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Muriel McNeely, Patricia Manuel, Betty Barnaby, and Regina Lennie make up the 'granny gang' who were routing for a win for the Oilers on May 22.Handout

It began in the Gretzky era, when Wayne was making magic on the ice, and it seemed the Stanley Cup would never leave Edmonton. That’s when, northerners will tell you, the Territories caught Oilers fever.

That passion – and its obverse, a hatred for the Calgary Flames that would rival even the most hockey-mad Edmontonian – is “a connection that joins the generations,” Melinda Laboucan, a member of the Fort Good Hope First Nation explains. Whenever the Oilers play, “everyone gets together to cook, to eat, to cheer.”

Edmonton, she explains, is the nearest big city – where northerners can access Costco, specialized medical care, back-to-school clothes. It’s where girls from Tuktoyaktuk’s class of 2022 – six this spring, including boys – recently travelled to choose prom dresses.

Betty Barnaby, 65, a member of the Fort Good Hope First Nation, traces the love affair with the Oilers to family and loyalty. She and three lifelong friends from the fly-in Sahtu Dene community of 530 make up the “granny gang.” They keep the community smiling with their antics. “There’s nothing we wouldn’t do for a laugh,” Ms. Barnaby says, her every few words punctuated by an infectious cackle.

Earlier this week, the grannies sneaked into the home of the community’s lone Flames fan while he was out. With the help of his wife, they made off with his prized Calgary jersey. They still have it.

But the women are bonded by something deeper: Three have had to bury children, Ms. Barnaby explains. “That takes a lot out of a person. We realized early on how much it helps to be there for each other.” The laughter, the hijinks, the shared passion in the Oilers, help “make life a little more bearable.”

Jojo Arey watches the Edmonton Oilers play the Calgary Flames in Game 3 of their second-round series on May 22 in Tuktoyaktuk.Nancy Macdonald/The Globe and Mail

Tuktoyaktuk is 400 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. Even here, Oilers pennants adorn pickup trucks. Kids wear orange and blue jerseys atop bulky, down parkas. Home-made signs proclaim a loyalty as deep and wide as the mighty Mackenzie. The river wends its way north through almost the entirety of this vast, magnificent territory, widening at Fort Good Hope, before spilling into the Beaufort Sea near Tuk.

On Sunday night, just before the puck dropped for Game 3, dogsled racers Bruce Noksana and his best friend, Jojo Arey, came roaring off the still-frozen Arctic Ocean in snow machines with their kids and grandkids. They cut their five-day goose hunt short to catch the game in Tuk. Three dead geese – the day’s haul – sat in a black plastic bag by the door, waiting to be plucked.

Two nights earlier, while the hunters were camped on the Mackenzie Delta, the Oilers pulled off a stunning, 5-3 comeback victory. One miraculous, improbable bar of cellphone service allowed them to receive brief, staticky calls after every goal. Even the arrival of the snow geese, they realized, couldn’t keep them from catching Game 3.

Out ‘on the land,’ the kids played string games, and learned to drum dance. Mr. Noksana and Mr. Arey told stories of their daduks, their grandfathers.

“Take him everywhere you go,” Mr. Arey’s dad advised when A.J. was born. “Otherwise, it’s going to end with you.”

A.J. spent all of Game 3 racing around Mr. Noksana’s tidy home on Reindeer Point with a trio of 12-week-old Alaskan hound puppies and Mr. Noksana’s 2-year-old grandson, Noah. Roughhousing with kids is an integral part of the dogs’ socialization. The adults snacked on hot apple pie and sweet tea, intervening only when the dogs yelped for help.

By the third period, both the pups and boys — whose faces were red and chapped from the 24-hour sunlight and Arctic winds — had worn themselves out. A.J. fell asleep arm in arm with his favourite, Coco.

Mr. Arey recently bought A.J. his first Oilers jersey. His daduk’s passion for The Oil is yet one more thing Mr. Arey will ensure doesn’t end with him.

A.J. Arey, son of Jojo Arey, spent all of Game 3 racing around Mr. Noksana’s tidy home on Reindeer Point with a trio of 12-week-old Alaskan hound puppies.Nancy Macdonald/The Globe and Mail

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