There are excuses for losing in professional sports, and there are reasons for losing. Sort of like how a player can play hurt, but he can’t play injured.
On Saturday night the Edmonton Oilers were asked to play their third game in four nights, their fourth in six nights -- all on the road -- against a Calgary Flames team that hadn’t played since Monday.
Those aren’t reasons for a 5-0 loss. Those are excuses for a 5-0 loss.
Here, however, is a reason for the flat, emotionless effort laid down by Edmonton in an absentee edition of the Battle of Alberta:
At 11 a.m. MT on the morning of the game, the Oilers all gathered at their Calgary hotel to watch the Celebration of Life for teammate Colby Cave.
It was an emotionally draining memorial for a 25-year-old brother whose beautiful young widow Emily wept throughout her tragic eulogy, trembling as she said her heart-wrenching goodbye. Cave’s mother wept while talking about his first NHL game as a Boston Bruin, while his father, a burly Saskatchewan rancher named Al, could scarcely be understood, so choked was he to have lost his only son.
Then they dropped a puck at the Saddledome and said: “Go play.”
“Some days are about a little more than just about hockey,” said Oilers captain Connor McDavid after the game. “The performance wasn’t there tonight, but today is about Colby, his memorial and his celebration of life.”
To ask a team to play on such a night was ridiculous. The National Hockey League added this game in the last two weeks -- long after the Cave memorial had been scheduled -- and it was callous mistake.
We’ll go one step further in saying it was disrespectful, both to the Cave family and the Oilers players and staff. The schedule be damned, this was a black on the league to reschedule a game to a night like this.
Good for McDavid for calling out the NHL on it.
“I don’t want to make excuses. (The Flames) were better than us.” began McDavid. “But I think you’re asking a lot from guys, to sit through something like that, remember your teammate, see what the whole family is going through, and be expected to perform that night. I’m not sure what the league was really thinking there."
“It’s a hard day for the Cave family. It’s a hard day for Emily and her family. It’s a hard day for the Edmonton Oilers and Boston Bruins organizations,” he added. “You’d like the NHL to maybe think that one through a little bit.”
Each of McDavid, teammate Darnell Nurse, and head coach Dave Tippett went to great lengths to credit Calgary for being the better team, and to try to say that there are no excuses for a loss. Especially a 5-0 loss.
“You can’t say it enough,” McDavid said.
If they won’t say it, we will. I wrote the memorial here. It was gut-wrenching.
“A big group of us watched it at the hotel,” Nurse said. “It was an emotional day. No excuses. We wanted to build off it and have a good night for Caver, and we didn’t.”
Talk to Nurse a month from now and he’ll look back on this night the way one recalls a 2-iron through the trees, over the water to a hidden flag. You wonder why you even bothered to try?
“Nope, I haven’t been through something like that,” Nurse admitted, when asked for a comparable. “You watch that ceremony this morning and play at night…. Nope. I’ve never done that before. It was tough, for sure, but we’ve got to show up a little better.”
Goalie Mike Smith was average -- for the first time in ages -- and the Flames walked off with an easy two points. Calgary hadn’t played since Monday and had lost eight of nine. They were ready for a win and didn’t waste this opportunity.
“They had energy, we didn’t,” said Tippett. “You hope your team pushes through things, and finds new levels. And you can never use excuses. But, there are times when you can tell your team just doesn’t have it. That there’s just not enough energy in the group.”
Edmonton does not play until back-to-back games Friday and Saturday. They hit Monday’s Trade Deadline firmly in a playoff spot, and in the post-game dressing room Tippett had a short chat with his players about the 14 remaining games, and one final push to improve into a team that can do damage in the playoffs.
“Everybody is (off) for two days,” he said. “We’ve got 14 games left, and we’ve got to continue to improve our game.
“This game tonight?” he said. “As the old saying goes, we’ll burn that tape.”
Pain In The App
The game began with a pair of delays, as the officials and both head coaches discussed what appeared to be an issue with the lineup submitted by Tippett.
So, what happened?
Well, at the beginning of the season the league introduced a virtual game lineup app. Every so often, that app fails to update in a timely fashion when players are added to the lineup after warmup. On Saturday Tippett added two players to his game night lineup after Edmonton’s pregame warmup, but the app had not updated when the Flames received Edmonton’s “official” lineup.
Before the puck was dropped, Tippett notified the on-ice officials that there was an issue with the app, and that his lineup at puck drop was not the same as what had been given to Calgary. In the end, the app was found to be the culprit -- not Tippett and his staff -- and the game went on with no penalties issued.