Glen Argan: Patience a virtue when watching my Oilers

  • July 30, 2020

A long-time fan of the Edmonton Oilers, I hold in my heart the glory days of the 1980s when my team won five Stanley Cups in seven years. It was an exciting time for both me and the city. Although I lived most of those years in Winnipeg, I remained a dedicated member of the Oilers’ diaspora.

Alas, the Oilers’ empire crumbled and the team entered an era of almost unprecedented futility. This year was to be only the second time in the last 14 years that the Oilers made the playoffs. But the COVID-19 pandemic intervened and the playoffs were postponed.

I had mixed feelings about this. No NHL playoffs meant more time for other activities. I was set free from my devotion to springtime hockey, an addiction which still continued when my favourite team watched from the sidelines. This spring, I had more time to work in the garden, read new books, begin to write one of my own and go for long walks. At the end of May, I retired from the world of work, leaving me even freer.

In the news, I followed the intense work of the NHL to hold the playoffs despite the pandemic. That work filled me with both hope and dread. I hoped to be able to cheer on my Oilers, but I was skeptical about the league being able to hold a 24-team playoff without endangering players, staff and the surrounding community.

Once the go-ahead was given to post-season action, I found the vast structure the NHL had created to prevent the spread of disease to be impressive. Nevertheless, my concerns remain. Can the lid be kept on the virus for more than two months without serious cases of COVID developing within the bubble or the disease spreading into the wider community? The medical officers of health in Alberta and Ontario have approved the games and I give their opinions greater credence than my own. But still ….

Then, there is the issue of my own time. Well, I do have a looser schedule now than at any point since I entered Grade 1. I should welcome the opportunity to watch the Oilers in the playoffs. On one hand, I will be sorely disappointed if the Oilers lose their five-game “play-in” round to the Chicago Blackhawks. Yet another year before glory returns! On the other hand, imagine the excitement if the Oilers go on a long playoff run. However, the chances of this year’s team making it to the Stanley Cup final are remote.

Already I am adding to my small arsenal of Oilers swag. I have yet another team T-shirt as well as a pair of Oilers towels. Will this help the team win? Of course not, but it will help keep me in the game. We all have our forms of entertainment. Watching hockey is mine.

Pope Francis is likely not a hockey fan. My guess is that he’s never watched a game. Nevertheless, last fall he spoke to members of the International Ice Hockey Federation. He said, “the Church values sport in itself, as an arena of human activity where the virtues of temperance, humility, courage and patience can be fostered.”

One assumes the Pope was thinking that it is players who can develop such virtues. But fans of the Oilers, as well as the Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, Winnipeg Jets, Ottawa Senators, Calgary Flames and even the once-glorious Montreal Canadiens, know from experience the need for humility and patience. Fans have seen their heroes do inglorious faceplants during the playoffs. Such humiliations can provoke fan anger, but humility is a better option.

The Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup in 53 years; the Senators have had a 93-year drought. The Jets and Canucks have never won. No Canadian team has hoisted the Cup since Montreal in 1993. Such lengthy streaks may build patience … or despair.

Patience is far better than despair. As much as we love our hockey teams, our humanity is based on a total love of God, a love which would never lead to despair over baubles such as the Stanley Cup. Still, the playoffs start Aug. 1, and I’ll be in front of the TV cheering the Oilers on to victory.

(Argan writes from Edmonton.)

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