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Oilers thrive by enjoying the journey


“Enjoy the journey.”

That’s blueliner Mattias Ekholm’s message to his Edmonton Oilers teammates. 

The Oilers have learned to embrace those three words during their playoff run, which they hope to extend with a win in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final at home on Friday.

Edmonton has won two straight after trailing the series 3-0. 

“You’ve got to enjoy the journey,” Ekholm said. “That’s what I keep hearing from guys that win. When you get that Cup in your hands, sometimes after, it’s like, ‘Is this it?’

“It’s the journey that actually is the thing and you’ve got to enjoy that and embrace that and that’s where you create your memories. It’s nice to see that guys are loose and out there to play and have fun.”

In a season where they changed head coaches, languished at the bottom of the NHL standings and have faced elimination multiple times, the Oilers are savouring every up and down. 

“I think that’s what everyone’s doing right now – just playing and having fun,” said Ekholm.

He and head coach Kris Knoblauch both pointed to the second-round series win over the Vancouver Canucks as a turning point in the team’s mentality. The Oilers won two elimination games and gained confidence that this sort of run was possible. 

“There was so much tension, so much pressure – the Canadian matchup and all that – so when we got past that, it was a big boost for the whole team and I think just playing free,” Ekholm said.

“The Dallas series, we weren’t expected to win that,” Knoblauch added. “Vancouver, we had two elimination games, and we should have been finished then…even before this series started, we weren’t expected to have much success – certainly going down three games to zero…it looked like we were done, but our guys, they’ve just been enjoying the moment, having fun, trying to stretch our season out as long as possible. They’ve seen a lot of adversity. They’ve read it all and now they’re just playing hockey.” 

Ekholm is experiencing the playoffs through the eyes of his six-year-old son. 

“I actually went to our community league soccer game yesterday and he comes running up to me and he goes, ‘Dad, my teammate wants to meet you,’” Ekholm said.

“That’s gotta be pretty strange for [my son]. Obviously I’ll go meet them, but there are some tricky things that you’ve got to talk to a six-year-old about afterwards and say, ‘This is why.’ There are some challenges with that, but we’re embracing them. It’s just fun. People love hockey here obviously, so those are just some things that pop up once in a while…I have nothing bad to say.”

Before home games, players can literally hear the support from outside the arena. 

“It’s pretty incredible to witness,” Corey Perry said. “You can hear the honking horns from our dressing room. You can hear everything. It’s pretty tremendous and special to be here.”

Despite the stakes and pressure, there are glimpses of the Oilers soaking it all in during the biggest moments of their careers. In Game 5, goalie Stuart Skinner was spotted vibing to the in-arena music. Even Connor McDavid had a playful chirp after the win. 

“When I hear a tune that’s easy to go along with, sometimes you’ll see me bobbing my head,” Skinner said of moving to the soundtrack at Amerant Bank Arena on Tuesday.

“It’s just enjoying where you are in the moment and having some fun with it.”