Numerous Edmonton Oilers car flags were visible on Calgary's roadways throughout the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs. These flags weren't there before, and chances are they aren't around now that the Oilers are finished, raising the question
of where all these Edmonton Oilers fans came from. Perhaps they were transplanted Edmontonians showing pride for the Chuck. More likely and far more sinister, they were Calgary Flames fans who changed colours to support the last Canadian team in the playoffs. If the latter is true, then Frank Sinatra must be right; life can be so sweet on the sunny side of the street.
The easiest team to cheer for is a winning team, and some of the loudest cries from Flames fans during their own march to the Stanley Cup Finals were the shouts of "Bandwagoners!" at fans who seemingly appeared out of nowhere. These fair-weather fans weren't cheering for the team when they finished in the bottom five of the conference with under .500 records year after year, nor when Theo Fleury was traded to the Colorado Avalanche. It's understandable that during the terrible times, these fans would want to disappear or start cheering for more successful teams. But fair-weather fans should make no claim as to being true fans, because any real fan would have supported their team, regardless of result.
Now these same fans have moved from the Flames to cheering for the next closest winning team, the Edmonton Oilers. As fun as it is to cheer for a successful team, it's far more satisfying to experience both ends of the spectrum. When the Flames won their trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004, it was much, much sweeter to savour when contrasted with past failures. However, these fair-weather fans are so desperate to be a part of a winning side, they will go and cheer for pretty much any team left, even Calgary's most despised rival.
After the Flames first round failure the Calgary bandwagon emptied onto the sunnier side of Highway 2. As a Calgary Flames fan, I find this to be the lowest form of treachery. One of the greatest aspects of sports is the rivalries. If you asked a New York Yankees fan if they'd ever cheer for the Boston Red Sox,
or if a Green Bay Packers fan would cheer for the Chicago Bears, or if a Toronto Maple Leafs fan would cheer for the Montreal Canadiens, that answer would-and always should-be no. Edmonton and Calgary should be no different. It's fair to have a certain amount of reluctant respect for what the Oilers accomplished, but to swap the Flaming C for the greasy oildrop is a heinous crime.
The argument spewed forth most by converts is that everyone should cheer for the last Canadian team in the playoffs. I don't buy that one bit. To call a single NHL team "Canada's team" is colonization of the worse kind. Toronto Maple Leafs fans do it all the time. Even when they aren't in the playoffs, they're still somehow Canada's team.
The only way Edmonton is Canada's team is by geographical location. The composition of the team is international, and even the Canadian players would probably play in the States given the chance of a bigger pay cheque. Changing the definition of Canada's team could easily make the Carolina Hurricanes the bearers of the red maple leaf. Captain Rod Brind'amour, Cam Ward, Eric Staal, and Glen Wesley are all Canadian exports, to name a few. In fact, the Hurricanes had nearly a dozen Canadian players on their roster for game 7 of the finals. If nothing else, at least the colours are more fitting. In the end, there is only one Team Canada and I cheer for them in every international competition.
If the Oilers had won the cup, they wouldn't remember the cheering of any of the Flames fans or the blue flags rippling down Deerfoot Trail in support. The Oilers fans would only have pushed it back in Calgary's face, grinding it in the open wounds of our failure in 2004.
It's hard to fly the flag of a sunken ship, but true fans support their team regardless of where they finish. When the NHL season is on, there is no "Alberta's team" or "Canada's team." There is only Calgary's team and Edmonton's team, and to be a true fan of either, you must honour the rivalries that come with each, bear the pains of every loss, and bitterly refuse to switch colours in any situation.