The Edmonton Oilers unveiled their controversial new cheerleading team Tuesday hours before the 19-member squad debuted at Rexall Place for the NHL team's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The cheer team, known as Octane, is made up of women between the ages of 18 and 29. They will perform during games, interact with fans on the Rexall Place concourse and help with promotions.
The squad will add to the entertainment at Oilers games, as well as give the franchise more representatives to send to charity and community events, said Allan Watt, the Oilers vice-president of communications and broadcast.
"It's a dance team appearing at the game but it's also an ambassador crew as well," Watt said.
Many NHL teams in the United States have cheer teams, but the Oilers squad is a first for a Canadian NHL franchise.
The cheer team was not greeted with enthusiasm by all fans since its creation was announced two months ago. Just over 1,500 people signed an online petition against it, suggesting the women will not improve the game experience, and may in fact hinder it.
Watt said he understands the opposition.
"Hockey can be a conservative place but this is like changing the uniform," he said. "People are going to have an opinion. Thank goodness they do. Thank goodness there's enough of them that care. Otherwise the building wouldn't be full every night."
Squad member Kathleen, who declined to give her last name, won a spot on the squad after taking part in auditions with more than 100 other dancers.
"Dance has been a part of my life since I was three so I just love opportunities to dance and the Oilers are just a great company to be a part of," she said. "So I'm just really excited for the opportunity."