When Connor McDavid scored his first goal of the season, there was reason enough to be excited.
The play was vintage 97 when he shot between Vancouver Canucks defenders Quinn Hughes and Chris Tanev before shooting a shot over Jacob Markstrom's blocker and under the crossbar. The record broke a 2-2 draw and came with just over five minutes remaining in the third period of a competition that was Edmonton's first game in the new campaign and kicked off at home.
A summer-long rehabilitation process also followed, in which McDavid had to heal an injury to his left knee in the last game of the 2018-19 season when he crashed against the post in a competition against the Calgary Flames.
With all this in mind, it seemed natural to see McDavid fall on one knee and trigger a couple of angry fist pumps. His father Brian felt a little more mustard at this special festival.
"There was another level on this," says Brian McDavid.
That's because Connor McDavid – unknown to most viewers in the building and across the country – almost missed this season of NHL hockey, like a one-hour documentary entitled "Whatever It Takes" revealed on Friday night at Sportsnet. In it, McDavid and his inner circle – including his parents, girlfriend and medical professionals – speak openly about the extent of an injury that initially raised genuine concerns about his long-term future in the game.
Fortunately, McDavid is right where he should be, leading the NHL during the break. It is a happy ending to a chapter in his career that he will never forget. Here are some of the aspects that shouldn't be missing in this story.
It takes a lot, but it is possible to rattle Connor McDavid
Despite the fact that he plays a faster game than anyone else in hockey history, McDavid always seems to be in control. On the ice, he is the one who dictates the action. It is measured in the changing room and economical compared to microphones.
Even immediately after his injury, we saw McDavid calmly saying the words "It's broken" to the group of teammates, coaches, and opponents crowding around him. However, when he was out of sight and limping down the hall, McDavid was undone.
"I held it together until we got through the tunnel, and [then] I was a mess," he says in the document.
You wouldn't expect anything else from an athlete in this position. Still, it was disturbing to hear how desperate McDavid was as he processed what had happened and what might happen next
One of the doctors consulted said McDavid surgery was the right way to go, the recovery period would be over a year, and even then there was no guarantee that his knee would be exactly as it was before he was cruciate ligament had completely torn the posterior part, tore the medial and lateral meniscus, tore open the poplite muscle, tore the posterior capsule and suffered a tibial plateau fracture.
Oh, and the sooner you have this surgery, the better.
"I have to make this decision at 10pm [years old] and I have to make it in 24 hours," says McDavid.
Maybe the next step was not obvious for the first time in his life.
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Squeeze; Release; Repeat
Since his operation was already scheduled, McDavid obtained an opinion before being scrutinized. This doctor suggested that the scalpel be avoided in order to develop a pioneering, multi-layered rehab program. McDavid felt that it wouldn't hurt to try.
The film describes the meticulous steps McDavid took when he worked ten hours a day, seven days a week to heal his body. Initially, he spent two hours a day in a hyperbaric chamber doing the one tiny exercise he was released for.
"I would be in [the chamber] and tense my quad muscle for 10 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and keep doing that to save the muscle," says McDavid.
When McDavid was finally allowed to strain the knee, he spent so much time in the pool that his skin is probably still wrinkled. For a while he didn't know if the work would be in vain and surgery would be required. But the hours of careful and varied rehabilitation started to pay off when the PCL fibers reattached.
Someone knows how to keep a secret
Every time the game's leading star suddenly becomes concerned about the risk of career derailment, you might think it's on everyone's lips and circling the hockey world rapidly. Somehow, McDavid's team managed to keep the deep details of this injury under wraps – even from high-profile hires.
When Ken Holland spoke to Oilers Chairman Bob Nicholson last summer about the possibility of filling the vacant General Manager's office, he was rightly curious to see how the franchise's founding player had recovered from his injury.
“I gave him information; I didn't give him all of the information, "Nicholson said." We [the Oilers] really talked about it, hey, we have to keep it as close as possible. There were a lot of people poking around trying to get more information and we just clamped it down. "
Holland admitted that he only really understood the full extent of things after he put the pen on paper. Now we know everything. And that makes what McDavid is doing this season even more remarkable.