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Oilers back in Cup final, and fans from Arctic Circle to Philippines celebrate

The Edmonton Oilers are back in the Stanley Cup final in a celebration reaching north of the Arctic Circle and drawing in fans from as far away as the Philippines.

On Monday morning, Oilers fans sloughed off grey clouds and rain to pack the team store at downtown Rogers Place.

They bought jerseys, hats, T-shirts and anything else emblazoned with the team logo — an encircled oil drop crowning the drippy, gooey team nickname.

Reece Santos had his eye on a Dylan Holloway jersey.

His love of hockey came from his dad, who came to Canada at age six from the Philippines and fell in love with the Oilers in the glory days of the 1980s.

“My whole family plays hockey, I coach hockey now, so it’s been a big part of my life,” Santos said.

Calgary resident Gil Spanglet came up with nine-year-old daughter Olivia to watch the Oilers beat the Dallas Stars Sunday night to clinch the Cup berth, then stayed to buy some merchandise Monday but ran into a lot of sold-out items.

Olivia got a hat. Her favourite player is Connor McDavid.

“I was (Olivia’s) age last time they won the Stanley Cup, so history repeats itself, maybe,” Spanglet said.

Thousands of fans jammed the downtown outside Rogers Place Sunday night to honk horns, cheer, wave glittery orange pompoms, and chant “We want the Cup!” after the Oilers punched their ticket to the NHL final against the Florida Panthers.

At the same time, Oilers fans celebrated under the midnight sun with a cavalcade of 50 or more cars, trucks and ATVs driving up and down the gravel streets of Inuvik in the Northwest Territories, honking horns, leaning out of windows, cheering, waving flags and having a good time.

“Some people had to stop at intersections and wait for the convoy to pass, then just jumped in,” said parade organizer Donovan Arey.

It’s the Oilers’ first trip back to the Stanley Cup final since losing in a heartbreaking seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006.

The Oilers were Canada’s last hockey dynasty, winning four Cups in the 1980s followed by a fifth in 1990.

Edmonton has been in party mode since late April, when the Oilers overwhelmed the Los Angeles Kings in five games, then broke the hearts of the Vancouver Canucks in seven before eclipsing the Stars in six.

On game nights, thousands watch and celebrate outside the arena in the “Moss Pit” — a play on mosh pit and a heartfelt stick tap to the memory of former Oilers equipment assistant Joey Moss, who died in 2020 at age 57.

An unscientific street poll of Oilers jerseys indicates fans favour the blue and orange ones with few going in for the road whites. Most sport the prime numbers of the team’s alpha players: 97 (McDavid) and 29 (Leon Draisaitl).

The community has come to embrace “La Bamba,” a Mexican folk song that was a hit for Ritchie Valens in 1958 and had a resurgence in 1987 when released by the band Los Lobos.

It’s played after every victory at Rogers Place and has sentimental roots going back to the 1980s as a favorite for Moss.

More recently, “Play La Bamba, baby!” became the catchphrase of the late Ben Stelter, a six-year-old Oilers superfan whose enthusiasm and support became an inspiration to star players such as McDavid.

Stelter died in 2022 after a battle with cancer.

Stand on a street corner these days anywhere in Edmonton and in a few minutes a car will whiz by bearing a tiny flag with the Oilers logo snap-snapping in the breeze, struggling mightily to stay affixed to its plastic mast.

Game nights see a panoply of fans in jerseys at watering holes while savvy shoppers use those times to breeze through empty aisles at stores.

The orange and blue are bleeding into politics.

In Regina on Monday, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe issued a statement to renew his undying support for the team he has cheered for since it entered the NHL in 1979.

In Ottawa, Edmonton MP Randy Boissonnault was front and centre in question period in a blue Oilers jersey and lapel pin.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is now 2-for-2 on hockey playoff bets with counterparts in B.C. and Texas.

In early May, Smith brought the Oilers’ mascot, Hunter, into the legislative assembly, where the costumed lynx sparked a “Let’s go Oilers!” chant from elected members on both sides of the aisle.

Candidates vying for the leadership of the Opposition New Democrats have turned to hockey talk to create a political wedge. At a debate in Edmonton on Sunday, local MLA Sarah Hoffman asked her rivals which Oilers jersey they would be wearing, a challenge to fellow candidate Naheed Nenshi, the former mayor of Calgary.

Game 1 goes Saturday, and all that stands between the Oilers and a sixth Cup is a clowder of angry Cats who play in an arena in Sunrise, north of Miami on the edge of the Everglades.

The last time the Oilers won the Cup, the Florida Panthers did not yet exist.

Danny Mendes was just a kid back then, but now he’s 47. He came from Vernon, B.C., on Sunday with a friend to watch the clinching game.

He remembers watching Oilers greats like Wayne Gretzky practising on the ice at West Edmonton Mall.

“I didn’t even know who all these guys were. They signed something for me. I think I threw it away. Can you imagine what that’s worth?” Mendes said.

“I love the Oilers,” he said. “I don’t miss a game.

“This is where my heart is.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2024.

— with files from Lisa Johnson 

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