For the Nov. 24 Hockey Night in Canada game against the Chicago Blackhawks at Rexall Place, the Oilers are asking their devoted season ticket holders to donate their seats so that troops from the local garrison can use them in a groundbreaking new initiative being called “Tickets for the Troops.”
“We’re happy to have them here and we appreciate the struggle that they’re going through,” Oilers President and CEO Patrick LaForge said in a press conference to announce the program. “The idea, to me, was just a natural.”
The brainstorm of the Oilers Community Foundation, Edmonton’s season ticket base can show their support for the troops by donating their tickets to that Saturday night game. The goal is to pack the house with as many grunts as possible, allowing the soldiers to enjoy a night at a hockey game for free.
The Oilers have about 5,000 season-ticker holders representing 14,000 seats. As a way to collect the ducats, the team has created a package featuring Canadian soldiers flying the Oilers flag overseas with the message, “Join the Oilers and show your support for our Canadian Forces. Donate your seats to our troops on November 24.”
On the back of the photo, which, according LaForge, “Not all of them are still living in this picture,” there is a postage-paid envelope to send the tickets back to the Oilers to pass along to the troops. The game, one of only six home Saturday night dates, should be an emotional night during which the soldiers are warmly welcomed into the place affectionately known as “Oil Country.”
“Hockey, of course, is very popular among the troops and they’re up late at night on missions overseas to watch playoff games and stuff like that because it reminds them of home,” Lt. Colonel Gary Blenkinsop, the Edmonton base commander, said. “Maybe in their travels, they haven’t had a chance to actually be at a game in a long time. Here in Edmonton, the Oilers game will be very popular among the soldiers.”
The offer has only been extended to season-ticket holders, but after mini-plans and additional seats are sold, the request to donate seats will be extended to more fans.
The “Tickets for the Troops” initiative is just the latest example of the NHL supporting the men and women of the armed forces. The Stanley Cup visited troops stationed in Afghanistan last year, and small groups of soldiers are honored at just about every home game around the League. In other sports, such as baseball and lacrosse, teams have traded in their regular colors for camouflage on special occasions to honor the armed forces. But this is the first time so many troops will be welcomed into one barn at the same time, with paying customers giving their seats up for them.
“Every troop is a hockey fan,” Blenkinsop said. “Because they’re Canadians, it seems whether it’s Tim Hortons, or hockey or Don Cherry, they all know it’s a part of Canada’s history and part of our culture.”
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