Tuesday, February 28, 2017


Oilers in town to face the Panthers

Last week I had my first chance to see Connor McDavid in action. The Oilers were in Sunrise to play the Florida Panthers. There wa s a distinctive buzz in the arena. Some of it pertained to the exciting young Oilers team. But there is also excitement about the Panthers.

They had just completed that deadly five game road trip to the West Coast. It remains a difficult chore for all sports teams. Even the Raptors never look forward to that trip. The Panthers emerged from the trip with five victories, first time in the history of the franchise.

After picking up my pass, I headed down the hall to the elevator. Three guys were ahead of us, turned, and asked directions to the elevator. At that point, I almost blurted out, “You look quite familiar. Do I know you from somewhere?” But I bit my tongue and said, “Sure, follow me,” when I realized it was Wayne Gretzky. He was with his brother Keith, a former Belleville Bull, and Peter Chiarelli, president and General Manager of the team. Keith Gretzky is listed in the official guide as “Assistant General Manager”.

Both the Panthers and the Oilers have several young, exciting players. With less than a quarter of the season remaining, it is only natural that they might slow down a little at this time. Not on this occasion. It was full tilt all the way. McDavid raced around defencemen to nullify icing charges. He scooted through the neutral zone to set up two on one opportunities.

But the Panthers returned the favour to the Oilers. Huberdeau, Barkov, Trocheck, Ekblad, Marchessault, Matheson....they keep coming off the bench to provide the Panthers with spirited play. James Reimer got the nod to play between the pipes.

Oscar Klefbom opened the scoring for the Oilers in the first period. He was handed the puck on a giveaway at the blueline, and ripped a shot into the net. The period ended with the Oilers leading 1-0.

Alexander Barkov evened the score at the 21 second mark of the second period on a power play goal. The teams traded markers during the period. With just 3.9 seconds remaining in the period, Yandle hit Marchessault with a long pass, and the game was tied 3-3. Plenty of fireworks from both teams.

With almost 8 minutes gone in the third period, McDavid raced from his own end with the puck, dropped a pass to his linemate Leon Draisaitl. Leon shuffled the puck to Kris Russell who hit the twine for the winning goal, his first of the season.

The Panthers had some excellent chances near the end of the game. The puck trickled off Jagr's stick as he stood alone in from of the Oiler net. Moans and groans, but the red light remained unlit.

Attendance for the game was listed at 15, 300. There were some empty seats, some of them going for twenty bucks apiece. Not quite the case at the Air Canada Centre, nor the Bell Centre. For those of you heading south for a little sun this spring, it is a perfect opportunity to see the game at its best.

The Panthers need to maintain the momentum they picked up on the West Coast. They added Keith Yandle in the off season from the Rangers. He spent most of his ten years in the NHL with the Coyotes. When asked about the loss, he referred to the preceding games: “We just weren't able to get that one at the end of the game that we needed. We weren't as sharp as we needed to be coming off the road.”

                       McDavid Family gathering, with Janet and Wayne Gretzky

That is often the case, and can be a coach's nightmare. For the Panthers, that is part of the challenge for the remainder of the season. The Oilers are pretty well assured of a playoff berth. At that point anything can happen.

James Hurst
February 26, 2017.

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