“If I look back on my career and ask, ‘Did I make a lot of bonehead plays in my career?’ Well, everybody does. Everybody makes mistakes; everybody does things that they would take back.” — former Oilers defenceman Steve Smith.
Blake Wheeler was standing in front of his stall, arms crossed. He was sour.
About a dozen feet away, the media had gathered around Patrik Laine, who was still peeling off equipment in the moments after a 3-2 loss. Wheeler gazed upon the scene with a menacing scowl, watching the post-game proceedings with visible distaste.
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Laine, as you have no doubt seen by now, had inadvertently fired home the game-winner from the slot while on the back check. It was a definitive own goal in the city that coined the phrase with Steve Smith’s beauty back in 1986, and here was the 18-year-old Finn, bravely facing the media the same way Smith had on the evening of his 23rd birthday some 30 years ago.
“I think everybody saw what happened. That’s my comments,” began Laine, taking a valiant stab at commanding the line of questioning.
Alas son, this is not how it works.
“Were you trying to play it into the corner?” asked a media man. “Did you lose track of where you were? What happened?”
“That’s a good question,” offered Laine. “I kind of tried to get rid of the puck right away. It was just a bad position for me. An unfortunate goal.”
Upon his arrival at the Jets bench, Wheeler had draped an arm around Laine’s shoulders, speaking encouraging words into the ear hole of his helmet. It looked like a big brother protecting his little brother — something Wheeler wanted to do in that post-game media scrum, but simply could not.
“Everyone just said to move on, that there is lots of time left,” Laine recalled. “You can score now to the right end.”
You can score now to the right end.
If only it were that easy, even for this blonde, young marksman who sits third in the National Hockey League with 17 goals.
“He’s done a helluva job for us this year. You just hate to see a guy feel that way after a game,” said Wheeler. “He’s 18 years old. He feels terrible. These things happen. It’s just a bad bounce.”
The problem with technology is, when you watch Sportsnet Central, we will slow down the play until it looks as if Laine had time to chalk his cue prior to the shot. However reality dictates, as Smith told me when we talked for my book The Battle of Alberta, it happened mighty fast in an NHL game.
“At the time it was devastating,” Smith said. “It was a catastrophic result, but it wasn’t from thinking the game incorrectly. It was just the result that made it a memorable play.
“If that’s in the middle of December, nobody remembers that.”
Yesterday was Dec. 11. He’s right. Years from now, we will struggle to recall the night Laine sniped on Connor Hellebuyck.
“Every guy in the National Hockey League’s got a goal like that,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice. “Every defenceman, it goes in off them, so he has a story to tell.”
Who got credited with the goal? Why, who else but former Bonnyville Pontiac (AJHL) Mark Letestu, who has made a tidy career out of playing against Winnipeg.
Letestu has scored five of his six goals this season against Winnipeg, and has nine in 15 games against the Jets. Now he’s even scoring without actually shooting the puck into the Jets goal.
“I’m just trying to get a rebound out there, hoping for Connor (McDavid) or (Milan) Lucic to bang it in,” said Letestu, who hammered the shot that created the rebound. On a night when both teams were finishing an absurd stretch of six games in nine nights, neither teams thought they played very well, frankly.
“Tonight really wasn’t our best effort,” Letestu said. “We were lacklustre for two periods, but then the power play gets a big goal and we catch a break.
“It’s nice to get rewarded on a night you don’t deserve it.”
The Jets have played 32 games in 60 days, something never before foisted upon an NHL club. The Oilers have played only one less game.
Connor McDavid had an assist to stay atop the scoring lead (12-27-39), but for the second time this year was denied a goal when it crossed the line less than one-tenth of a second after the buzzer.
Losing an empty-net goal that way must be a real bummer.
All in all however, McDavid is feeling better this morning than Laine.