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NEXT CHAPTER

BY CHRIS WESCOTT

"Another Checkmark."

A smiling Kelly McDavid expressed her happiness, her relief and her pride at her son's signing of an eight-year contract extension with the Edmonton Oilers.

When you think about it, this day has been written in the stars for quite some time.

Connor McDavid has dedicated his entire life to the sport of hockey. Not just playing it but being exceptional at it.

At the age of six, McDavid walked into a room in his Newmarket, ON, home to tell his parents he'd be leaving them.

"I turned to him and said, 'oh my gosh, you don't want to leave your mom!'

"He looked me right in the eyes and said, 'are your gonna stop me?'"

Kelly had to pause.

"I looked at him and said, 'well, maybe.'

"That's when I sort of realized, at that moment, he was serious."

McDavid was revealing to his mother his intention to leave home at the age of 14. He was planning to attend Shattuck St. Mary's Boarding School in Fairbault, MN - more than 1,500 kilometres away from his parents - to hone his hockey skills as Sidney Crosby did before him. He also intended on being granted exceptional player status by the Ontario Hockey League.

The six-year-old's to-do list did not end there.

He told his parents he'd be selected first overall in the NHL Draft and he declared his name would one day be etched amongst those in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

His father Brian saw there was little they could do to stop their son from achieving his dreams - and why would they ever want to?

"He had it all figured out when he was about six," said Brian.

Flash forward to today and the signing is not only an accomplishment of one task, but it's the next step toward many others.

"It kind of feels like it's just another step in his journey as a hockey player leading to Stanley Cups and that sort of thing because that's been his dream, his goal his whole life. He's had this thing mapped out his whole life that he was going to leave home at 14 and get exceptional player status and go first overall in the OHL and then NHL Draft," said Brian.

"In my mind, the script has been written a long time, it's just another one of those other steps along the way."

Brian and Kelly always knew their son had a certain "it" factor and a high level of passion for the sport. All they did was fan the flames of that dream, allowing their son every opportunity to pursue it.

"I think we've always approached that stuff with our kids as anything is possible if you work hard at it," said Brian. "That's the kind of message that's been delivered to them throughout when they were young. Hard work - I won't say trumps everything, but it can get you a long way in life. Those are the messages we delivered and we didn't want to crush his dreams."

McDavid spent the next years of his life pursuing his dream. He strengthened his body and mind, tweaked his fundamentals and skill, and sought perfection. While most children would insist on ice cream, chicken nuggets and pizza, McDavid would watch his diet, paying close attention to the labels on his food.

"I would say he was a pretty intense kid," said Kelly.

Brian recalled his son turning down cake and ice cream at family birthday parties because he'd have a game the next day.

The McDavid household was no stranger to the loud noises coming from the garage when their sons were hammering away on their hockey training.

The elder Cameron and younger Connor would take their father's advice of shooting a minimum of 100 pucks a day, every day, and they'd put it to use.

The outside of the wall was brick, but the inside was drywall. After taking a rather thorough beating from the relentless training of the boys, Brian reinforced it with plywood.

As a bit of a joke, Brian challenged his boys to break through the protective layer - promising he'd personally get them an NHL tryout if they could.

"It was me being tongue-in-cheek but them being young, and I don't think they were ever as naive as I thought they were," said Brian. "They said, 'OK, yeah. No problem!' And they'd go out there and shoot pucks."

The plywood didn't stand a chance.

When he wasn't trying to destroy the side of his childhood home, McDavid would invent new training exercises using paint cans and old sticks to practice handling the puck. He'd build out obstacle courses and run them over and over again, demanding his mother time him.

"I'd go out there and say, 'OK, that's like 10 seconds.'

"Then I'd have to go back in. I'd be making dinner or doing something and he'd yell, 'Time me again! Time me again!'"

Kelly would once again abandon dinner for her son, timing his run over and over.

"He'd get nine seconds, or whatever the amount was. He just always wanted to be better," she said.

Connor, still just a young boy, recorded his times. His commitment to bettering himself would lead to even bigger expectations that have never and will never be matched by any outside source.

"I said at one point, I wish I could fast forward to see what was eventually going to happen because we were going through so much and Connor sacrificed so much," said Kelly. "He left home when he was 15 and went to Erie, PA, so for me, this is just a huge relief, a huge feeling of pride."

McDavid is grown now. He turns 21 in January, and - while still young - he has already accomplished much of what he set out to do at the age of six.

McDavid did leave his home, was granted exceptional status, played junior hockey for the Erie Otters in the OHL, represented Team Canada internationally at World Juniors, was taken first overall in the NHL Draft, became captain of an NHL team, led the NHL in scoring, and won the Art Ross, Hart Memorial and Ted Lindsay Trophies.

On Wednesday, he signed an eight-year contract extension with the Edmonton Oilers, continuing his responsibilities as an ambassador for the sport, the city and the franchise.

As he looks ahead to the next nine years of his life - all dedicated to Edmonton - McDavid expects great things.

"I'm hoping for a lot of the same of what we had last year," McDavid said. "It's a fun group to be a part of; winning, in the playoffs, very competitive and competing for the Stanley Cup. That's what I envision here for the next nine years."

Like he did for his entire life up to this moment, McDavid has it all mapped out.

When asked two years ago, as a rookie, what he'd want to be known and remembered for 40 years from now, McDavid did not mention the accolades or personal achievements. And although he has wanted a Hall of Fame career since he was firing pucks at his family's garage wall, it's not about the individual recognition.

"I want to be known for being a winner. I think that's the main thing," said McDavid. "It doesn't really matter how many points you had. If you're a part of winning teams, that's the kind of thing you want to leave behind. You being a winner and being a good guy, just being someone that worked hard and was a true professional."

The Oilers are back to their winning ways and McDavid is a big part of that. As captain, he'll continue to try and lead the Oilers to where all of their players, staff and fans want them to be - hoisting the Stanley Cup high, as McDavid pretended to do in his family's basement years ago.

It's no longer pretend, his career is no longer an unfulfilled childhood dream and for years to come the next chapters and successes will be accomplished in a number 97 Oilers jersey with the "C" stitched on the chest.