Red Right 88

Cleveland sports fan and sports writer

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

quit my job decided to drive west

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

More than just hockey

I had never seen the “Star Spangled Banner” performed with such emotion and passion. The singer, Paul Lorieau, was heartfelt and amazing, but it was the crowd itself that made it so special. The arena sang along before ending with a rousing ovation at the end. It seems like an example of national pride and patriotism, right?

Sure, except America's National Anthem was being sung in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. If you did not get to see the start of games three, four or six of the NHL Stanley Cup, you missed some incredible television.

As I said before, it was the most passionate verison of the National Anthem I have ever witnessed, but it was only the first act before Lorieau led the Rexall Place crowd in “O Canada.”

The entire crowd belts out their anthem, Lorieau sings the first stanza and then simply holds his mic aloft, letting the Oiler fans and players bring home the song.

Because of my job, I hear a lot of National Anthems. Most of the time, it doesn't stop much of the crowd. People still jockey for seats or hotdogs. And while many do remove their caps and stand at attention, it is rare to see anyone sing along let alone belt it out with passion. More often than not, if someone is singing along it is more a form of mockery or the visiting fans trying disrupt the home crowd singer.

So to see Edmonton in action, even for a cynic like myself, was breathtaking.

When you hear the whole story, it is even more remarkable. When Edmonton played San Jose in the Western Conference semifinals, the Shark fans booed while O Canada was being sung. Which was rather stupid since their best two players and the majority of their roster are Canadians. Rather than retaliate, the Edmonton crowd starting cheering during the Star Spangled Banner. Before long, they started to sing along. And here is the amazing part, they did without the scoreboard telling them to do so. The crowd learned the words through osmosis and showed it the respect it deserves.

It has been a Cinderella season for the Edmonton Oilers. They only made the playoffs because Vancouver lost six of their final eight games. As the eighth and final seed, the Oilers had to play Detroit, which had the best record in the NHL. The Oilers shocked Detroit in six games. In the next round, the Oilers lost the first two games to San Jose before rallying to win four in a row to advance to the Western Conference finals. There it took Edmonton only five games to dispatch Anaheim. Starting goaltender Dwayne Roloson was a major reason why. No eighth-seeded team had ever advanced to the Stanley Cups finals before.

In game one of the Stanley Cup finals against Carolina, Edmonton was up 3-0. But Roloson got injured and his replacement Ty Conklin made a huge mistake late in the game and the Oilers lost 5-4. They would get blown out in game two 5-0 with a new goalie Jussi Markkanen in net. Edmonton rebounded to win game three but when they lost game four at home, the series looked over. But the Oilers didn’t quit. In game five, the Oilers scored a short-handed overtime goal to win. That had never happened since the Stanley cup debuted in 1893. And then in game six in front of their passionate crowd, they won 5-0. However, Monday in game seven, the Oilers lost 3-1 to Carolina. It is a shame, but just because you have deserving fans, it doesn't mean you get a championship.

I have no doubt in my mind, the Edmonton faithful welcomed home their heroes with open arms celebrating their team as champions. Just as sports is meant to be. It was the greatest underdog run in the history of pro sports. And most of America missed it.