On Thursday night, Edmonton will host Toronto.
All Canadian matchups always bring with them a special feeling and a vibe different from cross-border clashes on the ice. It's just the way it is. You end up in an arena where if you don't see who scored you can't just tell from the crowd reaction. There's the hometown fans and the long-time fans of the visitors. I see it when Edmonton visits the six other Canadian cities with NHL teams and you'll see it in game two of the Oilers two-game homestand when the Leafs drop by for a visit.
What makes the meetings between the current edition of these respected and storied franchises extra special are the two players at the centre of this rivalry Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews. What Connor is to Edmonton, Auston is to Toronto. To look at them you can see a lot of similarities. Young, talented saviours expected to lead their teams and cities to the Stanley Cup - let alone the fact both are also recognizable as NHL poster boys. They are the youngest of those handed the reins to take over once Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and a few others skate off into the sunset.
What is expected of them is so similar but where they came from is so different. Connor from a hockey hotbed where people eat, breathe and devour every detail of the game. Auston from a landscape where the game was deep down the sporting importance list. One Canadian. One American. One a passer. The other a shooter. They are becoming the modern day version of Crosby and Ovechkin. Number one picks drafted closer together but growing up in the shadows of each other. Once teamates with Team North America but always rivals on their respective NHL teams. List these two as players people pay to go see and both have delivered.
In Las Vegas last June, while the Golden Knights were announcing their team, McDavid and Matthews were further announcing themselves to the hockey world - Connor cleaning up in the awards department, embracing the title as the best player in the game(individually speaking) with his haul of hockey hardware after a 100 point season. Matthews more understated with one tropy but an eye popping 40 goals for a rookie. Numbers each expect to add to as the seasons progress and so do their teams.
There are certain games on the calendar that are circled in orange if your Edmonton and blue if your Toronto. Thursday night's would be one of them. The atmosphere in the building will be bursting. It will feel like May or June even though it's the end of November.
We can thank the rabid followers of their respective teams and two kids from opposite sides of the border. Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews. Each looking to lead their teams back to the playoffs and for another chance at a Cup. I can hardly wait to see two of the league's One-derful talents.