Home court advantage is a saying for a reason – though it may not be a definable phenomenon, though fans do go to away games and teams definitely win during away games, there’s just something about playing at home. It’s not something that can be explained – NHL rinks are very specific, and apart from the differing logos on the ice, the dimensions and specifications are identical no matter what NHL team’s city a team is playing in. Whether it’s because there are a lot of fans cheering for you rather than a slew of opposing team’s fans cheering against you, whether it’s because you’re familiar with the ice and all its quirks, whether it’s just a superstitious thing, it still matters.
Many players who come to Edmonton to join the Edmonton Oilers talk about their feelings on the city, and it’s never about nitty gritty details. It’s about atmosphere, emotion, intangible things. It’s about coming to a place with a history of players like Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, of being a part of something like that. The Oilers haven’t been doing too well lately – but time and time again, both fans and players alike have the same comment. Even when Edmonton doesn’t have a lot of wins, it has a lot of heart.
While those outside of the Edmonton area may not be paying close attention to what buildings are being erected, Oilers fans will likely be aware of the new arena being planned. Construction began about a week ago and the arena is set to be finished by about 2016. People with a stake in the city itself are buzzing about what the arena will do for downtown Edmonton, the traffic it will bring, the boost it will give businesses in the surrounding area, etc. However… what effect will it have for the Oilers?
They’re planning on moving the Wayne Gretzky statue from Rexall Place to the new arena, bringing over a tangible manifestation of the years of history and the Oilers’ legacy. Fans and players will still be able to look at Wayne as they enter and remember the Oilers’ golden years. But is this enough? Until now, Oilers have had the knowledge that when they’re on the ice in Edmonton, they’re skating where players like Gretzky have skated, they’re constantly aware of the history they’re stepping into. This won’t be the case in a new arena.
Will the new arena be a new, fresh start, a chance for the current Oilers to make their own mark upon Oilers history? Or will it be just another change that may potentially throw them even more off kilter than they already are, a forced separation from their team history?