Each year, when the Edmonton Oilers visit Toronto, Connor McDavid’s family is provided the use of a suite at Scotiabank Arena by CIBC, one of the young NHL superstar’s many sponsors.
So it was on Monday night that a large cast joined his father, Brian, and mother, Kelly, in watching their son single-handedly dismantle the Maple Leafs.
Tom Cochrane, the musician, was there. So was Wayne Gretzky, the Hall of Fame centre and vice-chairman of the Oilers Entertainment Group. Curtis Joseph, the former Edmonton and Toronto goalie, was in attendance, too, along with bank executives, family members and friends.
“It was kind of like a drop-in house party in the middle of a hockey game,” Brian McDavid said. “At one point, we must have had 30 people in there.”
While the group celebrated above the ice, Connor controlled the proceedings on it like very few players can. He had three assists by midway through the third period, and the Oilers were dominating.
“I’ve seen him play more than anybody, and from the beginning I could see he was extra determined,” Brian McDavid said. “I can always tell when he is moving well and is going to have a good game.”
Edmonton held a 5-3 lead a little more than midway through the third period when Connor McDavid scored his most recent goal to electrify the hockey world. There have been so many now that they are hard to remember, but this one most likely beats anything that has preceded it.
With a packed house rooting for a Maple Leafs rally, Connor McDavid carried the puck into Toronto’s end. Only Morgan Rielly, an all-star defenceman, stood between him and goalie Michael Hutchinson.
“I’m not going to tell you that I knew he was going to do what he did," Brian McDavid said. "But I saw him create a small gap between himself and Morgan and said, ‘Okay, here we go.’ ”
The Oilers captain coasted toward Rielly without so much as even glancing at the net, and then suddenly burst around him like he was a highway cone. Then Connor McDavid flipped the puck over Hutchinson and celebrated by shaking one finger above his head.
In the suite, Gretzky, the greatest hockey player that ever lived, leaped out of his seat.
“We all jumped and screamed and yelled,” Brian McDavid said. “It was awesome, a special moment and so much fun to watch.”
As his son scored, the crowd of 19,507 exploded. Just as quickly, so did the internet. Everyone who saw it – and many that didn’t – recognized it was something to behold.
“Before long, 40,000 people will tell me they were at the game and saw it in person,” Brian Burke, the long-time NHL executive, said.
As the sequence developed, Burke watched from his normal front-row seat in the press box.
To one side of him sat his son, Patrick, the league’s senior director of player safety.
“We gasped, caught our breath, looked at one another and said, ‘Did we just see that?’ ” Brian Burke, now a studio analyst for Rogers Sportsnet, said. By midafternoon on Tuesday, the goal had been viewed more than five million times on the NHL’s social-media platforms – and the number was climbing rapidly. Figures for other highly entertaining goals were not readily available for comparison, but suffice to say that it is a lot.
“People can’t seem to get enough of it,” John Kreiser, the managing editor at NHL.com, said.
Connor McDavid, who is as subdued off the ice as he is flashy on it, talked afterwards about almost everything other than the highlight-reel play: about his admiration for Rielly; about savouring the goal because it was his first in Toronto; about how it was special because it led to an Oilers victory. It was the first time Edmonton had won in the centre of the hockey universe since December of 2010.
When asked to describe the play, and if he there was some small mistake Rielly had made that caused him to suddenly shift gears into roadrunner mode, he deferred.
“I’m not going to give up any of my secrets,” Connor McDavid said.
The fact that he is an introvert does not diminish the place he is carving in NHL history. He skates so quickly and fluidly that his movements with the puck are difficult to interpret, even after they have been reviewed multiple times.
He is able to do in real time what gamers do with their PlayStation consoles.
Shortly after the game ended, NBC posted a video on Twitter with the tag: “Stop what you are doing and watch this.”
Brad May, a former Maple Leaf and now a broadcaster for the Vegas Golden Knights, tweeted this: “The NHL is the best league in the world. It has never seen a player as good as Connor McDavid.” Monday was the fourth time that the 22-year-old had a four-point game this season. It was his 19th with two or more, and it left him two ahead of teammate Leon Draisaitl in the scoring race.
Connor McDavid had dinner with his mom and dad after the game, and enjoyed an off-day in Toronto with his teammates on Tuesday. The Oilers travel to Montreal on Wednesday, where they play the Canadiens on Thursday night.
Hockey is only a game, of course, but there is beauty in it, and when there is perfection, it stirs one’s soul.
“It was a wow moment,” Elliotte Friedman, the Sportsnet hockey insider, said. “When I saw it, it was like, ‘What did he just do?'”
Friedman said there is little doubt that it will rank among the top goals scored this year.
“I’m sure our people that compile the plays of the week, month and year will bookmark that,” Friedman said. “Here it is only the beginning of January and we’ve already got one of our finalists for the year.”
Rielly, who is one of the Maple Leafs’ most affable and talkative players, was downcast and stumbled over his words on Monday night.
“Morgan Rielly is an elite player,” Brian Burke said. “He just joined the list of defencemen that Connor McDavid has embarrassed. There is no shame in that.”