As a boy raised in the 70’s and 80’s in Edmonton, son of hockey fans, and entirely impressionable right at the peak era of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and the dynasty Edmonton Oilers team of the 80’s, it’s no wonder that I’m a lifelong fan. Even as I lived in the greater Toronto area for some years, I could never cheer for the Leafs (no way), and even though I paid less attention in the “decade of darkness” of the late 00’s-early 10’s when the team was simply not much good, I always consider the Oilers to be “my team”. Right now, the team is at a high point – Stanley Cup contenders and possibly even favourites. With the team currently in the 2nd round of the playoffs, I’ve spent more than the usual amount of time watching late-night games to cheer them on.
All this is to say that watching one of my favourite sports and one of my favourite teams is just entertainment for me. I don’t take it too seriously and I certainly don’t let it get in the way of other more important activities or thoughts. It’s just fun. But every once in a while, I’m reminded that amid the body checks, the stick infractions, and all the other physical stuff that happens during a game, there are moments when truly positive values peak through that tough facade. Two such stories from the Oilers this week have reminded me of the humanity and value that can come through teamwork and open-hearted living, if we look for it.
These stories both involve longest-tenured Oiler Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. During the regular season this year, he had a career performance, scoring over 100 points for the first time since joining the team in 2011 (a notable feat for any NHL player). Since the playoffs began, Nugent-Hopkins, hit a bit of a dry spell – no goals in these first two rounds. That’s the background. Yesterday, a video was released of a dressing room celebration from a few weeks ago to mark his 110+ point season. Two teammates, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl (also 100+ players, no less) rolled out a cart with a giant Oilers cake with the entire team cheering and supporting this teammate and friend’s milestone first.
The second part of the story happened on Tuesday night, when playing against the Vegas Golden Knights, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored his first goal of the playoffs on a pass from (you guessed it) Connor McDavid. There was the usual goal celebration, but Connor looked more excited that Ryan had scored than did Ryan himself. Notice at about 0:42 of this video:
A Nuge playoff goal is something that can actually be so personal 🥲 pic.twitter.com/51F0yUrZHl
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) May 11, 2023
Wisdom for living comes from all kinds of places…even the hockey rink. These are just tiny glimpses into what I think are the joys and benefits of being part of a team. When a friend is down, we have confidence in them and support them as they make their way up again. And then we celebrate with and for each other’s successes. We don’t have to be part of a sports team to know and experience this. It can happen within our group of friends, it can happen among neighbours, it can happen amid the connections and relationships we make within spiritual community. I’m heartened to see it lived out, regardless of where and with whom. It’s a ray of sunshine, it’s a story of living positive values in ways that make a difference and inspire us to do the same.