Oilers fans are some of the most loyal and astute pundits in hockey. We love to talk about our team; to debate merits and drawbacks. We pick apart everything, from blockbuster trades to insignificant waiver wire claims.
One such fan is Spencer Holst. A lifelong supporter of the Blue & Orange, Holst sat down with me to offer his assessments of the 2016/17 Edmonton Oilers.
Q: How long have you been an Oilers fan?
A: As long as I can remember. My Dad was a huge Oilers fan growing up… my earliest memory was of watching Oilers hockey. I didn’t get to see the glory years – I was too young – but I’ve heard lots about them.”
Q: How old were you when you attended your first Oilers game?
A: I was about eleven or twelve.
Q: Do you remember who the Oilers were facing?
A: I do, I actually remember it quite vividly. It was kind of a funny story. I’m the youngest of four boys – there are six of us in our family – [and] we didn’t have a ton of extra money… so we had never been to a game, but my dad really wanted to take us all to an Oilers game. We were living in southern Alberta… so he bought these really, really cheap tickets. We made the trip… to Edmonton, and we were joking on the way because on the tickets it said “standing”. And we’re [thinking] there’s no way that there [are] actual spots where you stand at a hockey game; it must just mean something else. We’re laughing [about] how there’s [supposedly] a little circle on the floor, and you have your number in it. [We were] trying to be funny, thinking there was no possible way that that’s actually how it was. Sure enough, we get [to the] nosebleeds of Rexall – there’s little squares on the floor with numbers… with a little railing.
Holst watched his first in-person Oilers game from the standing row of Rexall Place
Q: When you first became a fan, who was your favorite Oiler?
A: I was a huge Ryan Smyth fan. I loved how he’d just sit in front of the net and take shots like crazy. I remember… him getting cuts on the face, getting stitches, [and] coming right back out and battling again. I loved him as Captain Canada, too.
Q: Do you think that Chiarelli bringing in Matt Benning at zero acquisition cost offsets the Griffin Reinhart trade?
A: I don’t think so. If he hadn’t made that trade, he still could’ve brought in a Matt Benning.
Holst grew up watching the on-ice heroics of Oilers legend Ryan Smyth
Q: What decision or trade that Chiarelli has made has made you the happiest as a fan?
A: Drafting Connor McDavid. I think that was a pretty easy pick for him.
Q: What do you think of Todd McLellan as a coach so far?
A: I really enjoy Todd. Seeing him in San Jose I always thought he looked like kind of a grumpy guy, but I think he’s been a fantastic coach – I don’t have anything negative to say about him. He seems to… work well with the guys, and I really like the way he keeps the players accountable, which I think has been a problem in past years with past coaches. He seems like he’s got a pretty straight head and knows what the team needs to do and the direction they need to go. I get the impression that it’s gonna be okay with him behind the bench.
Q: Over the team’s losing decade, what was the bleakest point for you as a fan?
A: The darkest moment for me… was the end of the [2014/15] season before they won the [Connor McDavid] draft lottery. Simply because it had been… so bad for so long, it seemed like there was absolutely no hope [for] the future.
An avid fan of Connor McDavid, Holst remembers the weeks leading up to the 2015 Draft Lottery as the lowest in his time as a fan.
Q: What has been your favorite Connor McDavid moment so far?
A: The famous goal against Columbus. That was a moment when people realized “wow, this kid is for real”. I remember another moment… that same season was a pass to Jordan Eberle. [McDavid] and Eberle both had two goals and the net was empty, they were coming down [the ice] together, and it would’ve been easy for McDavid to take that first hat trick… [but] he passed it off to Eberle.
Q: Who do you think is the most underrated Oiler?
A: I put [Leon] Draisaitl pretty high on that list… maybe not by [Oilers] fans, but by the rest of the league… he’s ahead of a lot of very elite players in the league, and nobody’s talking about it.
Q: Which Oilers prospect are you most excited to see in the NHL?
A: I have two. One’s already played in the NHL, but I don’t think he was [ready], and that’s Jesse Puljujarvi. But for a prospect who’s never played before and might be a little far away from playing in the NHL is Ethan Bear. He’s quite an offensive defenseman and I’m excited to see what kind of player he can become.
Q: Do you think the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson trade was worth it?
A: I do. I think he comes exactly as advertised, and exactly [as] Chiarelli said after he made that trade: he’s not going to be that sexy defenseman… like scoring a ton of goals. But… he brings some toughness to that back end and he’s not afraid to throw his body around. It was tough to swallow at first… but it’s one of those rare trades that really was exactly what both sides needed. I’m happy with the trade, seeing how Larsson can play the game.
While Holst initially opposed the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson trade, the Oilers’ performance this season has changed his opinion completely.
Q: Which trade has made you happiest as a fan?
A: The most recent one was bringing in Patrick Maroon. When they traded for him [they] basically gave up nothing and was able to get Anaheim to retain some of his salary. I knew he was a big winger who had some skill… which was exactly what Edmonton needed.
Q: Have you ever been to any playoff games?
A: I haven’t, and it’s definitely high on my bucket list… but I can’t wait to go to a playoff game and feel the playoff atmosphere.
Photos by John Amerongen (March 2017)