Off the Top of My Head
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
9 months ago
Six months from now I probably won’t be able to tell you the final score in Thursday’s 5-4 OT win over the Calgary Flames without looking it up, but the unmitigated joy Connor McDavid showed after scoring the goal to put the Edmonton Oilers into the Western Conference final will be burned into my memory forever.
That’s just the way my brain works, which is probably a bit odd for somebody who has spent as long as I have as a sportswriter, but the kind of raw emotion McDavid showed is what sticks with me long after the details fade. While I marvel at people who have an almost photographic recall of dates and times and who did what, that’s not me. I have to look that stuff up.
I’m dating myself yet again, but it’s the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, to steal from Wide World of Sports, a pipeline to the sports world for my generation decades before sports media morphed into what it’s become today, that registers with me. I don’t know how many times I watched that poor sucker buy it on the ski jump in the WWS opening – he’s a Slovenian named Vinko Bogataj and he’s alive today – but I’ll never forget him.
What I saw Thursday goes into the memory bank with Tiger Williams beating the Flames, Teemu Selanne celebrating his rookie record 54th goal, the jolt Fernando Pisani provided in 2006 and the growing list of highlights McDavid has given us already, just to mention a handful of NHL moments off the top of my head from the past 40 years. I’m sure you have many of your own.
May 26, 2022; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his goal against the Calgary Flames during the first overtime period in game five of the second round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
The thrill of victory and agony of defeat, not pages of stats and analytics, is the attraction and the buzz for me and probably many of you. It’s the moaning and groaning coming from Cowtown about Blake Coleman’s goal being called back – Sportsnet’s Eric Francis called it “a travesty.” Tough call? Sure. A travesty? No. A travesty would be the non-call on Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler in the crease against the Oilers in 2017.
Then, there’s seeing McDavid celebrate, framed in Sid Seixeiro’s tweet from a year ago. That’s a kick. Same thing with the stellar performances we’ve seen from Leon Draisaitl, Evander Kane and Zach Hyman juxtaposed with a take about the Flames being beaten by one player. Sure. McDavid and Draisaitl have identical 7-19-26 totals, Kane has 15 points and Hyman has 12 points going into the conference final vs. the Colorado Avalanche Tuesday.
“We all want to win,” said McDavid, who decided things on a night he wasn’t at his best. “Everybody wants to win. I think our group has been through a lot this year and years past and it’s just made us hungrier and hungrier to be successful. We’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way. It’s gotten us to this point and we obviously want to keep going here.”
“He’s everything to us,” Draisaitl said of McDavid. “He’s our leader. He’s our go-to guy. He’s the guy everyone looks up to when you need him. He’s done it all season. He’s done it all his career. Last two months, last month or whatever it has been, he’s been amazing for us. Eventually, you just run out of words, so we’ll just leave it at that.”
Colorado, the class of the Western Conference at 56-9-7 for 119 points, advanced Friday with a 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues to win their series 4-2. The Oilers took four of six points against the Avalanche during the regular season, with a 3-2 overtime loss March 21, a 2-1 shootout loss on April 9 and a 6-3 win April 22.
THE WAY I SEE IT: Oilers in six games.
Here’s the series schedule:
- Game 1: Tuesday, May 31 at Colorado, 6 p.m.
- Game 2: Thursday, June 2 at Colorado, 6 p.m.
- Game 3: Saturday, June 4 at Edmonton, 6 p.m.
- Game 4: Monday, June 6 at Edmonton, 6 p.m.
- Game 5 (if necessary): Wednesday, June 8 at Colorado, TBD
- Game 6 (if necessary): Friday, June 10 at Edmonton, TBD
- Game 7 (if necessary): Sunday, June 12 at Colorado, TBD
May 18, 2022; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft on his bench against the Calgary Flames during the third period in game one of the second round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
“What I know about both of those players that doesn’t get talked about enough it that they’re elite teammates, they’re great teammates. They’re driven to win. They’re prepared to sacrifice some things in order to have team success.
“I think that’s what we’re seeing. The numbers speak for themselves, but I think what we’re seeing here is some young men that are driven to do whatever it takes, whatever it takes to win.”
– Jay Woodcroft on McDavid and Draisaitl
WHILE I’M AT IT
Class starts at the top and Woodcroft showed some of that again after Thursday’s win, opening his comments to the media with a reference to Calgary assistant GM and friend Chris Snow, who has been fighting ALS for three years. Snow is only 40 and has two children with wife Kelsie — Cohen, 10, and Willa, seven. Chris had been watching the series from home.
“I just want to pass along some well wishes to a friend of mine, the assistant general manager of the Calgary Flames, Chris Snow who is going through something right now,” said Woodcroft. “On behalf of myself, our coaching staff, our players and our organization, and for that matter the city of Edmonton, Chris, everybody up north is with you and your fight right now.”
AND . . .
As an aside, former Toronto Maple Leafs Hyman (2015-21), @Tyson Barrie (2019-20), and @Cody Ceci (2019-20) will play for the Oilers in the Western Conference final.
Previously by Robin Brownlee
Recent articles from Robin Brownlee