On Tuesday something happened in Tampa Bay that didn't receive proper attention: Connor McDavid came to town and played in a hockey game.
The Lightning battled the Edmonton Oilers to a tougher-than-it-looked 5-2 victory in a game that featured the greatest hockey player in the world (probably).
There was a distinct lack of buzz amongst the crowd at Amalie Arena. To the random observer, this was just another Lightning game. Nothing special, just a typical Tuesday night game in the early stage of the season.
Many of the Lightning fans I talked to were mostly indifferent to the prospects of seeing McDavid live, not having much to say the opportunity to watch him in-person. However I was able to find a few that shared in my excitement.
“He’s definitely the most electric guy in the league,” Jake Gilmour said. Gilmour, from Pickering, Ontario, is a soon-to-be professional lacrosse player with the Denver Outlaws. He is finishing up his education at Saint Leo University.
He once played against McDavid back when he played Pewee-AAA hockey. According to Gilmour, his team lost 8-1 and McDavid scored seven goals.
“It’s always fun to watch and see what he can do out there,” Gilmour said. ”He’s probably considered one of the top three players in the world right now, so can’t go wrong coming to see him play.”
This was the first time I have seen McDavid live, and he did not disappoint. On a single shift during the first period he: got in behind Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forced a poke check from goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy; picked up a loose puck in his own zone and created a two-on-one with his blazing speed; and raced to a loose puck in the corner and set up linemate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in front of the net for a backhand try.
“He’s really the guy in the NHL right now, so having the chance to see him play live is really going to be one heck of an experience,” Tom Tontatarian said. Tontatarian is a friend of Gilmour’s and also plays lacrosse for Saint Leo University. “You can’t really find a more complete player.”
Another interesting fan perspective is the desire to see how your team plays against him, a viewpoint held by Canadian transplant turned-Lightning fan Brian Steves.
“I’m excited to see him play live. I’ve watched him a lot on tv, but first time live,” Steves said. “You’re talking about a guy with that kind of skill, it’s always interesting to see him play, and also how your team stacks up against a player like that.
“He (McDavid) just takes it to another level. It’s interesting to compare our guys to him and see how they play against each other.”
McDavid finished the game with 5 shots on goal, tied for second-most in the game, but was held without a point for just the second time all season. He had one play where he split four Lightning defenders, deking Slater Koekkoek and cutting in on goal.
“He’s kind of the reincarnation of Gretzky for Oilers fans, right?” Kirk Reul remarked. Reul is a season-ticket holder who is an admirer of McDavid. “There was no hope until he showed up. How many draft picks in a row of number one and a whole lotta nothing.”
What sets McDavid apart from the rest of the league is his ability to do everything at such a high speed. He is faster with the puck than without the puck, something you notice quickly when watching him live.
“He basically has the turbo button compared to most players on the ice,” Reul said. “He seems like he’s twice as fast, all the time.
“If you don’t get out in front of him, he’s probably got a breakaway, and that’s exciting, right?”
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Photo courtesy of author.