I wasn’t surprised the Edmonton Oilers lost to the Calgary Flames 5-0 on Saturday night. I wasn’t surprised the high octane team looked slow and flat against their rivals. However, I was surprised when the Oilers superstar and the league’s face called out the NHL. Maybe surprised isn’t the right word. I was proud of him. Connor McDavid usually sticks to the company lines and doesn’t say anything that you wouldn’t expect him to say. But, he gave us a couple of seconds of insight into how difficult Saturday was for him and his teammates.
In usual McDavid fashion, he took ownership, doesn’t make excuses. Still, he couldn’t help question what the NHL was thinking to put him and his teammates through such an ordeal. Just a few hours before the game, the Oilers gathered in a ballroom in a Calgary hotel to watch the Colby Cave’s Celebration of Life Ceremony.
Until a few weeks ago, the Oilers would’ve been in Edmonton. They would’ve been home and with loved ones on a very emotional day. However, due to the COVID outbreak within the Vancouver Canucks organization, the league changed the schedule. It took away the Oilers’ day off, not just any day off. It was a special day that had been planned for months.
Remembering Colby Cave One Year Later
Colby Cave, or Caver as McDavid and most of his friends called him, died April 11, 2020, of a brain bleed. The 25-year-old’s untimely death sent shock waves through the league. I was working for City-TV in Edmonton at the time. I could not keep up with the number of reactions and condolences coming in from teams and players in North America and worldwide. Edmonton fans left flowers and well wishes around Rogers Place. They started an online petition to put Cave on the cover of NHL 21. The team set up the Colby Cave Memorial Fund to support community programs emphasizing mental health and providing access to sports for underprivileged children.
One year later and his memory lives on. Like many people in Edmonton and the hockey community, I watched the Celebration of Life with tears in my eyes. We’ve come to know Cave’s wife Emily and his family well over the past year. When Emily took the podium, there wasn’t a dry eye. She found the words to say, “through his tragic death, he’s a constant reminder to myself and many others to continue to live life to the fullest.”
Shame on the NHL
A few hours later, the Oilers took to the ice in Calgary, at least they tried to. Shame on the NHL for putting the players and even the fan base through that. But, this wasn’t a made-for-TV moment. It’s not a movie where the team rallies and wins the game. This is real life. The League had several options. In fact, neither the Oilers nor Flames played the following day. But the NHL needed a game for the late Saturday night window, and both of the other North Division games were in the East. But there were options. Lots of options, and putting the Oilers through this should not have been one of them.
There are days as a reporter that you don’t forget. Cave’s death was one of those days for me. I worked in Swift Current decades ago, and long before Cave played for the Broncos. But, I always keep tabs on the team and the alumni. My hurt watching that ceremony is a small fraction of the pain it must’ve caused his family and friends. The Oilers deserved the day off to be with their loved ones and to honour their teammate – Caver.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.