Saturday, 29 November 2014



Stick a Fork in Them


Winters in Edmonton are long. They are dark. They are freezing. Yesterday and Thursday the city was crushed beneath a near-record snowfall. The snow-packed roads are now the same height as the sidewalks. Plunging temperatures and the weight of vehicles make the streets squeak. The powder in our yard goes over the tops of my knee-high boots. The calendar insists it’s autumn for another three weeks.


The hardy souls in this northern town require distraction. While the local arts scene is always vibrant, the lead husky in this provincial capital during the winter months is the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers. Finding a pub or bar in the city without any Oilers-related décor is next to impossible. The team is on the TVs. The hockey club lost its ninth straight game last night in St. Louis. November’s not yet done, but they are.


Since the oil strike at Leduc No. 1 in February of 1947, Alberta’s economy has been overly reliant on the energy sector. These days your semantics will betray your beliefs and leanings; do you refer to the oil sands or the tar sands? Yesterday heavy crude was trading at $48.40 per barrel according to Western Canada Select, the Canadian commodity gauge. West Texas Intermediate has the refined product priced a few dollars below $70. Suffice to say, a city like Edmonton understands the cycle of boom and bust, high times and hard times.


The Oilers have been dismal for eight going on nine consecutive seasons and when the tally of their wins and losses ceases to matter before December folks seeking distraction from the freezing dark in a winter city get pissed off. And rightly so, because everybody knows even the worst economic downturns last about four years. The fan-base has been prickly for at least a year, ever since President Kevin Lowe uttered an unbelievably stupid public statement which essentially degraded Oilers supporters into two pathetic camps: the loyal and reliable sheep who pony up for season’s tickets year after losing year versus those passionate poor ones who can only afford a rare ducat yet buy the merchandise and live and die with the team as they soak up each advertising-riddled broadcast. This is the big dog hubris of the only game in town, as rancid as the play has been for so long now.


Public undertakings are a constant of good times and bad times. A civic dream becomes affordable or people need to be put to work. We don’t build cathedrals or great vaulted train stations anymore. Stadia and hockey rinks now constitute our major public works. The crater has been dug for a new Edmonton Oilers downtown arena. The city’s core needs to be revitalized; it is dead, devoid of people, a legacy of a young city’s lack of forethought and inept long term planning. Development deals are complicated, but anyone who lives within city limits and pays taxes is on the hook for a portion of the cost of this welcome initiative. Whatever Kevin Lowe’s opinion of his organization’s fans, they’re all vested as the rink’s iron skeleton rises.

What the people want now is neither a glittering ice palace two years hence nor another high draft pick next summer: what the people want this winter is good goaltending and a decent fourth line. The Oilers are barely capable of delivering cold comfort and so winter nights in this burg will seem longer than ever for both tiers of their fans.

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