Loubardias: Some kind of stretch

Jaromir Jagr has a laugh after being introduced as the newest Calgary Flames player at a press conference. (Larry MacDougal/CP)

It is a privilege to have the opportunity to talk about hockey and broadcast the great sport for a living. The last 11 days of doing so have produced some great moments that I have witnessed and brought up alot of memories.

At the Macs Midget Hockey Tournament in Calgary nearly four years ago, I watched then 15-year-old Patrick Laine play a starring role on Finland’s Under 17 National Team’s impressive run to the title. I had four viewings of Laine in that tournament and from the first 10 minutes of feasting my peepers on him, it was evident he had an abundance of ability: great size, good skater, a wicked release and a swagger you couldn’t miss.

Fast forward two seasons to 2015-2016 and what I call arguably the greatest 17-year-old hockey season ever. Laine really came to the forefront as an all star at the World Junior Hockey Championship where he played a huge role in his home country winning the crown. Later that year, Laine was rookie of the year, playoff MVP of the SM Liiga, leading Tappara to a championship. And, oh yeah, in the same spring he was the MVP of the World Hockey Championship. Ridiculous.

The second overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft did not disappoint in year one, scoring 36 times in 73 games showing off his greatest weapon: his shot. If at all possible, the Fantastic Finn is delivering the puck towards NHL nets in a way I have never seen. Brett Hull is the only other player in my opinion to release the puck the way this forward does. On September 25th in a preseason affair in Winnipeg, I saw Laine score twice with his howitzer, add three assists, and whistle a couple of others off the post and cross bar, leaving my jaw on the floor every time the puck left his stick. Then came my favourite Laine goal of the last two weeks.

In the second period of a September 30th game in Calgary, Laine cruised in to the Flames zone, cut to the middle of the ice about 45 feet away on one foot and, with no back swing at all, sniped one off the cross bar and in. No goalie on planet earth could have stopped it, at which point I put down my headset, stood up from my chair in the broadcast booth and applauded. Patrick Laine I salute you.

At the 2013 World Under-18 Championship, I watched a young man named Connor McDavid for the first time, albeit on television, as a 15-year-old. In Canada’s final round robin game against Sweden, McDavid notched a hat trick. In the quarterfinal game, McDavid potted three more goals against the Czech Republic. I was absolutely blown away. In fact, I was taken all the way back to Wayne Gretzky’s 1978 WJC performance, when at 16 he took the hockey world by storm with 17 points.

On Wednesday night at Rogers Place, McDavid took control of a puck 150 feet away from his own net, raced end-to-end, blowing past all the Flame defenders in his way, before delivering the puck into the top corner of the net. It was an incredible goal by an incredible talent. I didn’t stand up this time, but its another moment I wont forget for quite some time.

The capper to my 11 day run came on Thursday. On Scotiabank Saddledome ice, the living legend Jaromir Jagr took to the ice for the first time as a member of the Calgary Flames. In what the 45-year-old says will almost certainly be his last NHL season, I get to watch him wrap up an incredible career. The same Jagr who has played 1711 games, totalling 765 goals and 1911 points. I felt incredibly fortunate to be in attendance when Pittsburgh made Jagr the fifth overall pick in the 1990 NHL Draft at BC Place in Vancouver, and now I’ll be calling his games.

I leave you with this: Jagr, following his first practise with the Flames, was asked about watching his new team’s game against the Oilers. He said “McDavid is too good.” He would further add he has never seen anyone do the things at the speed McDavid does it at, and that he might score 100 goals one season. It’s one thing for those of us that cover the games to give our thoughts, but there is nothing more impactful than an NHL great raving about a special talent.

That’s what I call some kind of 11 days.

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