Home News Rising stars and finals team rekindle memories in a changing city

Rising stars and finals team rekindle memories in a changing city


The five retired men chatting outside a public library on the outskirts of Alberta’s capital Edmonton were all South Asian.

Some are from India, others from Pakistan. The group includes Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims. Their work lives vary.

But this group, which meets weekly at the library, shares a deep love for hockey, especially Edmonton Oilers.

Three members of the group said they will watch the Oilers’ first home Stanley Cup Final in 18 years on television Thursday night at the library. The team trailed 2-0 in the best-of-seven championship game against the Florida Panthers (and ultimately lost Game 3 on Thursday).

“I like all sports,” said Saleem Akhtar, a former Pakistani hockey player wearing a Nike jacket emblazoned with the Hockey Canada logo. “But now that I’m in Canada, hockey is my first choice — and we have a good team.”

For Edmonton, the Oilers’ return to the final of hockey’s biggest professional competition evokes memories of the 1980s. Those were glory days for the Oilers and the city, who won five Stanley Cups between 1984 and 1990. (A Canadian team hadn’t won a Stanley Cup in more than three decades.)

At the time, the oil sands that fed Edmonton’s refineries were a source of national pride and made the city a magnet for job seekers from across the country.

Now they Condemned by environmentalists It is Canada’s largest source of carbon emissions.

Just as Wayne Gretzky’s undisputed talent led the Oilers to four Stanley Cup victories four decades ago, Connor McDavid, He was widely viewed as Gretzky’s successor, leading the team to the pinnacle of hockey.

But the city the Oilers play in has changed a lot from when Gretzky won. Edmonton’s population has roughly tripled, to 1.5 million, and it’s now more diverse and less white.

Today, the South Asian population makes up more than 11 per cent of Edmonton’s total population, including Mr. Akhtar, who came to Edmonton with his children.

Although many issues remained unresolved, awareness of problems concerning indigenous peoples had increased significantly.

But that growth, combined with the oil price crash that began about a decade ago, has also brought challenges. Edmonton has lost jobs, and its economic struggles are evident in the city center.

The home of the Edmonton Oilers, which opened in 2016, is adjacent to a vibrant neighbourhood full of bars and restaurants, and Edmonton’s downtown shopping centres are mostly empty after two major department stores abandoned the city centre.

According to some locals, their doors are locked at 6 p.m. most nights to keep out the large number of homeless people in the area. Many of the homeless are struggling with opioid addiction. Last year, opioid poisoning deaths in Alberta increased by 25 per cent from the year before.

While oil prices have risen since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, this has not restored many of the jobs that disappeared during the recession.

For many Edmontonians, the Oilers’ return to the Stanley Cup Final brought back good times.

“We went through the ‘City of Champions’ dynasty era,” said rapper Rollie Pemberton, former Edmonton poet laureate. Rhythm Weapons.

“It makes us feel really good in Edmonton,” he added. “But we also have a sense of inferiority and a feeling that we are being ignored and left out in national and international conversations.”

Mr. Pemberton is a star player for edmonton canadian football league teamsaying that Edmonton’s description is Canada’s ‘boiler room’ The novels written in the 1980s by the Montreal novelist Mordecai Richler resonated with him.

Many Edmontonians, including Mr. Pemberton, are proud of the city’s gritty, industrial character.

“We’re a blue-collar town, and we work hard,” Vera Ward said as she returned to her compact SUV in the mall parking lot, two Oilers flags draped from their plastic poles in the rear window.

“Everyone expects to win the trophy this year,” said Ms. Ward, an office manager for a chicken farmers’ association. “It’s going to be fun. We’re going to be behind them in good times and bad — most of the fans.”

Shrines to the Oilers’ past glory, big and small, still dot the city. But few are as striking as the Stanley Cup replica that sits outside a large sporting goods store on Edmonton’s airport and downtown roads. It stands 12.5 feet tall and weighs 850 pounds.

At the United Sport & Cycle store, Kelly Hodgson, the general manager, wore an Oilers jersey and an oversized cartoonish chain with a badge bearing Mr. McDavid’s name on it. His attire also included an orange and blue plastic wig, the Oilers’ colors, and an oilman’s hard hat emblazoned with the team’s logo on top of it.

Oilers jerseys fill one wall of the massive store, some bearing Gretzky’s name and No. 99. The jerseys, made by Adidas, have largely sold out, replaced by cheaper versions licensed by the National Hockey League and its teams.

As Tamon Yanagimoto, a former Edmonton resident who traveled from Seattle to watch the game this week, looked through the commemorative merchandise, Mr. Hodgson said that in addition to fans looking for Oilers merchandise, the playoffs have brought people to the store who just want to talk about the game.

“It’s a way for them to unload a burden,” he said.

Pemberton also returned to Edmonton this week from his new home in Hamilton, Ont., to record a video featuring an updated version of a song he wrote in 2017 when McDavid joined the Oilers.

Mr. Pemberton said that while he often returns to Edmonton to visit his mother and sister, this time he is back in a different city.

“People in Edmonton can feel overwhelmed by their circumstances sometimes,” he said in the conference room of his mother’s apartment building west of downtown. “This team has been so successful and it’s really inspired the city. It means a lot to people, honestly. It gives them something to believe in.”

The enthusiasm of those believers was like a hurricane Thursday night, but it wasn’t enough as the Oilers lost 4-3 to the Panthers. If they don’t win Saturday in Edmonton, the city’s dream of returning to hockey power will be shattered, at least for this year.

Vjosa Isay Contributed to research.

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