Connor McDavid had a week.
A jaw-dropping goal in his home rink and his first road trip to central Canada announced the teenager’s return after a three-month absence. It electrified fans and sophisticates of the game who have seen it all. It slapped an exclamation mark on the arrival of the most buzzed-about hockey star in generations.
People were excited at the start of the season. Now, they are convinced.
The lobby in the hotel in suburban Ottawa where the Edmonton Oilers stayed was packed on Thursday. An employee was posted at the base of the escalator to stop autograph seekers from knocking on the rookie’s door. A corner inside the hotel’s entrance was cordoned off, and the crowd gathered behind the ropes.
Among them there were two young boys, each holding a sign. One clutched a Connor doll. His sign read, “Welcome Back.” The other’s said “Connor McDavid.” Near them, a toddler grasping a hockey stick was cradled in his father’s arms.
Nehemiah Bosum got his No. 97 sweater signed a few hours earlier during the Oilers’ morning practice at Canadian Tire Centre, but he waited anyway, wanting to see his hero walk to the team bus.
Nehemiah is 16, and he and his dad, Harry, drove 750 kilometres Wednesday from the Oujé-Bougoumou Cree Nation in northern Quebec.
“When I called my wife this morning to tell her Nehemiah got his shirt signed by Connor, she burst into tears,” Harry said. From the hotel, father and son headed to watch McDavid play against the Senators in the second game of his comeback from a broken clavicle. After, they drove back to Oujé-Bougoumou, where Nehemiah had a hockey game the following morning.
Everything changed on Tuesday for the young superstar, and for everyone who watches the sport.
It took McDavid four seconds to skate through three Columbus defenders at full speed and deposit the puck past the confused goaltender. By the time he got to poor Joonas Korpisalo, McDavid was thundering like a runaway train, his body and head juking in opposite directions.
The standing-room audience at Rexall Place roared. The Twitter universe went nuts.
“I’m convinced he hypnotized those three Blue Jackets,” one fan exclaimed. “Totally Obi-Wan’d ’em. Is there a rule against that?”
As McDavid dropped to one knee and slid along the ice pumping one fist, his mother, Kelly, leaped up from the couch at home in Newmarket, Ont.
“It has been a long time since we have seen a play or had a player like that [in Edmonton],” Paul Messier said Saturday in Montreal, the next stop on the McDavid revival tour. A former centre for the Colorado Rockies and now a scout for the Oilers, Messier’s brother used to play a bit of hockey, too. “He had me on the edge of my seat a few times, and I used to watch Mark and Wayne [Gretzky].
“He is an incredibly exciting player, even to grizzled hockey veterans like me.”
McDavid also set up two goals. On the second, he dived to snag the puck from the goalie, then clambered to his feet and found Jordan Eberle alone at the side of the net.
“Every now and then a superhero comes along in hockey, and we got one again,” said Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster Bob Cole, who has called hockey games since 1969. “And he’s in Edmonton. Just like the ’80s.”
Now 82, Cole remembers the first game he worked – a Stanley Cup semi-final between Montreal and Boston that went to two overtimes. He has seen countless great players, and was looking forward to seeing McDavid for the first time in person Saturday at the Bell Centre.
Before the game, Cole chatted with him outside the Oilers dressing room. The 19-year-old had asked to meet the broadcast legend.
“I watched Tuesday night’s game,” Cole said. “That goal happened so quickly and beautifully. I wasn’t surprised, it just reassured me of everything I had heard about him.”
In Edmonton that night, fans serenaded McDavid when he skated out to be introduced as the game’s first star. The oldest arena in the NHL shook to the rafters.
After a layoff of 91 days, he popped up on Feb. 2 like Shubenacadie Sam and had the Columbus players chasing their own shadows. On the air, Bob Stauffer, a radio talk show host and colour analyst during Oilers games, called McDavid’s performance, “sublimely ridiculous.”
“There isn’t another player on the planet that could have done what he did,” Stauffer said. “Edmonton has gone from a team that was one of the last sexy draws to being must-see TV in the NHL.”
On Thursday morning, Ottawa RedBlacks quarterback Henry Burris brought his children to the Oilers’ practice. They had been clamouring to see McDavid. Boys wearing hockey sweaters snapped selfies with him in the background seated on the bench.
A few hours later, McDavid collected two assists in the first 11 minutes as the Oilers rolled over the Senators, 7-2. Both goals were scored by Eberle. He had three goals in the 18 games before McDavid’s return, and three in his first two nights back.
“You watch him skate and play and it takes your breath away,” Eberle said.
Injury caused McDavid to miss first games in all but one of the original six NHL cities. On Saturday afternoon, though, he got to play for the first time in Montreal.
Standing on the street in front of her hotel, Jill Lean of Fredericton was wearing a McDavid sweater. She and her husband drove seven hours the day before, part of a caravan of New Brunswick hockey fans.
“For me, it’s all about McDavid,” she said. Just then, the actor Billy Bob Thornton walked out of a building across the street dressed as Kris Kringle, filming a scene for Bad Santa 2. “I want to see him skate circles around the Habs.”
As savvy as they are impassioned, Canadiens fans arrived at the Bell Centre eager to eyeball the game’s newest and youngest star over Sauvignon blanc and smoked meat.
The Habs slapped around the erring Oilers, 5-1, but McDavid drew gasps and cheers with sleight-of-hand trickery in the final minutes.
Charging at the net from an angle, he passed the puck between his legs and then fired it back through them. Somehow or other, Ben Scrivens, the Montreal goalie, intercepted the shot.
In the press box, Guy LaPointe jumped out of his seat.
A Hall of fame defenceman who won six Stanley Cups with the Canadiens, LaPointe now serves as chief amateur scout for the Minnesota Wild.
“Oh my God, I can’t believe what just happened,” LaPointe said. “This kid is unbelievable.”
After the game, McDavid said he felt he needed to do something creative to give himself the best chance to score.
It had been a frustrating day. He set up teammates for a handful of shots, but the Oilers had nothing to show for it. When he was on the ice, much of the game was played in Edmonton’s end, limiting his chances.
P.K. Subban, the Montreal defenceman, was grateful the youngster had a quiet day.
“There’s very few guys in the league who can do what he does,” Subban said. “I don’t know where he ranks in the best players, but what he can do with the puck … he’s an all-star already.”
On the way to the Oilers’ bus, McDavid stopped to sign autographs. He posed for a picture.
On Sunday afternoon, the Oilers played their worst game of the year, losing 8-1 to the New York Islanders in Brooklyn. McDavid scored his team’s only goal.Report Typo/Error
Follow us on Twitter: