Rod Pedersen's blog today got my thinking back to an incident 11 years ago that I can recall like it was yesterday... more on that in a second.
Rod talked about wearing the unpopular colors or jerseys into enemy territory today. He talked about wearing a Dallas jersey into Edmonton a few years back and the fallout from that.
I've sort of lost touch with what happens in the stands mainly because I've been in the booth for so long now, high above the seats and away from the action.
But back in 1997, boy was I in over my head...
I was 18 years old. We (Lanigan posse) started a bit of a tradition of catching first round playoff action in either Winnipeg or Edmonton. I was fearing the Stars and Oilers in the first round and that year in went right down to the final weekend of the regular season to determine playoff positioning. I was fearing it because knowing how much of a Stars fan I was, I knew I would be walking into enemy territory with my "Mike Modano #9" sweater. I knew I'd probably have to go to war at some point... plus two of my buddies were Oiler fans and there would be A LOT on the line in that two-game set at Northlands Coliseum. Turned out, I had no idea what I was getting myself into...mostly brought on by myself.
It was game three in Edmonton after a split in Dallas in the opening two games. Northlands was electric - it was their first home playoff game in four years.
I proudly wore my road black Stars jersey circa 1996 (see picture above). We took our seats and the friendly jabs began behind me and a few sections over even before puck drop. It was all good.
I was 18 in Edmonton where we could drink beer (legally). Remember, I was a diehard fan. I wanted to watch the game and pay attention. So, I obstained from the Canadian draught. My buddies didn't of course. They got into it pretty good. Sauced before the first TV time out.
Dallas struck first, and then added another. I stood up cheered, spun around in my seat with my hands up. My team was winning on the road... dominating in fact. It felt good. The Stars added another on the PP and were coasting up 3-0 in the third period. I was the only one making noise, having a good time in my section about 10 rows up from the back of the Stars net. My friends were slumped in their seats... about 12 draught beer deep each at this point. Sure there were other Stars fans in the building, but you could count them all on one hand.
Then, some life.
With four minutes to go Doug Weight broke Andy Moog's shut-out bid to make it 3-1. I got a few jabs... some verbal jawing but let's be honest, they didn't actually think they had a chance in coming back in this one. A moral victory if anything right?
I think it was Andrei Kovalenko who brought the Oilers within a goal with just over two minutes to play and Northlands erupted. I sheltered for cover. Oiler fans were back. They knew they had a chance now. My buddies were up all around me leading the rest of the section on. I tried to put on a brave face... but doubt was starting to creep in.
Eleven seconds later. That's all it took. That goal horn was blasting again.
Mike Grier tied it on a rebound scramble and pandemonium ensued. I was looking for a place to hide. It was awful. Sure it was just a game but when you get 17-thousand fans and countless drinks, anything can happen. The worst part was that my buddies were the ring leaders. They had heard me for two and half hours. Now it was their turn.
The third period came to an end but not before a couple more Oiler chances. We were headed to overtime.
I thought to myself " Ok we can still salvage this. An overtime goal and it was my turn again. I could have the last laugh.
Midway thru the first OT Kelly Buchberger scored a softie on Moog to complete the comeback. I won't begin to tell you what happened from there but it was not a good scene.
I couldn't get out of that building fast enough. What took like 20 minutes to get out of that rink felt like an eternity. Gridlocked by Oiler fans all around after one of their biggest comebacks in franchise history. Just imagine that for a second.
Overwhelming to say the very least.
We finally got back to our hotel at the West Edmonton Mall and the party was on. Not for this guy though. I was po'ed at my friends. Edmonton was electric that night - so I was told. I camped in the room.
The next day I was still bitter. My buds went down to Hooters on Bourbon Street. I took a pass though. 20 minutes later one of them bolted back up to the room "Keener you'll never guess who's down there, Modano, Churla and a few others are having a drink."
I called b.s. Was this insult to injury?
Then he showed me his autographed lid. They really were there! I grabbed my crumpled up Stars jersey from the corner and did a speedwalk down to the row of pubs and bars in the mall. Sure enough. Modano, Mike Kennedy, Churla, Jaime Langenbrunner and Richard Matvichuk were all down having a drink. They didn't want to be bothered. Too late. The Hooter girls were crowded around them. My buddies had set up on a table a few over. I picked my spot and came over. They saw my disappointment from last night. They all signed my jersey and said they would win tomorrow night to even the series.
Just as they said... they did. But do you think I wore my Stars jersey that night? Not a chance.
Looking back I can laugh now... I tell that story a lot whenever we're talking about the Oilers. My buddies still howl at that one.
Just this past Broncos season when I was high above Rexall's ice in the visitors broadcast booth I took a moment. I looked down to that section behind the visitors net and smiled and just shook my head.