Oilers, police aiming to avoid repeat of 2006 playoff riots

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Oilers, police aiming to avoid repeat of 2006 playoff riots

Edmonton police estimate the cost of policing the city during the Stanley Cup playoffs will be between $50,000 and $60,000 each game night, primarily for overtime shifts. 

Police have been developing plans with fire rescue, EMS and the city for more than a month in anticipation of the Oilers making the playoffs, said Deputy Chief Brian Simpson.

The city is bigger and has more people than when the Oilers last made the playoffs in 2006, and street riots on Whyte Avenue became a nightly event following those games, he said.

At the same time, police have more experience handling large crowds than they did in 2006, Simpson said.

"Experience is a good teacher," he said. "We will have all the necessary resources that we need for that event given any contingency.

"If something starts to break and you're looking for the resources versus having them there, it's too late."

Police are hoping fans will celebrate victories or mourn losses, but will enforce all laws involving liquor consumption and traffic laws, Simpson said.

There are no plans to close any city streets, he said.

Playoff spot clinched

The Edmonton Oilers clinched a spot in the post-season with a win Tuesday night over the Los Angeles Kings.

"We're most excited for our fans," Stew MacDonald, executive vice-president, revenue, Oilers Entertainment Group, said Wednesday.

"The fact the building has stayed as full as it has the past 10 years, I can't think of a better payoff."

The Oilers have been working with the city, police and the Edmonton Downtown Business Association on a campaign to remind fans about celebrating responsibly, MacDonald said.

"In 2006, a very minor amount of incidents by a very tiny amount of people certainly painted the city. It didn't overshadow the spectacular eight-week run we had."

'We've matured as a city'

Ian O'Donnell, executive director of the downtown business association, agreed lessons were learned from the 2006 playoff riots on Whyte Avenue.

"I think we've matured as a city," O'Donnell said. "There will always be a few who want to take the party a different way, but I think EPS is working diligently to have their plans in place."

Murray Davison, executive director of the Old Strathcona Business Association, said the riots along Whyte Avenue showed the need to understand how people congregate, to have enough services available, and to close streets when necessary.

"You can't plan for every scenario," Davison said. "But I think all the pieces are in place to deal with anything that does happen."

With the new arena located downtown, that should spread out the celebrations over the downtown as well as Whyte Avenue, he added. 

"We're fairly confident there will be no major issues because we're spread out throughout the city," Davison said. "It's about pride in our community, it's about pride in what the team is doing."

Fans thrilled Oilers make playoffs

There was a lot of hooting and hollering as fans poured out of Rogers Place Tuesday night following the game.
"Let's go Oilers," shouted Nick Bischoff, plucking at the front of his Oilers jersey.

"I can't believe McJesus and the boys finally pulled through," said Bischoff. "We actually have goaltending now, real defence, depth within our team."

Back in 2006, Bryce Bird was just a small boy, but he remembers the Oilers in the playoffs and the injury to goalie Dwayne Roloson in the Stanley Cup finals against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Looking ahead, Bird is cautious with his expectations.

"We're going to have a good run but I honestly don't think we're going to make the playoff finals," Bird said. "We're still a young team, McDavid is only his second year in. Third year we'll be in the finals. We'll win the Stanley Cup third year."

With thousands more people living in the downtown core, and several new restaurants and bars opening since 2006, O'Donnell expects more of the post-game celebrating to remain in the city centre.

"With Rogers Place here, with the main hotels here and people coming in from out of town, I think you're going to see quite a few more people celebrating and choosing to celebrate on Jasper Avenue and in and around the downtown, " he added.

That's certainly what some downtown business owners are counting on and are excited about, he said.

"They're really looking forward to that given the economy, this is going to be a great injection for downtown." 

Something for everyone

When it comes to a playoff run, "there's nothing like it," said MacDonald.

He said the Oilers are looking at ways to engage fans beyond the 18,000 people who buy tickets to get inside Rogers Place.

"We've been quietly busy for the last few weeks, getting things in motion, but as is anyone in the sports industry, we're superstitious — and we don't like to get anything locked down until we're officially there," MacDonald said. 

Meetings will begin Wednesday to start to firm up plans, he added.

"Our obligation is to make sure everyone can feel a part of this."