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Oilers greeted by small but devoted group at airport

EDMONTON, Alberta -- The Edmonton Oilers didn't win the Stanley Cup, but they returned home as champions to the fans who greeted them at the airport.

About 100 people were waiting for the Oilers after they came back Tuesday from Raleigh, N.C., a day after losing to Carolina 3-1 in Game 7 in the Cup finals.

"I feel like a kid again when you see all these people out here cheering for you," forward Ryan Smyth said. "You feel disappointed you let them down. They were a boost to us when the going got tough."

Defenseman Chris Pronger spent 11 years playing in Hartford -- the Hurricanes' home before they moved south -- and St. Louis, but he said the show of emotion in Edmonton was unique.

"It's a pretty special feeling to know you have the community behind you," he said. "You could see it in the building during the games. It was a lot of fun. It was disappointing it had to end the way it did."

The Oilers didn't arrive at the main terminal of the Edmonton International Airport. Instead, the team disembarked at a small, private terminal.

Most of the fans didn't see the players getting off the plane. Security staff kept the fans behind a fence and they weren't allowed into the parking lot, where the players quickly got into their cars and left.

The crowd lining the road shook flags, waved signs and cheered as the players' cars passed. Some Oilers honked their horns at the fans.

Police urged fans not to go to the airport because of space restrictions, telling them instead to show their appreciation at a rally planned for downtown Edmonton on Thursday.

The loss didn't hurt Joan Milley's affection for the team.

"There's something about this team that grabs at your heart," said Milley, who was wearing an Edmonton jersey with No. 1 Fan on the back, which her husband gave her for her 50th birthday. "You wanted them to win so badly."

The Oilers' march to the finals returned the city to the days of old, when teams led by Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier won five Stanley Cups. They made their first trip to the finals since 1990, becoming the first No. 8 seed to make it that far.

But they had to make do against Carolina without top goalie Dwayne Roloson, who hurt his knee in Game 1 and missed the rest of the series. Still, Fernando Pisani scored a playoff-leading 14 goals -- only four fewer than he had during the regular season.

Pronger dominated on defense, and Jussi Markkanen proved he is capable of being a starter.

After the loss Monday night, police reported a quiet night, with 53 arrests. Five of those resulted in criminal charges.