PENTICTON, B.C. — The Letter C, Brandon Davidson will tell you, can mean many different things.
You can wear the “C,” as he did with the Regina Pats, and again on Saturday as he captained the Edmonton Oilers rookies in a 7-2 loss against the Winnipeg Jets rookies here in Penticton. Or you can be diagnosed with it — The Big C — as he was last November, when the doctor found a lump that would turn out to be testicular cancer.
“Just a regular checkup,” recalled Davidson, who left the doctor’s office that day the way too many people have, driving home to wait for that fateful phone call that confirmed his family’s worst fears.
It was testicular cancer. The date was Nov. 1, 2012. Chemotherapy would begin in two days.
His parents “were devastated,” he said, while admitting, “It was hard to take. But when they told me, I just told myself, ‘OK, we’ll fix it. We’ll do what we can to get back to hockey as soon as possible.’”
Davidson grew up in corn country on a Taber, Alta., acreage. “People are either farmers, or in oil and gas,” he said of the southern Alberta town. He made his way through Junior A Olds to the Western Hockey League as a puck-moving defenceman, and became an Oiler in the sixth round of the 2010 draft.
“He was never a player who was supposed to play junior hockey,” said Todd Nelson, who coached Davidson in Oklahoma City last year, and put the “C” on his chest Saturday in Penticton. “He was never a player who was supposed to get drafted. He was never a player who was supposed to play pro.”
Nelson was there as Davidson fought cancer in OKC, joined by his parents, his girlfriend and his teammates in the minors. There was a 21-day cycle of chemotherapy, with 13 injections through a spot high on his left breast, through a tube inserted to take the medication right to his heart, for faster dissemination throughout his body.
He still bears that scar, the only visible nick the cancer has left in his armour. That, and the odd bit of hair that he still finds on his pillow as a result of the chemo.
“It was truly inspirational to everybody,” Nelson said of Davidson’s fight, and subsequent return to the Barons. “For a kid to come back from that, get sent down to (ECHL) Stockton, and then be the best player in Stockton and come back up? There’s not much to say. It speaks volumes about him.
“He’s a fighter. It’s in his nature. That’s why he is where he’s at,” Nelson surmised. “Everyone says he can’t play in the National Hockey League? I wouldn’t count him out.”
It is, in this 22-year-old’s case, surely an example of whatever does not kill you making you stronger. He has decent size at six-foot-one and 202 pounds, skates well, handles the puck with poise, and his outlook on life is well beyond his years.
“It has definitely opened my eyes to a lot of things,” he said of the experience of beating cancer. “It changed me as a person; it changed my whole outlook on life.
“You only have so many days,” he said. “It made me think about what I really want in life, and what I really want is to be an NHL player. It motivated me. Made me stronger. A better person.
“I overcame a lot there, for a while.”
The cancer makes for a nice tale. In the end however, they don’t give NHL starts away at the Make a Wish Foundation. Unless Davidson can become one of the top seven defencemen in this Oilers organization, his story will end in the American Hockey League.
Edmonton has cleared some space on the minor league roster for a coming group of young D-men whose collective maturation is critical to this rebuild. Gone are former first-round picks Alex Plante and Colten Teubert. The OKC defence will be young, but full of promising names like Martin Gernat, Martin Marincin, David Musil and likely Swede Oscar Klefbom.
No. 7 overall pick Darnell Nurse will be returned to Sault Ste. Marie for now, but he represents another young blue-liner whose pedigree exceeds Davidson’s on his route to the NHL.
For one night at least, Davidson captained that crew in Penticton Saturday night. They may pass him by on the depth chart, but after talking to this kid for a while at the morning skate Saturday, we wouldn’t bet on it.
“I was playing at 60, 70 per cent last year. Now I’m a 100 per cent,” he said. “I’m just excited to see what the difference is. I’m really excited to see how far I can go with this thing.”