First Nations hockey fans rally around the Oilers as they fight for the Stanley Cup

Chris Taylor of Peterborough, Ont., Khalessi Woods of Gitanmaax, B.C., and Skye Boucher from Hay River, N.W.T., are all cheering for the Edmonton Oilers.  (Submitted by Chris Taylor; Angela Woods; Skye Boucher - image credit)
Chris Taylor of Peterborough, Ont., Khalessi Woods of Gitanmaax, B.C., and Skye Boucher from Hay River, N.W.T., are all cheering for the Edmonton Oilers. (Submitted by Chris Taylor; Angela Woods; Skye Boucher - image credit)

Oilers fever is high across the country, particularly among First Nations people, who have always loved the game.

It's a love that stretches from coast-to-coast, with some First Nations fans proudly showing their years-long support for the team, while others are joining in on a chance to cheer on the last Canadian team.

"I have really vivid memories of being at my great-grandpa's house, watching the Oilers play," said Skye Boucher, who will be cheering from Hay River, N.W.T.

Oilers inspired earrings made by Skye Boucher and her mom Suzanne Hanna, who are the creators behind K'estuwe Pieces.
Oilers inspired earrings made by Skye Boucher and her mom Suzanne Hanna, who are the creators behind K'estuwe Pieces.

Oilers-inspired earrings made by Skye Boucher and her mom Suzanne Hanna, who are the creators behind K'estuwé Pieces. (Submitted by Skye Boucher)

"It was just always something that was part of my life, and part of my family."

With the team in the Stanley Cup Final, she says it's bringing her community together, and is exactly what they need right now.

"This community has faced a lot of challenges, it has had three evacuations within the last two, three years, due to floods, fires and stuff," said Boucher.

"Hockey gives this town some pride and joy, and it gives us something to cheer for essentially, and it brings us together."

Boucher runs K'estuwé Pieces with her mother Suzanne Hanna, a company that makes Dene-designed earrings using beads, bones, and moose hides.

Inspired by the Oilers, the pair is launching a new collection ahead of the Stanley Cup Final. The designs took inspiration from the team's uniforms, using the pattern of the strips on the team's socks and jerseys.

Skye Boucher, who launched K'estuwe Pieces with her mom, wearing a pair of their Oilers-themed earrings.
Skye Boucher, who launched K'estuwe Pieces with her mom, wearing a pair of their Oilers-themed earrings.

Skye Boucher, who runs K'estuwé Pieces with her mom, wearing a pair of their Oilers-themed earrings. (Submitted by Skye Boucher)

She says finding the perfect blue and orange beads surprisingly wasn't too hard.

"My mom and I … have a  bad addiction to [collecting] beads, like anytime we see any beads from anywhere, we have to buy them," said Boucher. "So we actually had these colours on hand already."

Oilers inspire young First Nation hockey player 

For 10-year-old Khaleesi Woods, from Gitanmaax, B.C., her love of the Oilers started when she got to meet a few players at a local hockey camp in 2022, including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Tyson Barrie, Tyler Ennis, and former coach Craig MacTavish.

"He was helping us shoot, and [learn] how to get in the corners, and he was teaching us how to go in front of other people and check them," said Woods, of one of her favourite players, Nugent-Hopkins.

Last year, some of the players returned to the small Gitksan community in Northern B.C.

Angela Woods said her daughter really hit it off with former Oilers goalie Mike Smith.

"[Smith] noticed that [Khaleesi] was wearing a Notorious B.I.G. shirt and started singing Big Poppa to her," said Woods.

"And then when she was scoring all her goals … he was telling her to celebrate by doing the Griddy, so every time she scored after that, her and Mike Smith would do the Griddy together."

10-year old Khaleesi Woods met former Oilers Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish at game six of the first round of the Western Conference Final.
10-year old Khaleesi Woods met former Oilers Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish at game six of the first round of the Western Conference Final.

10-year-old Khaleesi Woods met former Oilers Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish at game six of the first round of the Western Conference Final. (Submitted by Angela Woods)

Woods says her daughter was ecstatic to attend game six of the first round of the Western Conference Final against the Vancouver Canucks.

Khaleesi went to the game with an orange sign that said she traveled more than 1,100 kilometers to cheer on the team, and the team staff took note.

Bench staff gave her an official Oilers puck, and allowed her to stand along the Oilers entrance to show them just how far she traveled.

"We were sitting in the fifth row behind the Oilers bench, so we got put on TV, [and] a bunch of people from back home had recognized her … we were getting messages like crazy after the game from everybody," said Angela Woods.

Khaleesi said she wants to be in Edmonton when the city wins the cup, and hopes to meet another fan she didn't get to see when she was last in Edmonton — Superfan Magoo.

From Leafs to Oilers 

For lifelong Toronto Maple Leafs fan Chris Taylor, he decided to pivot to cheering for the Oilers after his team was kicked out of the playoffs.

But says he longs for the days when the Leafs were a better team.

"I was a hard fan for a long time, ever since I was a little guy, because my uncle and everybody in my family all like Toronto," said Taylor.

Chris Taylor has always been a lifelong Toronto Maple Leafs fan, but he's now cheering on the Oilers from Peterborough, Ont.
Chris Taylor has always been a lifelong Toronto Maple Leafs fan, but he's now cheering on the Oilers from Peterborough, Ont.

Chris Taylor is a lifelong Toronto Maple Leafs fan, but he's now cheering on the Oilers from Peterborough, Ont. (Submitted by Chris Taylor )

"They were better in the 90s when I was younger, but just recently, I found that I just lost faith in them because they seem to not play as hard, or try as hard when they get in the playoffs."

Because of his allegiance to the Leafs, Taylor says he couldn't cheer for rivals the Montreal Canadiens, leaving him to pick between Winnipeg and Edmonton.

"I like Edmonton players a little bit better, they seem to have a better all-around team that was consistently winning," said Taylor.

What drew Taylor to the Oilers were some of their top players, including Leon Draisaitl, but he says he also has to shout out ex-Leafs player Zach Hyman.

He describes his 2021 trade to Edmonton as "a bad move."

"I thought [Hyman] was a really good player, like on the penalty kill and stuff, he was pretty solid," said Taylor.

Mohawk player on the Panthers 

For some Indigenous hockey fans, representation matters, and some will rally behind Indigenous players in the league, like Carey Price of the Canadiens.

Or Zach Whitecloud of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, who visited his home community Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, Man., last year after his team's Stanley Cup win.

With Brandon Montour, who is Mohawk from Six Nations, Ont. on the Florida Panthers, the worry is some Indigenous fans will switch teams.

Fans like Taylor say he would be proud to see an Indigenous person win the cup, but he's still holding out for the Oilers.

"I'd be proud of [Montour], but I really don't like Florida for what they did to the Leafs the last time," said Taylor, recalling the 2023 playoffs when the Panthers beat the Leafs in five games in the second round of the Eastern Conference Final.

"[The Oilers] have a lot of Canadians on their team too, so that's another thing that people think about when they're choosing teams."

As for Skye Boucher, she's a lifelong Oilers fan, with no plans to change teams.

"I do think it's great that there's an Indigenous player on that team, but my heart [is] with the Oilers, and it has been my whole life," said Boucher.