"It was awesome."
Hearing those words in the Edmonton Oilers dressing room made me think that maybe, just maybe, I was in the wrong room Wednesday night. I mean the Oilers had just lost a one goal game to lose a series by one game. Not what you would expect to hear. It was Leon Draisaitl who said it. The German could have been talking about his season. He could have been talking about his playoffs but he was talking about both for the Edmonton Oilers.
It's hard to describe a feel. You take what you see, you take what you hear and you combine it together and get a sense of your surroundings. I wasn't sure what the Edmonton Oilers dressing room would be like about 10 minutes after their Stanley Cup hopes were dashed by the Ducks of Anaheim. Upon arrival you could see ice bags, and a lot of them, strewn on the floor, sitting in stalls or attached to moving body parts. There were players sitting in their spots staring straight ahead. Some shuffling of equipment being put away to be packed for a last time this season. There was also an air of disappointment floating around the room. Players too tired or too beat up or both. No body contact just eye contact. It was enough to see the pain of a playoff departure.
Yet through the midst of coming to terms with a season coming to a close there was a sense of accomplishment. No smiles to accompany it. Not the right time or place. It was more an underlying theme worded by the hockey warriors who proudly wore the orange of Edmonton in the last month. Through the scraggly and somewhat unruly beards came more and more words of wanting to look on the bright side.
"I'm proud as hell to be part of this team," explained Cam Talbot.
Video: SJS@EDM, Gm5: Talbot makes sequence of clutch saves
He may have looked the worst or felt the worst about what had been lost at the Honda Center. He sat slumped in his stall while activity surrounded him. In his own world in some ways but in others knowing he had a team right there beside him.
Built by Peter Chiarelli, mentored by Todd McLellan. Two men who often sit on flights, side by side, and now together on the same side they spearheaded a reversal of fortune. It was nothing short of amazing the turnaround this team made in one season. From 29th to almost 4th or higher in the League. As a result, the love affair was back on between the squad and its supporters. It never ceased to amaze me the volume of fans and their passionate nature at home and on the road. They were captured by the moments provided by their team. It was wonderful to see. All part of the rejuvenation of a franchise which has catapulted itself back into the upper echelon of the NHL.
A place which used to feel like a divine right has now been earned again.
The Edmonton Oilers have the makings of a team that can and will be competitive for a long time. The playoffs a road map on how to achieve the success of a journey which ends with a Stanley Cup. They haven't yet arrived but they can see their final destination.
I found it ironic and meaningful that Connor McDavid stood in the exact same spot after Game 7 as he did after Game 5 and said the same thing: "We'll be back."
He was right the first time and he'll be right the second time. What happened to the Edmonton Oilers this season and in these playoffs wasn't the end, it's just the beginning.