Oil Kings fan went all in during playoffs
Nowytzkyj and his team jerseys have been at every game during Edmonton’s post-season run
By Chris O'Leary, edmontonjournal.com
May 14, 2012
Super fan Mel Nowytzkyj nervously waits for game 7 to begin on May, 13 2012 in Edmonton. Mel has been to every one of the Oil Kings playoff games and was punched in the stomach by a Moose Jaw fan.
Photograph by: Greg Southam
EDMONTON - A toasty Sunday in May at Rexall Place is not where Mel Nowytzkyj thought he’d end up when his hockey journey started almost two months ago.
It was what he hoped for, but not what he expected.
Nowytzkyj, 53, may be the Edmonton Oil Kings’ most loyal fan. A season-ticket holder from the time the team joined the Western Hockey league in 2007 and an Edmonton Ice diehard when the team was briefly here in the mid-1990s, he ramped his fandom up a notch when the Oil Kings made the playoffs.
He packed his extensive Oil Kings jersey collection in his car and started to drive. Unsure of how good the team could be, he wanted to see them while he could. First, he went to Cranbrook, B.C., where the Ice relocated in 1998. Edmonton won its first-ever playoff game in that series, which they swept. Then they brushed aside the Brandon Wheat Kings in four straight games in the second round. By then, Nowytzkyj was all-in.
“I didn’t think we’d go that far,” he said, laughing. “I was hoping we’d win a couple of games, since we hadn’t won any (playoff) games and Cranbrook was easy. I know some people from Cranbrook because I met them when I was following the Ice,” he said. “Once we beat Cranbrook, I thought, ‘I’ll see if I can make it to a few more in Brandon.’ I went there, Moose Jaw, you can’t stop there. So it’s sort of like, I started something and I figured I better finish it off. It just worked out that I could do it.”
If trekking across Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan through the first three rounds of the playoffs wasn’t enough, Nowytzkyj made both trips to Portland, Ore., to watch the league final. He flew back from Portland on Sunday morning and got into town six hours before the winner-takes-all Game 7.
Watching his team go 12-1 to get to the final was fun, he said. The six games that have made up the championship round have been nerve-wracking for him.
“There’s more on the line now,” he said. “You start the playoffs with not-great expectations and the more you win … I guess I really don’t expect (wins), but you sort of hope.”
Nowytzkyj wouldn’t make a prediction as to how the seesaw championship series would turn out.
“Don’t ask me to predict. I just hope for a good game,” he said. “I don’t want a blowout — unless it’s our blowout — I just want a good game. If the guys try their best, you can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Once a 20-year owner of Edmonton Oilers season tickets, Nowytzkyj said he enjoys the purity of the junior game.
“They’re kids and it’s not really a life or death thing,” he said. “There’s no money involved. They’re doing it because, obviously, they like to do it and they’re hoping to get to the big leagues.”
He’s also found some camaraderie with the fans he’s met in his travels.
“I can travel throughout western Canada or the U.S. and you meet fans,” he said. “You can’t do that in the NHL. It’s almost like a family sort of thing, the WHL.”
A veteran of 10 Memorial Cups, Nowytzkyj is hoping his jerseys won’t be the only ones in Shawinigan, Que., next week when the Canadian Hockey League championship gets underway.
“I’m enjoying this playoff year because (the same success) might not happen next year,” he said. “Even though people say we’ll be better, I’ve got to live for the moment. I can’t wait for next year. That next year might never come.”
© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal