EDMONTON — It’s what a 23-year-old Connor McDavid unwittingly signed up for, when his immense hockey skills led to him being captain of an NHL team.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy, when they ask you to articulate your feelings on young Colby Cave, McDavid’s teammate who lies in a coma at a Toronto hospital.
“This is devastating news,” said McDavid, as eloquently as could be expected. “Colby is such a strong guy — a good Saskatchewan boy. He’s as tough as they come, and if anyone is going to get through this it’s going be Colby Cave.”
What a time this is.
As Canadians, we can get our heads around missing our National Hockey League playoffs, given the circumstances. It stings when you’ve supported an Oilers club that has missed the playoffs 12 of the past 13 seasons, and now they’re good and there are no playoffs. But fans get it. Social distancing saves lives, while watching a playoff game on a sunny spring deck only enhances our existence.
Then suddenly, in the midst of it all, notice comes from the local team that one of its players — Cave, a fringe guy who has come up and down from the minors over the past couple of seasons — is sick. Real sick.
“Edmonton Oilers player Colby Cave has been placed in a medically induced coma and admitted to the Critical Care Unit at Sunnybrook Hospital after suffering a brain bleed over night. We ask that you keep Colby and his wife Emily in your thoughts and prayers during this time.”
The press release landed with a thud on Tuesday.
If hockey is not going to give us any games, then it shouldn’t be allowed to lay news like this on us either.
He’d had headaches early in the week, but if Cave was like anyone else in these weird times, the last place a guy would want to go is a hospital. Hockey people deal with pain in their own way anyhow, and though I won’t say I am a close friend of this player, I have gotten to know the young man relatively well over the past few years. He’d likely not be one to rush to emergency, at a time when it was needed by so many others.
In a time when the NHL is stocked with the sons of dentists and accountants who can afford the skyrocketing costs of academy schools and spring hockey, Cave was that rare son of a rancher, a Boxing Day baby who skated off of Al and Jennifer’s farm near Battleford, Sask., to become the MVP for two straight years in Swift Current, and the captain of the Western League team for one season.
The news was furthered on Wednesday: Doctors remove a colloid cyst that was causing pressure on his brain. He would remain in a medically induced coma, cruel isolation at a time when it is difficult even for his wife Emily to remain at his bedside.
On Instagram, Emily has asked that we “Please pray for my husband and best friend.”
“All the fans out there, everyone just needs to keep Colby, his wife Emily, and the entire family in their thoughts and prayers,” McDavid said. “Just sending out good vibes for them. It’s all we can do, we’re all stuck inside. We can just think and pray that he comes out of this, and pray that the family can get through it as well. I can’t imagine how hard it is on them.”
It is heartbreaking to read Emily’s Instagram posts, and really, it shouldn’t matter how good a husband or respectful a person this happens to. It shouldn’t happen to anyone at age 25, let alone a polite, respectful and handsome young man who has dutifully gone up and down from Bakersfield to Edmonton and back to Bakersfield again, without complaint.
A young man who always remembered people’s names, and took time to catch up when he arrived back in the Oilers dressing room. It’s a fading art, that relationship between player and newsperson, where you kibitz about all things not hockey. Like his Dad’s cattle farm, and how being gone for hockey annually relieved him of some of the dirty work.
“You got kids?” he’d ask.
“When we had to tell him to go down to the American League, he was disappointed but he was never down. He took it like a pro, went down there, played hard, and we called him back up a few times,” Ken Holland told me on Tuesday.
It’s cliché, and it’s the kind of thing that hockey people say to you when we really don’t have much else: Maybe the kind of player Cave is will help him to beat this thing. Maybe, somewhere inside the soul of this young, fit player who never quit on an NHL career — despite playing the vast majority of his pro games in the AHL thus far — that same attitude wins this battle too.
“They’re all good kids,” an NHL executive once said, when personalities were getting in the way of talent assessment. And it’s true.
But this one, he’s a really, really good kid.
You can’t work this hard for your dream and have it end like this, can you?
“It’s devastating,” McDavid repeated. “Colby is a guy who is so well liked in our dressing room. I’m sure he’s been well liked in any room he’s been in, he’s such a good guy. There’s no real way to express how I’m feeling about it. It’s devastating.
“You just pray that he wakes up, that the family is OK.”