For the first time since March 2020, fans were able to intake regular-season NHL action at Rogers Place in Edmonton, a game that saw the Oilers skate away with a 3-2 shootout win.
The win sent the home fans happy, but it was just one element of a night that saw another Canadian market formally say goodbye to the era of playing in an empty arena in games that matter.
Great Fan Environment, But Other Elements Can Improve
From the minute the masses stepped back into Rogers Place, it was clear that the building truly had life again.
Popular team mascot Hunter the Lynx was back to running around the concourse and taking pictures with fans, the brass band was playing around the arena and, the best part? Finally hearing sounds again on the broadcast that was artificially boosted to keep things alive.
The Oilers' pre-game intro did have a great speech at center ice from Tony Brar of Oilers TV. But aside from that, the rest of the intro and intermission content did feel like it could have done a little bit more when it came to welcoming back fans.
The Vegas Golden Knights have set the bar for when it comes to gameday entertainment in the NHL, and while we may not see every team get to that level of over the top presentation, it would have been nice to see a little more pizazz added for the Oilers for the first game of a brand new season.
A Return to Live Hockey Brought Out the Emotions
For Lynn Mercereau, a long-time season ticket holder who inherited her seats from her father, the ability to get back to Rogers Place for a game was truly important to her.
"Honestly, it's a little bit emotional," she said. "It's been a journey, the last 18 months. There were times where I thought we'd never get back here. To just be in this environment to see the team and be in person after all of those games of watching on TV and not being able to come. I live seven minutes away from the arena, being that close and not being able to get inside was driving me crazy. I felt a lot of emotions tonight".
Mercereau also had high praise for Jesse Puljujärvi, a player, who, in his time with the Oilers, has become one of the more beloved faces of the franchise.
"He could run for mayor next week and win," Mercereau said. "How could you not love that guy? There's so much joy in him to just play the game, it reminds me of Ryan Smyth"
When it comes to this season, Mercereau is also on the positive side of what this team could do in 2021-22.
"I do have a good feeling about this team, I think they've got a good mix and if the goaltending can hold up I think we're unstoppable really. I think there are some third and fourth line guys that are going to surprise us".
Zach Hyman is quickly endearing himself to the Edmonton market and his coaches
The deal to bring Zach Hyman to Edmonton was the team's best move of the summer. The veteran winger scored on the power play in his first game and generally looked like one of the better performers all night.
"He's so tenacious, his energy is contagious," coach Dave Tippett said. "It's funny, I talked to him before the game and I said Hyms, I'm going to use you in a lot of different situations and he laughed and said ok. That's what you do. He delivers, he's one of those guys you send him over the boards you know what you're going to get."
Hyman's ability to get to the net and create scoring chances helped make him a fan favorite on the ice in Toronto. In the Oilers' top six, he's being rewarded from the jump.