Flames & Oilers Both Need Capacity Crowds to Play at Full Potential

Preseason is underway, and both the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames are set to play in front of fans at 100 percent capacity. Three waves of COVID-19 have already hit Canada, and we are all hoping that a fourth never shows its face. Fans and players alike are just about as vaccinated as they are going to get and everyone is anticipating a full house night in and night out in the NHL.

The Oilers kick off regular-season games in Alberta on Wednesday, Oct. 13. As you may have remembered, restrictions were a lot more strict in Canada than in the U.S. While fans were finally allowed into the building in any capacity last season, American teams were already packing their arenas with people.

Edmonton Oilers Zack Kassian, Darnell Nurse, Jujhar Khaira Leon Draisaitl
Edmonton Oilers Zack Kassian, Darnell Nurse, Jujhar Khaira and Leon Draisaitl (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Amber Bracken)

A full house of cheering fans will only benefit Canadian teams, as they look to create an atmosphere where opposing teams find difficulty coming in and performing well.

Both the Flames and Oilers will need the help at home and see a return of the fearsome buildings of old. In 2019-20, the last time all NHL arenas were at full capacity and divisions were normal, the two teams located in Alberta didn’t do so well. The Oilers had a home record of 17-11-6, 17th in the league, while the Flames were 22nd at 16-13-4. This is the year they finished 12th and 19th in the standings, so their home record didn’t do them any favors compared to other teams.

After a long-awaited return, the arenas are going to be packed and buzzing for every single play. Both players and fans can’t wait for action to get underway.

Oilers & Flames’ Players Fired Up for Return of Fans

One of the most vocal players about fans returning to the arenas was Zack Kassian, and for good reason. He excelled in the playoffs in 2016-17 when the building was loud and the juices flowed. There is always an elevation of intensity and noise come playoff time. Maybe that’s just what he needs to get his game back on track after injury problems and a down year. He had this to say to Bob Stauffer about fans returning at full capacity:

“I think everyone, not only myself but everyone, is extremely excited to get back to get back to some normality here. It sucked with no fans. You look at the NHL. You go to the rink, in the warm-ups you have people around the glass, the music is pumping, the glass is shaking, you can feel the energy in the building.”

– Zack Kassian
Zack Kassian Edmonton Oilers
Zack Kassian, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Changing from no fans or limited fans to a packed arena every night will make a world of difference for some people. Kassian’s game revolved around being physical and pumping up the team. During fights and big plays, it would give anyone extra motivation to show what you can do in front of more people and people cheering you on. He continued to say:

“To go on the road and get the boos. That, to me, is hockey where you get the goosebumps, you get the adrenalin. It’s fun to play in away barns, it’s fun to play in home barns. Fans are a big, big, big part of hockey and there’s no doubt we missed them.”

– Zack Kassian

Home or away in Alberta, both of these teams will bring it and give a full capacity crowd a show. On the other side, Andrew Mangiapane speaks on not hearing fake crowd noises anymore. Many players agree that it changes the whole atmosphere, and they are more than excited to have them return.

Battle of Alberta

It was a little disappointing to watch games between the Oilers and Flames last season in the North Division. Not that they weren’t good games, but now that both teams are competitive, the stakes and intensity have risen to a whole new level. I think we all expected every game to be how they were in front of sold-out crowds at the Scotiabank Saddledome and Rogers Place. We saw that in one of the most electrifying games of the 2019-20 season when these two faced off. A line brawl ensued, a throwback to some great old-time hockey. If that doesn’t get you excited to tune in and watch every second, I don’t know what will.

Games were very different without fans in attendance at the games. Of course, most of the players were and are willing to do what is necessary to continue their careers and earn themselves more money in the process. Connor McDavid was quoted back when the NHL was first put on a pause, talking about how the players support the decisions made by the NHL and NHLPA, thinking of the safety of teams and their fans.

“We look forward to the day we can get back playing the game we love in front of full arenas.”

(Connor McDavid, via Kirby Bourne, Global News)

This speaks to, even now, how the players are anticipating the return of full buildings to play in front of, especially in Canada. It’s a whole different feel playing for a crowd of home fans, not just fans in general. Both the Oilers and Flames have tried to improve to make a push for the playoffs and even further. This season, the Pacific Division looks a little weak compared to rival divisions, so the opportunity is there. We shall see who wants to seize it.

Regular season games should have elevated intensity, but we are in for a show if we are lucky enough to finally get another Battle of Alberta in the postseason. Most people are following COVID-19 guidelines and trying to get the world back to normal. There is some resemblance to how things used to be, and a full NHL season with 100 percent capacity will help everyone even more.

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