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Return of the Edmonton Drillers Part Two: The Present

As most of my loyal readers will know, I grew up near Edmonton, Alberta. While I grew up there I was a great hockey fan, and in particular a great fan of my home-town team, the St. Albert Saints. Playing in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, the Saints came low on the totem pole but were one of the most biggest fish in their small pond; not quite the Manchester United of the AJHL but certainly the Tottenham Hotspur. They won some provincial titles in my day and did pretty well for themselves. Then, the year before I moved to Victoria, greedy ownership and a short-sighted city council combined to move the Saints to nearby Spruce Grove. I moved out and transferred my allegiance to the BCHL's Victoria Grizzlies.

Unfortunately, I still maintained affection for the transplanted Saints. I was that most diabolical of creatures: the sports bigamist. Last year, Victoria played host to the Canadian tier II junior hockey championship, the Royal Bank Cup. Teams from across Canada were present, including the Grizzlies. And the Spruce Grove Saints, who had languished in mid-table oblivion for years, picked that season to go on a tear and establish themselves as the best team in Alberta. For most of the winter, it seemed possible - nay, likely! - that my new love and my old love would play each other in the national title tournament.

Agony! Visions of going to a hockey rink and feeling a constant pit of misery in the bottom of my stomach as the great team of my formative years and the nearly-as-great team of my young adulthood waged hockey war kept me up nights. Who would I cheer for? Who could I cheer for? The Saints were there first, but, then, they had also switched cities. The Grizzlies were my new hometown team, but was that sufficient excuse to abandon old loyalties? I was saved only by the Saints failing in the AJHL final to those fuckers the Grande Prairie Storm, allowing me to cheer for the Grizzlies with a clear conscience.

I thought I'd learned my lesson. For years it has been a form response for me to reply to "what's your favourite soccer team?" with "the Edmonton Aviators" even though they, strictly speaking, no longer existed. Implicit in that statement was the idea that my loyalty was to soccer in the city of Edmonton, the soccer community in which I had grown up and played every one of my competitive matches. Why would I throw myself on the mercy of the Impact or the Whitecaps or the FC? Sure, it would be fun to cheer for somebody again, but really, one must be constant and not sleep with every team in the country just because your old love stopped existing for a bit.

Then, with ideas of a team in Edmonton being relegated to the dreams of cranks like me while supporters of current teams cheered all around me, the temptation was too much. I hurled myself into the Whitecaps corner earlier this season and have lived there happily ever since, until it came out that the new NASL was resurrecting the Edmonton Drillers and Edmonton would, in all likelihood, compete with the Whitecaps for the Voyageurs Cup.

That was 500 words long but I can sum it up in two: fuck me.

When the Whitecaps and Drillers face off, I may just end up tearing my own face off. For I do believe that the MLS Whitecaps and NASL Drillers will be playing against each other, and just like in the old days of the Copa Del Rey when Real Madrid or Barcelona's 'B' team got a chance to teach papa bear a lesson, I believe the Drillers will come to play. As Toronto FC could tell you, the gulf between North America's ostensible first and second divisions isn't all that wide. Truly, I will be torn in conflict, with an Edmonton victory over Vancouver having the potential to be either the best or the worst moment of my footballing life.

Implicit in all of this concern is my conviction that the Drillers will be a success. For once - for once - Edmonton's soccer community is doing it the right way. The Whitecaps will provide both organizational and financial support and make sure the team is a success on the pitch. The team has experienced ownership, for once, and they're not playing in Commonwealth Stadium, which is worth a dump truck full of karma on its own. The venue is still an open question, and unless the Whitecaps want to splash an awful lot of cash the Drillers will probably be stuck at Foote Field on the University of Alberta campus, capacity 3,500 on the larger pitch, but expandable to Swangard-esque proportions.

I've heard a few folks murmur about the Drillers taking advantage of TELUS Field, the baseball diamond in downtown Edmonton, capacity for baseball 10,000. In the old days of John Ducey Park, the earlier Drillers played some games there sharing space with the Trappers. But TELUS Field is used by a full-time baseball tenant, the Edmonton Capitals, which would make conversion difficult. Even better, the field has a bizarre arrangement of an artificial turf infield and a natural grass outfield. This is, supposedly, odd to play baseball on. I don't even want to imagine playing soccer on it.

Of course, Commonwealth Stadium is available for the Big Games. So when we play in the final of the CONCACAF Champions League, we'll be loaded for bear.

(Dammit. I just said "we", didn't I? This is going to be even harder than I thought.)