Like you, I’m looking forward to seeing Connor McDavid when he and a roster of Edmonton Oilers’ prospects strap it on against the Alberta Golden Bears tonight at Rexall Place.
Specifically, given how much fuss there was from some corners after Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen lowered the boom on McDavid with a clean hit in Penticton, I’m wondering how the Golden Bears will play him. From where I sit, there are three possibilities.
If the Bears play McDavid straight up, they’ll treat him like anybody else – even though he isn’t — and hit him when they can. It is, after all, hockey. The second possibility is there’s somebody looking to make a name by blowing McDavid up and they’ll absolutely do it if they get the chance. It’s a matter of degree between straight up and that, but you get my drift. Third, a hands-off approach. An agreement. Leave the kid alone.
I can’t imagine Alberta coach Serge Lajoie and the CIS champion Bears would go for the third approach, and I hope the Oilers wouldn’t expect it or insist on it, so that’s out. Personally, I sit right in the middle between the first and second possibilities when it comes to McDavid and the game in general.
PLAY THE GAME
Framed in that way, it was interesting to listen to Ryan Rishaug of TSN with Nielson and Fraser on TSN 1260 this morning. Rishaug was of the mind the Bears will play it straight up, that they’d play McDavid like anybody else, with a caveat they should resist the urge to knock Daryl Katz’s meal ticket for the next decade into tomorrow just because the opportunity arises.
Nielson, who calls Alberta’s games, mentioned the possibility that things could get heated, not necessarily as it pertains to McDavid, because there was some “chirping” between Darnell Nurse and the Bears in the game at Clare Drake Arena last season. Interesting. I wasn’t there, although I’ve seen these games get intense more than once in the past.
I say play the game. McDavid is a big boy and he’s not going to wet his pants and disappear the first time somebody lays the body on him or rubs him out along the boards tonight. He’s been a target for years now and that’s not going to change. It comes with the marquee and the money. I want to see how McDavid looks against a step-up in competition and the Golden Bears are most certainly that.
Anything beyond that – don’t be the knucklehead who low-bridges the kid with a Bryan Marchment knee-shredder, don’t be the guy who puts a shoulder cap on the point of McDavid’s chin or otherwise rattles the glass with his melon – and it could get stupid. I doubt it’ll happen. I’m expecting a helluva hockey game. Golden Bears win 6-4.
Jim Matheson did a terrific piece on Oiler coach Todd McLellan in The Journal today. You can read it here. I first interviewed McLellan back in 1998 when he was in the running to coach the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Oilers AHL affiliate, before he ended up in Minnesota’s organization.
Inexperienced as he was, McLellan struck me as a young coach who had attributes that would one day land him in the NHL – most notably, he knew how important it was to communicate with players, rather than just talk at them. A couple of passages from Matheson’s piece today speak to that.
“I believe in high tempo, playing the game with passion, but a lot of coaches throw out those catchwords. To me, coaching is about relationships. It’s not systems or tactics. It’s getting players to push the envelope, to go where they maybe don’t want to go, to do things they’re apprehensive about.”
Former Oiler Taylor Fedun, who signed on with San Jose, added: “I’ve said time and time again, if he’s not the man to turn this thing around I honestly wouldn’t know who could.
“He’s very detail oriented, well-spoken and gets his point across. I was a newcomer last year in San Jose and it didn’t take me long to realize that. He had his core of veteran guys and you can tell how well they bought into what he was preaching.”
That’s a world away from where this team was last year at this time.
AND . . .
- According to the Oilers website, McDavid will play between Anton Slepyshev and Cole Sanford against the Golden Bears. A lot of people are looking at Slepyshev as to where he might fit in the plans down road. He’ll get a chance to provide some answers tonight.
- The other Oiler lines are Christoffer-Draisaitl-Winquist, Linaker-Loiseau-Bukarts and Rankin-Platzer-Chase. The defensive pairings will be Nurse-LaLeggia, Jones-Bear and Betker-Leveille.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.