Edmonton Bob Nicholson and Ken Holland were driving from Edmonton International Airport on Friday when they saw an icon that lit up their collective mood.
Nicholson, head of the Edmonton Oilers, and Holland, general manager of the team, were returning from Denver as the Colorado Avalanche led 2-0 in the Best 7 Western Conference final.
As they approached the Walterdale Bridge leading into downtown, they were greeted by the large orange “PLAY LA BAMBA BABY” sign that had appeared two weeks earlier. “La Bamba” is the song played after every Oilers win at Rogers Place and was the favorite song of Joey Moss, the longtime Oilers locker room worker who passed away in 2020.
“Kenny and I started talking about the vibe in town, the excitement, the anticipation, and how off the charts it is,” Nicholson said. “It’s going to be great. It was really crazy during our victory over [Calgary Flames] In the Battle of Alberta in the last round, this will rise to another level.
“These fans have been waiting a long time for this. It would be crazy.”
For the first time since 2006, the Oilers will host a conference final when they meet avalanche in Game 3 at Rogers Place (8 p.m. ET; TNT, CBC, SN, TVAS) on Saturday. It’s a 16-year drought that Edmonton players said would end with their frenzied supporters at the loudest.
“We love playing at home” forward Leon Drystel He said. “We love playing in front of our fans. I think we have the best fans in the league, and it will be loud. It will be exciting.
“So we have to make sure we use that to our advantage and make sure it’s in our best interest.”
The party won’t be limited to the indoor arena, which opened in 2016. Thousands of fans will be outside in the fan zone known as the Ice District, part of a $2.5 billion mixed-use development in the heart of Edmonton led by Oilers owner Daryl Katz.
“We still have a long way to go, but that was Daryl’s vision, to inject life into the downtown area and bring people together,” Nicholson said.
She already has.
The 50,000-square-foot public plaza has hosted over 30,000 people so far from the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs as part of the Ford Tailgate Party. The crowd at the event swelled to over 6000 for home games, and 3,000 when the Oilers are on the road.
There will be a special addition this time.
Workers spent part of Friday there building the TNT panel set, which will feature Wayne Gretzky. The 61-year-old, the National Hockey League’s top scorer with 2,857 points (894 goals, 1963 assists), spent his first nine seasons with the Oilers and helped Edmonton win the Stanley Cup four times. On Saturday he will be sitting on a set across the street from the front doors of Rogers Place where a statue of Gretsky raises the cup.
“I mean, you think about how fueling all these people are, and then you add the presence of the great person,” Nicholson said. “That would make her even crazier.
“Who knows what people will come up with?”
What about a pizza named after Conor McDavid?
Campio Brewing Co. Two blocks west of the Ice District and Rogers Arena, one of the most popular items on the menu there is Big MacDavid, a pizza named in honor of Captain Oilers who also pays homage to the Big Mac at McDonald’s by serving up ground chuck, cheddar cheese, diced onions, and chopped pickles. , iceberg lettuce, sesame seeds and “secret sauce”.
“I don’t know if Connor has officially eaten one, but we’ve seen behind-the-scenes videos in the dressing room with a bunch of Cambio pizza boxes,” said Chef William Griffiths. “Maybe he already has.”
Griffiths said Big MacDavid is one of the establishment’s most popular staples and will continue to be that way as Oilers progresses. He’s not the only one with a huge stake in the team’s success.
For Nicholson, it’s the perfect storm. home match. Saturday night. Hockey Night in Canada. The only Canadian team in the Final Four NHL. A society thirsting for victory.
“We are all part of it, and the whole city is part of it,” Nicholson said. “It will be a special night.”