A young Winfield hockey player got the thrill of a lifetime earlier this month when he joined the Edmonton Oilers on the ice at Rexall Place for a bit of a skate and the singing of the national anthem prior to the January 5 National Hockey League game between the Oilers and the visiting New York Rangers.
After having his name selected in an on-line draw open to minor hockey players throughout the province, 13 year-old Eric Paterson of Winfield was elated to find out that he not only would be enjoying watching his favourite hockey team play, but that he’d also be joining them on the ice prior to the game.
And if that wasn’t enough, the call notifying him of his win came just three days after his birthday and three days before Christmas.
“They called me on December 22nd and told me I won four tickets and the chance to stand on the ice,” Paterson said during a telephone interview. “I also won a jersey, socks, a hat and a T shirt. It was the best Christmas ever.”
The young hockey enthusiast said he entered the contest, which was a promotion sponsored by McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada, near the end of October or early November of last year.
In addition to winning the game tickets, the opportunity to skate with the Oilers, and all the associated goodies that were included in the prize package, Paterson said he also had the chance to drive the ‘Fanboni’ – a bit of a twist on the familiar Zamboni that cleans the ice between periods only with a fan accompanying the operator, however the particular vehicle used for the promotion was under repair at the time.
There was another surprise waiting for Paterson at Rexall Place on that night, and even though he knew he or his teammates couldn’t use the extra surprise, he was happy to pass it along to some younger players in Winfield’s minor hockey association. Currently, Paterson plays for the Bantam Winfield Mighty Ducks.
“To enter the contest, you had to be part of a hockey team in the 2007-08 season – registered with Hockey Alberta,” Paterson said. “They also gave me 18 jerseys but they were too small for my team, they were a youth size, so I gave them to my league’s initiation hockey team, and they just loved them.”
Paterson said he, his mother and his two younger sisters arrived at Rexall Place in Edmonton just over an hour before game time. Following a security check of his equipment bag, Paterson was directed to a dressing room where he joined a number of Ford Small Stars – a group of very young players who entertained the large crowd with a mini game between periods.
He also had the opportunity to see how big-league players warm up before a game including watching Oiler rookie forward Andrew Cogliano jogging around the arena and a number of Rangers as well.
As part of their procedure, NHL team will take to the ice 15 minutes prior to the start of the game to warm up the goaltender and do a bit of stretching, but for Paterson it was one of many highlights as he gave high-fives to all the Oiler players as they left the ice following the warm up, and even more when they returned for the start of the game.
“At about 7:55, I went to the little walkway they go through, and I gave them high-fives as they were going back out onto the ice,” he said. “My dad taped it and he said he saw my glove. We live in a small community out here, so a whole bunch of people taped it and said they saw me, so that was pretty cool.”
Dressed in full gear complete with an Oiler’s jersey, Paterson joined the team after while the public address announcer named the starting line up for the Oilers, as well as himself including a headshot that was projected to all the fans via the arena’s jumbo screens.
Paterson said it was thrilling to hear the ovation for him when he skated onto the ice to join his favourite team and equally thrilling to hear the national anthem and the loud roar from the crowd when it ended.
“It has good ice, that’s for sure. Just doing the little skate before the game I could tell the ice was good,” he said of his first skate on big league ice adding that we was sure he could hear his mother in the crowd yelling, “that’s my son”, when his pictured appeared on the jumbo screens.
As for the game itself, Paterson said it ended just the way he liked it with the Oilers recording yet another shoot out victory. On top of that, one of his favourite Oilers – rookie Sam Gagner, scored the winning goal. He also got a bit of a tap from another one of his favourites.
“Just for the record, when I was on the ice at the end of the anthem, Ales Hemsky tapped my leg and said, ‘good job’, so that was pretty cool too,” Paterson said.
He said he wasn’t allowed to get any autographs as it was, most likely, too close to game time when players are generally going over a few last minute instructions, and he didn’t talk to any of the Ranger players either but he added that he shot them a few nasty glares because, after all, they were playing his favourite team.
“I got my dad to paint my room blue; I have posters; I made a big Oilers sign; I’ve got a snack tray with the Oilers logo, I have hats, shirts, pajamas, lots of Ryan Smyth stuff – I loved Ryan Smyth, he was my favorite player, I have a poster of him, I have the little jersey that McDonald’s gave me hanging up in my room and lot’s of hockey cards of Smyth, he was big,” Paterson said of his collection, adding that the Smyth trade of two years ago hit him hard.
“I cried when he got traded. I just hated that. It was like when Wayne Gretzky got traded – he was crying too,” he said of the trade that sent Smyth to the Colorado Avalanche and called it, “the worst day of my life”.
Things have changed in Oil Country and so has Paterson whose new favourite Oilers have already been mentioned.
“I would have to say it’s a tie between Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner. I saw Gagner, but he’s pretty small,” he said. “Ales Hemsky is a big boy, he’s very tall. You’d think they’d be a bit shorter, but they’re all tall.”
As for the remainder of the NHL season, Paterson took a realistic approach to the chances of the Oilers making the cut.
“Well hopefully they don’t keep losing,” he said. “I just want them to make the playoffs, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. They’re in fifth place in their division and all the other teams are doing really well, so I don’t know. Maybe next year.”
Failing that, Paterson said he’ll throw his allegiances behind one of the Oiler’s biggest foes, but only because of a familiar face.
“My second favourite team is Colorado because of Ryan Smyth so I’d probably cheer for them,” he said, adding that he’s never been a fan of the Calgary Flames for obvious reasons.
The Edmonton Oilers, in partnership with McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada, presented the McDonald’s In the Line Up program which sees minor hockey or ringette player like Paterson, aged eight to twelve, given the rare opportunity to join the Oilers on the ice for each home game this season.
In addition to the prizes mentioned above, each winner chosen also receives dinner for four at McDonald’s, a McDonald’s crested Edmonton Oilers jersey, an on-ice photo with the Edmonton Oilers, and an autographed player photo.
McDonald’s Canada’s involvement in Canadian hockey spreads from grassroots to glory. McDonald’s supports teams and players from house league pre-tykes all the way to the NHL, including the Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens and the Oilers.