NORTH AMERICA’S NEXT TOP BLOGGER SEASON 3 – Ryan McKenzie

*NOTE FROM The Royal Half: We are beyond excited to welcome Ryan McKenzie to the pages of The Royal Half as one of the winners of North America’s Next Top Blogger™: Season 3!

Ryan is located in Edmonton, Alberta and we are thrilled to have a member of the Hockey Insider family dynasty known as the McKenzie’s as part of The Royal Half.

Perhaps you were thinking of someone else?

We are really excited to have an actual Canadian hockey fan writing for us and are looking forward to hearing his vast perspective on the sport of ice hockey!

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Please welcome Ryan to The Royal Half dot com and follow him on the Twitter. Now, Ryan talks with us about what it means to be a Edmonton Oilers fan at this moment in time. Take it away, Ryan!

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Tales

Perception is a funny thing. Through the annals of history we are afforded a singular narrative that expands beyond the boundaries of a typical tale. History has a way of transcending the boundaries of fiction, offering accounts of various events, where popular acuity is derived almost exclusively from the point of view of those who’s opinions are most inline with our own. However, any historian will tell you that if you wish to discover the meat and potatoes of a particular event the truth is often somewhere in the middle.

The night was January 24th, 2013. This was a particularly warm night in Edmonton, especially given that it was almost February. It wasn’t the weather in fact that was warming the city that day. There was no balmy weather spilling across the city in unseasonable fashion. The atypical temperateness sweeping across this fair city was strictly due to the fact that the worst season of any year had just come to a close. Lockout season.

It was game 3 for the LA Kings, in this abbreviated season, and the defending Stanley Cup champions were rolling in to the second division to teach these kids what’s what. Despite the fact that the Oilers were facing a team that was obviously better than they were, fans pilled in to Rexall Place with a sense of wonderment and enthusiasm towards the Copper and Blue.

We had, after all, spent the majority of the lockout following along as Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, and even Justin Schultz proceeded to tear about the AHL for a combined 437 964 points (estimated) before a new CBA was struck. Couple that with the arrival of newly minted 1st overall selection Nail Yakupov and there wasn’t really much stopping an Oilers fan that day.

OKC-Four

We felt like we belonged. We felt like this was actually going to be the year. We felt like this was our time and not you or Darryl Sutter or anyone was going to stop us. We had the youth, we had the skill, and as any Oiler fan will tell you at the beginning of any new season, our defence was actually improving. And then…the puck was dropped.

Kings vs Oilers

We all know how this was expected to go. It was the first game I had attended live that year, and even in my unshakable optimism there was still an overwhelming sense that this may not go so well for my team or myself that night.

The good news (for me) was that the Oilers did not come out and completely lay an egg. They didn’t exactly light the world on fire either, but when you’re coming off a 29th place finish, and facing the defending champs you take what you can get.

Devan Dubnyk, for all intents and purposes played well for the team. By the midway mark of the 2nd period the game was still scoreless, but then the Oilers struck. When I say the Oilers struck what I mean is: there was an offensive zone giveaway and the Kings were off to the races.

Mike Richards was the one with the steal, Kyle Clifford made the breakout out and subsequent cross-ice pass, and it was Jeff Carter who broke in on goal and buried a backhand top shelf over the shoulder of Dubnyk.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vH8e0HVm7_k

Rexall Place has developed a reputation across the league as of late. After breaking noise records during the 2006 Stanley Cup run (and that was before the anthems were over) the home of the Oilers had come to be known as one of the leagues quietest buildings; “the morgue of Deadmonton” if you will.

It’s not that Oilers fans don’t want to cheer, but instances like the aforementioned Carter goal was one of a laundry list of moments that could suck the life from the building in one foul swoop. And to be fair, these moments at Rexall were (are?) quite frequent. Super frequent. Soul-crushingly frequent.

I don’t think there were many home fans in the building that night who felt like this was going to end well for our team. We seen this all before, read the script a million times, and were all fairly confident that our players would not go off book for this one. The Kings were simply too good to allow that to happen.

Seemingly out of nowhere the Oilers were able to manufacture a scoring chance. A strong break-in, a quick cycle of the puck, traffic in front of the net, and a slick little pass resulted in RNH burying one past Quick, and a tie game. Or was it?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxU7eNnptA8

When I say “the Kings were too good to allow that to happen” what I actually meant was THE REFS WERE TOO CROOKED TO ALLOW THAT TO HAPPEN. I realize Gagner was tied up with Quick, making it almost impossible for the Kings goalie to get across and attempt a save on the shot. I hear you. But after closer consideration of the game tape, you will notice that it’s a Kings defenceman that pushed Gagner into Quick in the first place.

What? That cross-check on Doughty? Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

The fact is, the call on the ice was a goal. The cross-check had gone on without a whistle, and when the puck crossed the line the refs deemed the play acceptable, ostensibly due to the fact that Gagner was shoved into Quick. But none of that seemed to matter to those who make the call.

In hindsight it was most certainly the correct call. Gagner was lucky to be getting away with his cross-check on Doughty, and he made no attempt to free-up Quick from the ensuing entanglement. But at the time? This was the most egregious crime against humanity in the history of hockey, or humanity.

I am a very proud Edmontonian, and I will not hesitate to rush to the defence of my city, or the citizens therein. But when that garbage started to rain down from the stands I couldn’t help but feel revolted in the actions of my fellow citizens. There was no way this night could get any worse. But better?

Yak

“KING ME!”

I remember the moments leading up to “the slide” like it was yesterday. I don’t think I will ever quite forget the feeling our unbridled excitement that was sent coursing through my veins leading up to the final minute of that game. Miracles do happen, and not just in Manchester.

There was just over 10 seconds left on the clock, and all hope had seemed lost in another underwhelming effort. As an Oilers fan you start to consider why you arrived at the arena with a shred of hope in the first place. Misguided fool. Projecting your childish fervour on these kids! For shame, Oilers fan, for shame.

What’s this? A face-off win? The puck on the stick of, the yet to be Jultz, Justin Schultz. The Edmonton crowd bellowed its favourite cheer: “SHOOOOOOOOOOOOT!” and he did! But it was blocked. Or was it?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfysDNnuX64

 

In roughly five minutes on the game clock I had gone from one of my more bitter moments in Rexall Place, to one of the purest moment of hockey joy I had ever experienced. My voice was hoarse from screaming in anger one minute to shouting with jubilance the other. The building was rocking from top to bottom, and we all knew that this time Quick had nothing to cry about. Even he knew.

Los Angeles Kings v Anaheim Ducks

“Well schucks.”

From there the game would move into the overtime frame, and as luck would have it, a familiar face in a familiar place would be the one to seal it all.

 

Sam Gagner, well I’ll be! Good things really do happen to terrible hockey teams. Everyone in the building that night knew how lucky we were to be walking away with a win. I don’t think anyone in the Oilers locker room could or would tell you otherwise. It simply would not be true.

I know how fans of the LA Kings were feeling that night. Truth be told, we see it more often than not in Edmonton. Defeat snatched out of the hands of victory, by a seemingly ticky-tack goal, perpetrated by a fluke bounce with seconds left in the game. That sounds pretty Oilers to me.

Let’s talk about that slide for a moment. As every expert in the hockey world noted in the days that followed, the Yakupov slide was not the first slide across the ice at Rexall Place following a big goal. Only the first time it occurred it was Theo Fleury doing the sliding…In a Flames jersey.

I was not old enough to bare witness to Fleury’s goal, but I had seen it and heard it mentioned enough time to know that it didn’t go over so well with the opposing team or their fan base. Even some 20 odd years later mere mention of the original slide is often punctuated with a loogie to the floor.

I know how hard that must have stung. Everyone in Edmonton knew how much that must have stung. I’m obliged to tell you that empathy does not breed sympathy, and from the bottom of our Canadian hearts: Nan-na nan-na poo-poo, why don’t you go and boo-hoo. You did just win the cup after all.

If a Kings fan can take one ounce of satisfaction out of this game it’s that it was only Game 3 of the season. For the Oilers and their fans, this would remain one of, if not THE, highpoint on the season.

Games like this are why we love the sport of hockey. Win or lose, whichever side you happen to be on, you can appreciate the drama and the unpredictability of such a moment in time.

In the long narrative of history that binds these two teams this game stands as only a single chapter in a three volume set (and growing). I hope you can appreciate the point of view of the Oiler fan. Never forget that although we happened to win this battle, you are still winning the war. And the Cup.

GreeneStollCup

I cheer for the Edmonton Oilers. Have since I can remember, which is 1987. I know more about pain and suffering than you will hopefully ever have to experience as a hockey fan. Except for Canuck fans. Those guys are jerks. You can follow Ryan McKenzie on Twitter @RyanMcKenzie85.