Edmonton is once again the City of Champions and on Wednesday afternoon, Edmontonians decided to celebrate.
Hundreds of fans piled into Churchill Square for a celebration honouring the Edmonton Oil Kings, who won the Memorial Cup championship for the first time since 1966.
Team members were still revelling in the 6-3 victory over the Guelph Storm on Sunday.
“This is incredible,” said forward Curtis Lazar. “We have fans of all ages, and I mean, being here with the 1966 team and some of the alumni, that’s special. That’s incredible. It just shows the type of organization we have. It’s classy.”
Several members of the Oil Kings championship team that won in an ealrier era were also on hand to enjoy the celebrations.
“It’s really quite a thrill,” said Vince Downey, a member of the 1963 Memorial Cup winning team. “I’m really proud of this team, followed them closely and watched every game in the Memorial Cup… They worked hard, they were all heart and I think in the end, the best team definitely won.”
Hockey fan Bill Aylwin remembers cheering on the Oil Kings during the 60s. He was having deja-vu on Wednesday.
“What an incredible ride,” he said. “You never think you’re going to win the Memorial Cup again, and then all of a sudden they put on a show. It brings back a lot of memories.”
Mayor Don Iveson was on hand for the extravaganza and declared May 28 Edmonton Oil Kings day in the city, much to the pleasure of the boisterous crowd. He also thanked the Oil Kings for being inspiring leaders for young Edmontonians.
“The level of play you bring, the level of heart you apply to the game of hockey and in particular, the memory that you hold and the way you dedicated the season to Kristians Pelss,” Iveson said. “I think that’s real classy.”
Pelss, a former Oil Kings player who died last summer, was brought up throughout the celebrations. His name was chanted over and over again, filling the square.
The Oil Kings had dedicated this season to Pelss’ memory. On the inside of every Oil Kings jersey was the team’s motto, “Play for Pelss.”
Forward Mitch Moroz was choked up on the stage when he spoke to the crowd about his late teammate.
“I’m not really too sure what to say,” he said. “This is amazing. Thank you so much. I couldn’t be more proud of these guys.”
Before he finished speaking, he pointed at Pelss’ No. 26 jersey, being held up by a teammate nearby.
“It was all for that guy right there.”
When head coach Derek Laxdal ran through the list of accomplishments the Oil Kings achieved this year (98 games, 68 wins, Eastern Conference champions for the third year in a row, Western Hockey League champions two out of three years and Memorial Cup champions), it’s clear there is reason to celebrate.
“To bring these trophies back to the city of Edmonton - the City of Champions - it’s unbelievable,” he said. “These kids are Memorial Cup champions. They’ll remember this day for the rest of their lives."