We still don’t know exactly what the rest of the NHL season and playoffs will look like for sure – how many teams and how many hub cities would be involved, for starters – but we do know the Edmonton Oilers and Alberta premier Jason Kenney are in there pitching with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to bring some games here.
Kenney made that abundantly clear today at the tail end of a media availability. Given how Edmonton has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of testing and flattening the curve, he can make a compelling argument for bringing team and games, if there are to be any, to this city. Alberta in general and Edmonton specifically have done a terrific job in limiting the spread and impact of a virus that has sent our lives sideways in so many ways.
On top of that, with Rogers Place and the adjoining amenities in Ice District, I can’t imagine there are too many cities that would be better choices than Edmonton for keeping players and officials contained in one area – using whatever format the league finally decides on. We know Bettman wants the season completed one way or another and the Stanley Cup contested. What he needs now is a reason to do it here.
“At the end of the day, you know, the beating heart of hockey and the NHL is the Canadian prairies,” Kenney said. “I can’t imagine a better place to come to than the home of the Edmonton Oilers, than this province that has done so much for the sport of hockey and for the NHL for decades. It just makes so much sense, so we’ll be making a significant pitch.” The full interview is here with the comments regarding hosting games at about the 38:00 mark.
This city has tackled COVID-19 head-on and done as good a job as anybody in terms of active cases and recoveries under the most trying of circumstances. Edmonton has the facilities that can help ensure everybody involved stays safe. There is no question the fan base here is as eager as any in the league to see teams back on the ice. It seems to me Kenney and the Oilers have a very persuasive pitch to make. Let’s hear it.
Time flies the older you get. I was reminded of that in the last week when former Oiler Ales Hemsky officially announced his retirement at the age of 36 after more than two years out of the game. While it would be a stretch to say it seems like the blink of an eye since Jim Matheson and I tag-teamed Hemsky as a shy kid moments after the Oilers took him 13th overall at the 2001 Entry Draft, it damn sure doesn’t feel like 19 years ago.
Hemsky spent the best years of his 845-game NHL career wearing Oilers’ silks before stops in Ottawa and Dallas, where he lives now. Hemsky spent 652 regular season games in Edmonton and another 30 in the playoffs. No stretch was more memorable than a trip to the Stanley Cup final during 2006 post-season that began with a first-round upset of the Detroit Red Wings.
We have gone over that a time or 50 since then, so no need to do it again. Likewise, we’ve scribbled about Hemsky’s talent and the courage he played with and, more than once, noted how old school types used to wonder out loud how good Hemsky might have been had he given even half-a-damn about practice. He didn’t, no matter how much anybody nagged. Simply put, playing the games is what mattered to Hemsky. Ales was an easy come, easy go guy – until the anthem ended and the puck dropped.
It was fun listening to Hemsky chat with Bob Stauffer today on 630 CHED, and he showed a little of the sense of humor he’s always had and that he needed when we complained about his practice habits. “You know, Ales, there were some years toward the end of your time in Edmonton, in 2011-2012, I wish I could have been drinking about five minutes into the game,” Stauffer said. “Hey, me too,” Bob,” Hemsky responded.
That’s Hemsky. Happy retirement, Ales.