Sport & Social

Edmonton Professional Sports Heating Up in October

Taylor Maxston (2L)

icehokeymanTo the displeasure of many Edmontonians, the first indicia of looming freezing temperatures reared their ugly heads back in the middle of September. The hope that fall might have a brief stint in Edmonton has looked less and less likely with snowfall and blistering winds arriving a little earlier than most expected. While the weather in the City of Champions may be hitting a cold spell, its professional sports teams are undoubtedly heating up.

Over on the soon to be snow-covered football field at Commonwealth Stadium, the Edmonton Eskimos are looking to make their home fan base proud by pushing for a deep playoff run and earning the opportunity to host the 106th Grey Cup on their home turf. With only a few weeks left to go in the Canadian Football League regular season, October is shaping up to be a make-or-break month for an Eskimos squad that has flashed moments of both brilliance and inconsistency. Across two pivotal September games, fans witnessed a triumphant Labour Day rematch victory over the Calgary Stampeders only to have their hearts broken one week later by an Ottawa Redblacks offense that put up 438 total yards on the Eskimo defence.

While the Stampeders currently have a stranglehold on first place in the West Division with 10 wins, the Eskimos will need to fight to stay afloat and keep their playoff hopes alive amongst a highly competitive group of teams. The Eskimos, Saskatchewan Roughriders, BC Lions, and Winnipeg Blue Bombers are all within two wins of each other as the race for the postseason winds down. Fortunately, three of the Eskimos’ last five games will be played at home, where they have had a notoriously successful track record. Only time will tell whether the battle for the Grey Cup will involve the team from its host city this year.

For those who prefer fast-paced skating action, the opening faceoff of the 2018/19 National Hockey League season is just under a month away! The optimism of Stanley Cup aspirations for each team is part of what makes the start of a new season so exciting, though fans of Edmonton Oilers hockey are undoubtedly setting their sights on a return to the playoffs and won’t settle for anything less. Those expectations won’t be getting any less demanding after the Oilers’ early success in the preseason.

While it should be obvious that preseason success doesn’t necessarily translate into regular season win totals (the Oilers went 6-2 in the preseason last year after all), it’s hard to ignore the individual positive signs that have shown across the Oilers’ games thus far. Although Connor McDavid looks as explosive as ever, perhaps the best news comes from how well the man between the posts, No. 1 goalie Cam Talbot, has been playing. Back in the September issue of Canons of Construction, I wrote about how a bounce-back year from Talbot should be at the top of the list of needs for the Oilers to push for playoff contention after a marked increase in his goals against average across his last two seasons. In short, Talbot looks to be as sharp and focussed as ever, making several highlight reel saves in the preseason and inspiring confidence that netminding will not be an area of concern.

Of course, the promising performances of right wingers Ty Rattie and Kailer Yamamoto could potentially flip the script on what is perceived to be a major area of weakness for Edmonton. Rattie, a player with 49 career NHL games and nine career goals, has seemingly solidified a role on the first line with McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with an impressive five-point performance against the Winnipeg Jets in the team’s third preseason match, though he will have to keep performing at a high level to maintain that projection.  Supplementing the group’s success is how Yamamoto has four preseason goals and is making a strong case for not going back for any more development at AHL Bakersfield.

Whether or not the preseason is a sign of things to come will be determined when the Oilers head out on the road to take on the New Jersey Devils on October 6. Of course, the date Oilers fans have marked down on their calendar is October 18 when the Boston Bruins make the trip to Rogers Place. The 2018 home opener is sure to bring a roaring crowd to pack the stands and hopefully act as a catalyst for an Oilers redemption campaign with plenty of moments to cheer for along the way.