Random Image Display on Page Reload

First Nations hockey fans rally around the Oilers as they fight for the Stanley Cup

Oilers fever is high across the country, particularly among First Nations people, who have always loved the game.

'I have really vivid memories of being at my great grandpa's house, watching the Oilers play'

Three photos next to each other, one of a man with a beard and glasses wearing a Maple Leafs jersey, the second of a woman in a jean jacket wearing orange, blue and white beaded earrings, and a thirs of a young girl wearing an Oilers shirts, standing in front of two older men.

Oilers fever is high across the country, particularly among First Nations people, who have always loved the game.

It's a love that stretches from coast to coast, with some First Nations fans proudly showing their years-long support for the team, while others are joining in on a chance to cheer on the last Canadian team standing in the battle for the Stanley Cup.

"I have really vivid memories of being at my great-grandpa's house, watching the Oilers play," said Skye Boucher, who will be cheering from Hay River, N.W.T.

"It was just always something that was part of my life, and part of my family."

She says having the team in the Stanley Cup final is bringing her community together, exactly what it needs right now.

"This community has faced a lot of challenges, it has had three evacuations within the last two, three years due to floods, fires and stuff," said Boucher.

"Hockey gives this town some pride and joy, and it gives us something to cheer for essentially, and it brings us together."

Boucher runs K'estuwé Pieces with her mother, Suzanne Hanna. The company makes Dene-designed earrings using beads, bones, and moose hides.

Inspired by the Oilers, the pair is launching a new collection ahead of the Stanley Cup final. The designs took inspiration from the team's uniforms, using the pattern of the stripes on the players' socks and jerseys.

She says finding the perfect blue and orange beads surprisingly wasn't too hard.

"My mom and I … have a bad addiction to [collecting] beads, like any time we see any beads from anywhere, we have to buy them," said Boucher. "So we actually had these colours on hand already."

Oilers inspire young First Nation hockey player

For 10-year-old Khaleesi Woods, from Gitanmaax, B.C., her love of the Oilers started when she got to meet a few players at a local hockey camp in 2022, including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Tyson Barrie, Tyler Ennis, and former player and coach Craig MacTavish.

"He was helping us shoot, and [learn] how to get in the corners, and he was teaching us how to go in front of other people and check them," Khaleesi said of Nugent-Hopkins, one of her favourite players.

Last year, some of the players returned to the small Gitxsan-Wet'suwet'encommunity in northern B.C.

Angela Woods said her daughter really hit it off with former Oilers goalie Mike Smith. The pair bonded over their shared love of rap music and a dance called the Griddy that has become the celebration of choice for many players and fans.

"[Smith] noticed that [Khaleesi] was wearing a Notorious B.I.G. shirt and started singing Big Poppa to her," said Woods.

"And then when she was scoring all her goals … he was telling her to celebrate by doing the Griddy, so every time she scored after that, her and Mike Smith would do the Griddy together."

Two older men standing with a young firl, who is wearing an Oilers shirt and holding a sign that reads "BC girl drove 1193 km to cheer on the Oilers."

Woods says her daughter was ecstatic to attend Game 6 of the first round of the Western Conference final against the Vancouver Canucks.

Khaleesi went to the game with an orange sign that said she travelled more than 1,100 kilometres to cheer on the team, and the team staff took note.

Bench staff gave her an official Oilers puck, and allowed her to stand along the Oilers entrance to show them just how far she had travelled.

"We were sitting in the fifth row behind the Oilers bench, so we got put on TV, [and] a bunch of people from back home had recognized her … we were getting messages like crazy after the game from everybody," Woods said.

Khaleesi said she wants to be in Edmonton when the city wins the Cup, and hopes to meet another fan she didn't get to see when she was last in Edmonton — Superfan Magoo.

From Leafs to Oilers

Lifelong Toronto Maple Leafs fan Chris Taylor decided to pivot to cheering for the Oilers after his team was eliminated from the playoffs.

But says he longs for the days when the Leafs were a better team.

"I was a hard fan for a long time, ever since I was a little guy, because my uncle and everybody in my family all like Toronto," said Taylor.

Man with a beard and glasses wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey.

"They were better in the 1990s when I was younger, but just recently, I found that I just lost faith in them because they seem to not play as hard, or try as hard when they get in the playoffs."

Because of his allegiance to the Leafs, Taylor says he couldn't cheer for rivals the Montreal Canadiens, leaving him to pick between Winnipeg and Edmonton.

"I like Edmonton players a little bit better, they seem to have a better all-around team that was consistently winning," said Taylor.

What drew him to the Oilers were some of their top players, including Leon Draisaitl, but he says he also has to shout out ex-Leafs player Zach Hyman.

He describes his 2021 trade to Edmonton as "a bad move."

"I thought [Hyman] was a really good player, like on the penalty kill and stuff, he was pretty solid," said Taylor.

Mohawk player on the Panthers

For some Indigenous hockey fans, representation matters. Some will rally behind Indigenous players in the league, including Carey Price of the Canadiens or Zach Whitecloud of the Vegas Golden Knights, who visited his home community of Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, Man., last year after the Knights' Stanley Cup win.

With Brandon Montour, who is Mohawk from Six Nations, Ont., and plays for the Florida Panthers, the worry is some Indigenous fans will switch allegiances.

Taylor says he would be proud to see an Indigenous person win the Cup, but he's still holding out for the Oilers.

"I'd be proud of [Montour], but I really don't like Florida for what they did to the Leafs the last time," said Taylor, recalling the 2023 playoffs when the Panthers beat the Leafs in five games in the second round of the Eastern Conference final.

"[The Oilers] have a lot of Canadians on their team too, so that's another thing that people think about when they're choosing teams."

  • Do you have a personal connection to the team or a unique Oilers memory to share. Tell us about it in an email to ask@cbc.ca.

As for Skye Boucher, she's a lifelong Oilers fan, with no plans to change teams.

"I do think it's great that there's an Indigenous player on that team, but my heart [is] with the Oilers, and it has been my whole life."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephanie Cram is a climate reporter based in Edmonton. Previously she worked for CBC in Winnipeg as a reporter, and as a producer for CBC Radio's Unreserved. She is the host of the podcast Muddied Water: 1870, Homeland of the Métis.

    *****
    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

    Check Also

    First responders praised following school bus crash in B.C.’s Cariboo region

    The swift response of first responders and witnesses at the scene of a school bus …