Oil­ers su­per­star heads into the prime of his ca­reer

Edmonton Sun - - FRONT PAGE - TERRY JONES [email protected]­ @sun­ter­ryjones

It my mind, it was go­ing to be a won­der­ful event.

There would be a ca­pac­ity crowd with young fans hold­ing ‘Happy Birth­day Con­nor’ signs and ev­ery­body would stand and sing ‘Happy Birth­day’ to him.

In­deed, there was a ca­pac­ity crowd for the Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers Su­per Skills Com­pe­ti­tion Sun­day at Rogers Place. Most of the fans were kids. And sev­eral held up card­board signs wish­ing Mcdavid a ‘Happy Birth­day.’

But one thing was miss­ing. There was no Mcdavid. The birth­day boy was not in the build­ing.

No. 97, who scored two goals, in­clud­ing one with eight sec­onds to go in reg­u­la­tion in a three-point night to get Thurs­day’s game against Florida to over­time, where he scored in the shootout to win it, was sick in bed.

For a while Satur­day against Ari­zona, it looked like Mcdavid was go­ing to re­peat the feat of 48 hours ear­lier in his last game as a 21-yearold.

He scored at 6:46 to give the Oil­ers a 1-0 lead. But he didn’t have any more mir­a­cles, or points, left in him Satur­day and while no­body other than Ryan Nu­gen­tHop­kins ac­tu­ally out­played him, Mcdavid didn’t look ex­actly like him­self, par­tic­u­larly when it came to turn­ing pucks over. He did that on three oc­ca­sions.

And he didn’t look well in his brief post-game me­dia scrum. Many men­tally wrote that off to the sick­en­ing de­feat. I was lean­ing more to Mcdavid’s need for a shave and a hair­cut.

How­ever bummed out Mcdavid and the town might have been Satur­day evening, I fig­ured Mcdavid’s 22nd birth­day party on Sun­day could be one of the high­lights of the year, re­gard­less how it all turns out in the stand­ing at the end of the sea­son.

There was no big pub­lic ad­dress sys­tem an­nounce­ment in the build­ing to in­form fans that Mcdavid wouldn’t be on the ice. In fact, there was no an­nounce­ment at all.

The Oil­ers sim­ply flashed, and I do mean flashed be­cause it wasn’t up there more than a few sec­onds, a no­tice in­form­ing that the fol­low­ing play­ers would not be in­volved be­cause of in­jury or sick­ness: Con­nor Mcdavid, Ju­jhar Khaira, Alexan­der Petro­vic, An­drej Sek­era and Kailer Ya­mamoto.

Like maybe no one would no­tice.

Well, the first event was the ‘Fastest Skater’ com­pe­ti­tion. There was per­haps a chance some­body might no­tice.

Mcdavid recorded a 13.454 in the event last year.

Zack Kas­sian (15.062), Jesse Pulju­jarvi (14.688), Mi­lan Lu­cic (15.008), Ryan Spooner (14.445), Ty Rat­tie (14.988) and To­bias Rieder (14.496) were en­tered.

Even skat­ing around car­ry­ing a bucket to barf into, Mcdavid might have won it.

With head coach Ken Hitch­cock be­com­ing more and more al­ler­gic to half his team and GM Peter Chiarelli likely some­where in the witness pro­tec­tion pro­gram, it was left to Oil­ers En­ter­tain­ment Group boss Bob Ni­chol­son to speak to the sit­u­a­tion.

“Mcdavid has been bat­tling the flu bug for the past week and even missed prac­tice Fri­day,” Ni­chol­son re­ported of trainer T.D. Forss hav­ing send­ing No. 97 home Fri­day.

“I know it’s dis­ap­point­ing for our fans not to see Con­nor on the ice, but we are hop­ing the rest will help him get bet­ter and be back on the ice against the Sabres,” he said of Mon­day’s game against Buf­falo at Rogers Place.

Ac­tu­ally, I broke the story in the morn­ing on Twit­ter (ap­par­ently that counts as a scoop these days) re­port­ing that Mcdavid was sick and wouldn’t be there.

The re­sponse from fol­low­ers was pre­dictable:

• “Sick of los­ing?”

• “Sick of Ed­mon­ton?” • “Bad back from car­ry­ing 22 play­ers on it?”

There were dozens of other sim­i­larly themed re­sponses.

To me, Mcdavid’s 22nd birth­day was still some­thing to be cel­e­brated with or with­out him in at­ten­dance.

In hockey, a player’s 22nd birth­day is the oc­ca­sion when he is con­sid­ered to have be­come a man. Be­fore that date, you hear words like “Hey, he’s still a kid, he’s only 21.”

The oc­ca­sion of his 22nd birth­day, with or with­out him at the event, is a pretty good place to mea­sure what he has achieved go­ing into the prime time years of his ca­reer.

He has pro­duced 114 goals, 209 as­sists and 323 points in his first 253 games. That’s the fifth-most points in that num­ber of games since the start of 1987-88.

Thurs­day was Mcdavid’s 38th three-plus point game, mak­ing him only the fifth player (the oth­ers be­ing Wayne Gret­zky, Dale Hawrechuk, Mario Lemieux and Sid­ney Crosby) to reg­is­ter that many be­fore his 22nd birth­day.

Mcdavid has an Nhl-high to­tal of 81 multi-point games since 2016-17. The goal Satur­day was Mcdavid’s 18th point in his last 11 games as a 21-year-old. His 27 goals and 40 as­sists give him 67 points for the sea­son and on pace for a 50-goal, 125-point ca­reer year.

Mcdavid has al­ready won Art Ross (2) Ted Lind­say (2) and Hart (1) trophies and given him­self a chance to win all three again. In­deed, this year he might even have a chance for the Rocket Richard Tro­phy for goals. His 27 snipes are only five back of Alex Ovechkin’s 32. ‘Happy Birth­day’, Con­nor. And ‘Get Well Soon.’


Oil­ers cap­tain Con­nor Mcdavid has likely had bet­ter birth­days.


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