|Head Coach Tom Renney (Photo by Andy Devlin / EOHC).
A thousand thoughts fill my head today as we get ready for the Oilers to play in St. Louis. Jordan Eberle
is back, Devan Dubnyk
gets another start in net, the Blues are in a freefall in the West...all storylines that we'll tackle on the Oilers Radio Network broadcast tonight. But, in this space today, none of that seems to be of critical importance. Let me explain.
Life is good in the National Hockey League. It's a tremendous privilege to be a player, coach, broadcaster or anyone else that makes a living within our great game.
But, it's also important to keep in mind that we're not exactly living life and death on a day-to-day basis. It, like other professional sports, exists in a sheltered bubble that doesn't normally play by the rules of real life. Doctors, teachers and social workers vs. penalty killing, face off percentage and line combinations.
Pretty stark contrast, right? What the NHL does is important, too, of course. It provides an entertainment value and escape for the consumer to enjoy something outside of their normal routine.
Every so often, though, something happens that bursts the bubble and reminds us that in the grand scheme of things, there's more to life than professional hockey. The Oilers are experiencing such a time right now following the passing of Tom Renney's father Joe. I'll leave it to Tom to talk publicly about this if he sees fit, but I can tell you that he's had an ongoing dialogue with his players about this.
His father's illness has been something that Tom has dealt with all season; it went unreported, but Tom left the team for a couple of days just prior to the regular season to spend some time with his father. As I understand it, the players are well acquianted with the type of man Joe was and what his life accomplishments were.
"He spoke a lot to the team about his father Joe and was very proud of what he had done in his life, and his values and principles," associate coach Ralph Krueger told me yesterday. "That's kind of been part of his conversation since the fall and I think it's very important that the team understands what a great man Tom's father was and what that meant to Tom."
"It brings back the reality of how much we should enjoy our situation here," Krueger continued. "We're alive, we're playing the game that we all love, the best game on the planet. As much pain as there is here for everybody, especially Tom, you get the lesson to enjoy the day and to work hard and to be very grateful to be working in a profession that we all want to be in."
It was a phenomenal few seconds of context from Krueger, and a powerful message. The Oilers woke up this morning and saw themselves in 30th place in the NHL standings. Important? Yes. It's what they do for a living. But, at the end of the day, the players and coaches are just like you and I. They all have family, friends and a life outside of the game that means so much more. The group will rally behind Tom and his family with overwhelming support, together taking one of the more meaningful steps on their journey as a team.
Tom will be behind the bench for the team tonight, as he was on Wednesday after learning the news. My thoughts and prayers will be with Tom and his family as they cope with a difficult loss and celebrate a life well lived, and I know the rest of Oil Country will echo that sentiment.