EDMONTON — There are few more tragic events than when a young, healthy 25-year-old with a wonderful life ahead of him dies unexpectedly, as Colby Cave did on April 11. Felled by a brain bleed, Cave’s memory will stoke the Edmonton Oilers’ fire as they enter the playoffs under the hashtag #WeSkateForColby.
On Saturday the team closed their training camp with the Colby Cave Memorial Fund scrimmage, with Team Orange beating Team White 5-2.
Every Oilers player wore the No. 12, Cave’s number with Edmonton.
“I was in tears the other night, kind of had a moment,” said Emily Cave, Colby’s wife. “And it hit me that this is the last time I’m going to be able to see No. 12 on the ice.”
The Colby Cave Foundation will help kids who can’t afford hockey get into the game. The jerseys worn Saturday — with each player wearing his own name plate — will be auctioned off at a later date to raise funds.
“I’m going to miss seeing Colby as a Dad,” Emily said, “but I know how many kids he’ll help through his foundation. Those will be his kids and it be remarkable to watch how many lives this will touch.”
Emily will leave a letter and a memento in the stall of each Oilers player. “Something to keep in stall or wear every day,” she said. “That’s my way of thanking them all for all the support they’ve given me.”
“Words can’t describe what that family and Emily have been through,” said winger Zack Kassian. “Once an Oiler, always an Oiler. We’re here to help any way we can going down the road.”
As sad and unexpected as Cave’s death was, coming a month to the day after Edmonton’s last game this season, the foundation is cathartic for Emily. She was with Cave at her parents’ Ontario home when the brain bleed struck. Cave fought for a few days, but was unable to recover.
“When the Oilers reached out to me regarding the foundation I was still kind of in shock, trying to process everything,” she said. “This foundation is going to give me a purpose. A reason to get out of bed in the morning. It’s going to keep Colby alive.
“I’m going to keep him alive in my heart, but I know his character and legacy will help many other people too. I know he’d be super proud. I can’t wait to see the amazing things we’re going to do.”
Said Cave’s Bakersfield teammate Cooper Marody, “Emily, she’s the strongest woman I’ve ever met.”
• Kassian was shaking his head at the thought of Sunday finally arriving, the day when 24 NHL teams arrive at the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles, ready to begin a playoffs that many believed could never happen.
“I’d be lying to you if I didn’t think there was a small percentage of this actually working out,” Kassian said, crediting the league and the NHLPA for pulling this off. “Hopefully we’re in there for two months, and hopefully we come out as champs.”
We’ll see how far this Oilers team can go, but we will say this: with two solid goalies, 14 NHL forwards and 7 NHL defencemen, this is as deep a team as the Oilers have fielded in many years. And depth is a prerequisite for any playoff run.
“That a fair accusation,” said Kassian. “Before the pause we were a good hockey team. Every team going into this, whether it’s the play-in or the playoffs, everyone has a chance.
“I’ve been here for a while,” he continued. “We have a good solid team – guys with roles. That’s what you need to win a Stanley Cup – guys playing different roles and guys playing them well. We have the two superstars… We’re really excited. We feel like we have a chance.”
• As the Oilers’ camp finished up on Saturday, there weren’t many negatives — other than Riley Sheahan leaving the scrimmage and not returning, and Darnell Nurse sitting out the game as “unfit to play.”
Head coach Dave Tippett had not checked in on Sheahan when he did his post-game Zoom call with the media, but did say, “Darnell Nurse was unfit to play today, but he’ll be fit to practice (Monday), so that’s a good thing.”
With Nurse out, young Philip Broberg played alongside Ethan Bear, scoring yet another training camp goal on a sharp wrist shot coming of a heady feed from Bear. Broberg, as we’ve stated, has stepped ahead of Evan Bouchard at this camp. He was scheduled to head home to Sweden this weekend, but now heads into the tournament, in our estimation, as Edmonton’s No. 8 D-man.
Meanwhile, the only real question mark is in goal, where Smith gave up 12 goals in the final two scrimmages, to four for Koskinen. Smith, however, faced McDavid’s line in both scrimmages, and the Oilers captain has been other-worldly during training camp.
“You watch it, you take it all in, and you see where it goes from there,” said Tippett, who charted a lot more scoring chances faced by Smith than Koskinen in the two games.
You know Tippett would prefer to start Smith in Game 1 vs. Chicago, mostly due to his better puck handling skills. But if Koskinen is stopping more pucks, he’ll have to go with the big Finn. Tippett wouldn’t say what plans he has for Tuesday’s exhibition game against Calgary — who will play and for how long.
• This is only Tippett’s first year behind the Oilers bench. As of today, he has a far better club that most people thought he’d have, with GM Ken Holland having only one year at the helm as well.
“To win anything you have to be a good team — not just on the ice. You have to care for each other, pull for each other… That builds a good team,” Tippett said. “I like our group that way. We have grown, coming from some adversity the year before, to (now), where they’ve moulded together and really become a tight group. The Colby Cave situation, unfortunately, has even bonded the group closer together.”
This organization lost for so long, players used to almost expect something bad to happen. Well, finally that dynamic has been cleansed from the dressing room, and with McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and the kind of supporting cast that Kassian was talking about, they expect to win now.
“There are certain times when we’re not playing well, or not practising hard enough,” Tippett explained. “And from the start of the year ‘til now, they know it before I even get to them. There is a lot of accountability in there. People know their roles and everyone is a part of it.”
• Some news out of Chicago, as goaltender Corey Crawford confirmed why he has not been a participant in Blackhawks camp until Saturday.
“I tested positive for COVID so I had to quarantine in my place here the last few weeks,” Crawford told the media after his first practice with the team. “That was the case for my absence at camp. I’m excited to be back.”
The Blackhawks gave up the most scoring chances in the National Hockey League last season, by various different measures. Yet, they were tied for 16th in the NHL in goals against.
Why? Because the tandem of Crawford and Robin Lehner were so good, Chicago finished the season tied for fourth in the league in team saves percentage at .913.
The Blackhawks dealt Lehner away at the deadline. But with Crawford’s Stanley Cup pedigree, and the fact he was absolutely on top of his game all season long — 2.77 GAA, .917 saves percentage — you only need one goalie in the playoffs if he is playing well, right?
Crawford was lit up for three goals in one period before taking a seat Saturday. He is way behind, having missed all of camp.
Is one week enough for him to find his game? The Blackhawks surely hope so, and the competitiveness of this series may ride on it.
Meanwhile, veteran ‘Hawks defenceman Brent Seabrook announced on Friday that he will not get on the plane to Edmonton. The 35-year-old underwent two hip surgeries and right shoulder surgery in a five-week span earlier this year.
“I’m not going to be going,” he said. “I just don’t feel comfortable yet. As comfortable as I want to feel on the ice. Looking back at it now it was good to see where I’m at … to be ready for camp next year.”