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Diehard tourists: Oilers fans visit their mecca of Edmonton

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They came from different parts of the world to experience Edmonton and what it's like to cheer for its National Hockey League team while physically in the City of Champions.

Brit Jack McCarthy, Australian Sam Miller and Americans Brandon and Shyler Kraus got what they came to the Great White North for during the Oilers' current five-game homestand.

And more.

Beyond exposure to the team's passionate fans and all things related to the city's largest cultural phenomenon — and to a genuine February blizzard and subsequent cold snap — the diehard fans, who knew each other casually online but hadn't met in person until this month's journey to Oil Country, have been amazed at the hospitality.

"The whole experience has been surreal," Miller told CTV News Edmonton on Monday.

"Every person I've met has been so super nice, like really accommodating, genuinely surprised that people from out of town had come, like they're proud of the fact that we've come from other places to come be a part of this for a few weeks."

From left, Oilers fans Jack McCarthy, Brandon Kraus and Sam Miller at Kellys Pub in downtown Edmonton following a game Feb. 26, 2024. (Brandon Kraus @Suark88)/X)The stories all four share highlight hospitality. Whether at Rogers Place or a local bar, all have enjoyed free rounds of drinks and plenty of non-stop hockey talk — "a massive shock," said McCarthy, who hails from the English town of Swindon.

"Everyone I've sat next to, bumped into, they're all open to talk and have a chat," he said.

"We were in the pub the other day, just watching the hockey, and some guy comes up and he says, 'Let me go buy you some beers,' and he got us around of beers and we stayed a bit longer and started chatting, and then he had offered us some more free beers and stuff like that."

Shyler Kraus, who along with Brandon calls Decatur, Ill., home, said connecting with friends in Edmonton they've made online has been "absolutely unreal."

"Being able to connect in real life and experience it all together has just been amazing," she said.

And pinch them, they're in their version of mecca: At the epicentre of all things Oilers on the northern edge of the continent's populated area.

Miller said there's "a big difference between sitting at home on a Tuesday afternoon lunchtime, watching it and being here watching it with everyone."

"I just walked around, and it was probably like two hours before I even like picked up anything to buy," Miller said while recalling visiting the Oilers' team store at Ice District for the first time.

"I just was looking around in shock."

Jack McCarthy of Swindon, U.K., in a selfie photo following the Oilers' win Feb. 26, 2024, over the L.A. Kings at Edmonton's Rogers Place. (Jack McCarthy @JackMcCarthy_7/X)Each has their reason for becoming a fan of a team from another place.

Miller, who started following Edmonton in 2014-15, chose the Oilers out of playful spite: Friends of his root for the rival Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks.

"I went, 'Alright, what's this other team?' They were like, 'Oh, don't go for them,' and I was like, 'Well now, I'll go for the Oilers just to mess with you guys a bit,' and now they're my all-time favourite sports team," said the Central Queensland resident, who usually watches the Oilers in the early afternoon given the time difference.

McCarthy, who supports his hometown pro hockey team, the Swindon Wildcats — "we get about 1,200 fans per game; we've gotten up to like 1,400" — picked Oilers star Leon Draisaitl as one of his favourite players a few years ago when he started following the NHL.

"Actually coming to Edmonton — I only planned this trip like a month ago — actually doing it and watching in a rink with over 17,000 people, it's just unbelievable compared to how many people actually go and watch in England," he says.

Brandon Kraus said he wanted to support a Canadian NHL team after he watched Edmonton's run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006 as a teenager.

He chose the Oilers, of course, as he "fell in love with the energy and the team and the fans."

"Where we're from, someone might be a moderate St. Louis Blues fan or a moderate Chicago Blackhawks fan, but if you live here, you're a diehard Oilers fan because that's what you guys have," Brandon said. "I love that, so that's what I rolled with."

Shyler and Brandon Kraus pose with a Battle of Alberta sign outside Rogers Place on Feb. 24, 2024. (Brandon Kraus @Suark88/X)And seeing the sites — partly (mostly?) Oilers-related, of course — what else would obsessed fans who travelled thousands of kilometres to visit Edmonton do but visit as many blue-and-orange-related landmarks as possible?

There are the arenas new and old, of course, plus a pit stop at Commonwealth Stadium, the site of two Heritage Classics. The Ice District. There's evidence of the Oilers in the Royal Alberta Museum. The giant-sized replica Stanley Cup outside United Cycle. Dining at such quasi-related establishments as Coliseum Steak and Pizza and Bent Stick Brewing Co.

The old Coliseum/Rexall Place, though, stood out for Brandon.

"To see Northlands was really pretty special," he said of team's long-deserted former home that's awaiting its eventual demolition.

"Even though it's seen better days, but (having seen) so many videos from that building, to actually be up (next to) it was pretty awesome."

Brandon Kraus of Decatur, Ill., outside the Edmonton Coliseum during his February 2024 trip to visit the city and experience Oilers culture. (Brandon Kraus @Suark88/X)McCarthy enjoys the city's sports bars with their heavy focus on televising as much puck as possible.

"I could literally go to a sports bar at lunchtime and sit there and have drinks the whole evening just watching all the hockey because you don't get that in England," he said.

"Just coming here, I've been able to go to Boston Pizza, get some food, get some snacks, get unlimited drinks and just watch the hockey all afternoon. That was what I was looking forward to on top of watching the games live."

Miller's been struck by all the names and places he's only, until now, seen on the tele back home in the Southern Hemisphere.

"Walking around the city and just seeing business names ... I don't even know what they sell, but I've been hearing their name on telecasts for a decade — I went past the Scotiabank and that was crazy because I've heard that name for 10 years and things like that," he said.

Shyler's standout landmark moment: the Welcome To Edmonton sign.

"It was such an unreal moment, like, 'This is happening. We're here and we're going to have the best week ever.'" she said.

"And we have."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Nahreman Issa 

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