at. I complain about it to my mom, who knows nothing about hockey, because she will never offer a logical counterargument or tell me I am just being delusional and/or looking for excuses.
6. Have a soft spot in your heart for the NHL Draft Lottery
Fans of other teams will often joke that the biggest event of the year for the Oilers is the Draft Lottery. They are wrong. It is the second biggest event of the year (there's the actual draft, remember?)
The reason this day is special is it's the one true day destiny gave the Oilers a helping hand. Oilers fans hold a special place in their heart for the day Bill Daly gifted us an obviously elated Connor McDavid, all remembering what they were doing the precise moment we realized our collective destiny had been altered forever. I was taking a hike in a park, and let out a piercing scream when I saw it happen, alarming many woodland creatures within a two-kilometer vicinity and for which I am deeply apologetic, but I'm sure many squirrels heard the message in the scream and started whispering to their squirrel friends, "Did you hear, the best hockey player on this planet is going to be an Edmonton Oiler!" Amen, squirrel friend, amen.
7. Have really adorable levels of optimism before the season starts
At the start of the season, Oilers fans get real pumped and scream to their barista, their grandma, their landlord, that "THIS IS THE YEAR, EVERYONE." We don't mean that this is the year we win the Stanley Cup-- we mean that this is the year we come within sniffing distance of the Playoffs, perhaps a brief whiff of Round One (dare to dream, everyone). No matter how many times you have previously said this in October, you truly believe that this season, now, everything will finally come together and you will lose somewhat less.
8. Have it all come crashing down sometime in December
Of course, this above optimism does not last very long, despite occasional win streaks in October and November of astounding length like four or five games. Around December, it always becomes apparent that any hope you had will be destroyed to smithereens with the force of a Russian female bodybuilder smashing aggressively at the Whack-A-Mole station. It could be triggered by something as seemingly harmless as an Oscar Klefbom finger injury. Day-to-day, they said. He'd return after the road trip, they said. You waited patiently, a full season played out, and still no sight of the team's #1 blueliner, as the average handsomeness of the Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club took a substantial hit, and the overall hopes of anything coming out of the 2015-16 season evaporated.
9. Have a really short memory
Part of the ability to remain a loyal Oilers fan involves having a really short memory, so the hope necessary for a sports fan to continue cheering for their team can refresh itself continuously. The cycle for Oilers fans tends to be particularly shorter, because of the constant need to rid oneself of bad memories. A potential side effect of this is an alarming lack of loyalty to players. Being an Oilers fan means regularly turning on previously beloved members of the team when they stop scoring for more than one second, and call for them to be traded when this scoring drought lasts for more than three seconds.
In the first half of last season, Taylor Hall was on fire and amongst league leaders in scoring to start the season. "Taylor Hall is untouchable," fans said. "He is an underrated leader and totally carrying our team!" Second half of the season, the same Taylor Hall hits a scoring slump. "Which defenseman can Hall get on the market?" "The Core is broken." "Also, character problems." Also worth remembering that Jordan Eberle can go from gap-toothed saviour to lazy undersized winger faster than you can say World Juniors, and Nugey from future captain to softer than tofu in the blink of an eye.
But, this is all rather okay because this same short memory allow us to love any player instantly when they score one goal. See, everything works out.
10. Cheer for, complain about, and love this team with your fellow Oilers fans
Despite having a ridiculously rough go at it and being the butt of 97% of jokes made in hockey forums, Oilers fans are simply the best fans I've witnessed in hockey. They are the reason I enjoy hockey again, and I look forward to laughing in condescension at all those who wronged us when one day we dominate the world.
Enjoy the sarcasm and self-deprecation for the humour it provides while we're losing, and look forward to the years of supremacy you know will come when Captain Connor McDavid brings the world to their knees with his brilliance. You’ll feel okay about the ups and downs because there are countless other loyal fans experiencing the same dejection and elation. You will one day discuss with your fellow fans not the prospects in the top 5 of the draft each year, but whom amongst your team is sporting the lushest playoff beard, and how cute it is that Connor thinks his is better than Gryba's and Maroon's.
The day is coming when I will have to create an Unofficial Guide to Dealing with Bandwagon Oilers. Sticking it out through these rough times will only make that day so much sweeter. Rise, Oilers fans. This is the year! (See point #7)