It wasn’t the result they wanted on Monday night, but the town of Imperial is still glad to call Edmonton Oilers Head Coach Kris Knoblauch one of their own.   

A strong turnout gathered inside the Imperial Arena to cheer on the local product and the Oilers' attempt to make history in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Florida Panthers. The evening included a brisket supper hosted by the Volunteer Fire Department, and the hockey game was viewed on a big screen.  

Throughout the night, the arena had a similar feel to Rogers Place in Edmonton, with the crowd breaking out numerous Let’s Go Oiler chants, and everyone in attendance erupted in joy when forward Mattias Janmark tied the game at 1-1 with a breakaway goal in the first period.   

A collective groan was released after Panthers forward Sam Reinhart scored the go-ahead goal in the second period. Still, there was plenty of optimism from the Oilers faithful that Edmonton had one last comeback left in them.   

Unfortunately, it was not to be, as the Panthers held on through the final 20 minutes to claim the franchise’s first Stanley Cup history.  

Despite the loss, Joslin Freeman the CEO for the town of Imperial, said the community was overjoyed with Knoblauch’s success.   

“We’re more than proud of Kris, we’re more than proud of the Oilers, they did a great job, coming back from behind, it’s awesome.”  

Monday’s Game 7 marked the end of the remarkable season for Knoblauch. He began the 2023-24 campaign behind the bench of the Hartford Wolfpack of the American Hockey League (AHL) but moved up to the big leagues, when the Oilers hired the Imperial product as the team’s new head coach on November 12, 2023, to replace Jay Woodcroft, after the Oilers stumbled out of the gate with a 3-9-1 start. The whole community felt the roller coaster ride of the Oilers season according to Freeman.  

“It’s been emotional.” She added “Winning 16 straight, nine straight, they had it in them.”   

Speaking inside the arena, where Knoblauch crafted his trade as a hockey player growing up, Freeman believed the strong traits of Imperial helped mold the Oiler's Head Coach.  

“He’s calm, he's cool, it’s collective, he’s from a small town and that’s all it takes is to be proud of where you are from, your roots are deep.”   

Leading the Oilers marked the second time Knoblauch was the head coach of one of the greatest players in hockey history, Connor McDavid. Knoblauch’s second head coaching position was leading the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) when the 2024 Conn Smythe Trophy winner played junior hockey. Freeman pointed out the qualities that Knoblauch possesses to guide a player like McDavid.   

“Kris is a born leader; he always has been. He’s a great human, he’s a great person and you’re going to see him do well.”   

Even though the crowd left disappointed, Freeman was pleased with the turnout on Monday night.   

When entering Imperial, the pride of its hockey heroes is evident with the billboards of Knoblauch along with Utah Goalie Connor Ingram. The community won’t be adjusting Knoblauch’s sign with an extra title quite yet, but Freeman is confident that Oilers Head Coach credentials will grow with a Stanley Cup ring before the end of his career.   

“It’s coming, he’ll bring it (the Stanley Cup) home.”   

Despite the Oilers falling short of a Stanley Cup championship, Imperial will have one of its hockey heroes collect some hardware this week. Ingram will be honoured this week at the NHL Awards ceremony as the 2023-24 recipient of the Bill Masterton Trophy, an award given to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey.