Friday, September 30, 2011

too much too soon?

This week, my husband and I attended our first Edmonton Oilers hockey game of the year. It was only a pre-season game, but it still gave us glimpse at what this year's team might look like.

And I have to say - I am cautiously optimistic.

The goal of the team, this year, is to make it to the Playoffs (which we have only done twice in the last 8 years), and I think we just might have a chance (though I do say that at the start of every season).

We have a core of gritty veterans showing the ropes to a group of promising young upstarts; it was watching these new NHL hopefuls skate around the ice to the (already near-crazed) roar of the crowd that got me thinking...are these kids ready for what's about to happen to them?

I know that kids that are involved in any kind of sport dream of one day making the pros, they imagine scoring the winning goal in a clutch game, they can hear the fans cheering, they plan on how they will spend their money.

But when it actually happens, how can they be ready?

In Edmonton, the expectations of the fans, the media, and the city are immense. Especially since the team has been doing so poorly for so many years - all eyes are on these kids to save, not only the team, but all of us.

How is it possible to prepare yourself for that kind of pressure?

These kids are just that - kids. They are in their late teens and early 20s and come into this club with no experience in the NHL. And just like that, thousands of fans pin all of our unrequited hopes and dreams of the past years square onto their backs, egged on by the never ending chatter of the media.

Last year, our #1 draft pick, Taylor Hall, took 8 games to score his first NHL goal. 8 games. And for those 8 games the city of Edmonton held its collective breath.

Maybe he wasn't ready. Maybe we should have drafted the centre instead. Maybe we should change up his line-mates.

The mood in the city got darker, and the criticisms got harsher and people started getting twitchy. And then, 8 games into the season, he scored his first goal and everyone breathed a sigh of relief, celebrated and he was the hero once again. And then the cycle started over again until he scored his second goal. And his third...

He was 19.

And now its starting over again with our new #1 draft pick this year - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. This kid is only 18, and by the cheer of the crowd at the game when he was introduced, much is expected of him.

The initial "talk" was that he was too young, that he wasn't quite skilled/tough/fast enough to play in the NHL this year. The plan was that he would take another year to prepare for the pros. But the performance we saw on Tuesday night - he scored a goal and got 2 assists on a line with Hall and our other hope-for-the-future, Jordan Eberle - its looking more likely that he will join the Oilers at the start of the season.

I hope he's ready.

But, then again, Wayne Gretzky was only 17 when he started with the Oilers, and I guess he turned out alright.

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