Connor McDavid a magnet for Oilers fans who flocked to Penticton for Young Stars Classic

 

 
 
 
 
Caleb Syvenky of Kelowna gets an autograph from Connor McDavid after practice at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton.
 
 

Caleb Syvenky of Kelowna gets an autograph from Connor McDavid after practice at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton.

Photograph by: Shaughn Butts, Edmonton Journal

Penticton, B.C. — Second-grader Caleb Syvenky took a day off school in Kelowna, B.C., to see Connor McDavid practise last Friday morning and scored the first autograph McDavid handed out at the Young Stars Classic.

“When I was seven years old, Wayne (Gretzky) moved to Edmonton and I was so excited,” said Greg Syvenky, a party magician who grew up in Sherwood Park and adored Gretzky when he was the same age as his boy.

“Now my son’s seven and Connor McDavid’s moving to the Oilers and I hoping his childhood will be as great as mine was,” said Syvenky. “We’ve come to this tournament since Caleb was two years old and he met Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle and we’re excited to be here this time … more than any other year because of Connor.”

The Syvenkys were part of the large Oilers following at the South Okanagan Events Centre for the four-day tournament with McDavid and the Oilers’ prospects, along with those from the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets.

Unfortunately, they only got to see McDavid play one of the three games, the first one against the Canucks.

With the building awash with McDavid No. 97 jerseys on Friday, he had a goal and an assist in the Oilers 8-2 win over the Canucks.

Oilers rookie Connor McDavid skates by some fans during the pre-game skate pm Sept. 11, 2015, at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton, B.C.

Then he was a healthy scratch against the Flames rookies Saturday and he won’t play against Winnipeg Monday afternoon — a management decision to save him for the annual Oiler rookies-University of Alberta Golden Bears match at Rexall Place Wednesday.

The crowd of McDavid followers at the Young Stars tournament included 31 people from Edmonton and northern Alberta on a New West Travel excursion. The $1,400 per person package included five tournament games (all three Oilers contests, the Calgary-Winnipeg game Friday and a Vancouver-Winnipeg game Sunday afternoon), travel, hotel and two receptions with Oilers’ radio colour commentator Bob Stauffer and assorted drop-in guests.

They only got to see McDavid play once, but did get to meet him.

“I got a handshake, and a picture and he autographed my jersey at the reception. I’m never washing this jersey now,” said Doug Ruether, who works for Chemco.

“One of the fellows on this trip said he had a guy who would pay 100 times what the jersey cost because of the autograph but to me it’s priceless. I wouldn’t sell this unless I was starving and crawling down a dirt road.”

Ruether was gung-ho to travel to see Penticton to see McDavid play in his first pro game, even if it wasn’t against experienced NHLers.

“We’re so blessed as an organization to have had Gretzky, and now McDavid, who might be the second coming,” Ruether said. “Lots of teams never ever get one player like this. When I was watching the lottery on TV, there was lots of pinching and back-flipping going on around our house. It seemed the longest-shot ever to get him. You talk about the hockey gods.

“As a team, we’re relevant again,” said Ruether.

New West Travel owner Dennis Laliberte said his company advertised the Young Stars trip as soon as the Oilers won the lottery in April. There was just one catch: “We couldn’t say, ‘Come and watch Connor McDavid’ because they hadn’t taken him in the June draft yet,” said Laliberte, who will also have an Oilers tour to Toronto and Pittsburgh this winter.

“We could have more than 31 people, but hotel rooms were so hard to get with a jazz festival and a boat race and a wine festival,” he said.

Oilers fans on the New West trip included Rocky and Wendy Latimer from Lloydminster.

“Hey, it’s Connor McDavid. It’s all the hype. It’s his first game. He’s not injured. Nobody’s run him through the boards yet,” said Rocky, a retired postal employee, clearly pumped to see the star rookie Friday.

Rocky spoke too soon because McDavid did get drilled into the boards by Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen early in Friday night’s game, but he dusted himself off and kept playing.

Rocky Latimer of Edmonton, second from left, sits among friends and family from Edmonton to watch of the Edmonton Oiler prospects at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton, B.C.

“He got hit but he didn’t get broke…he just got up and kept on going,” said Ruether.

“What I noticed right away,” said Jack Lutz, also part of the travelling troupe, “was how the puck just follows him around the ice. Yeah, like Gretzky. It’s hard to explain. How do they know where the puck is going to be?”

With McDavid in a No. 97 Oilers jersey, the Oilers fans were loud and proud in Penticton.

“He’s going to be the most marketable player, we’ve seen the way social media is. He’s a phenomenal player and phenomenal person,” said Mitch Dul, who has travelled to all five of the Young Stars’ tournaments and witnessed quite a few Oilers jerseys in the crowd when Hall, Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi were on the same team.

Nothing like the hoopla this year, though.

“The other times you could order tickets online for the tournament and it was no trouble, at all. Not this year. You see the building and it’s half full of Oilers jerseys,” he said

“Every time McDavid’s on the ice, you’re glued to the edge of your seat wondering what he’s going to do next,” said Dul, who moves houses for a living, but in his off-work hours is a hard-core Oilers’ fan. “I’m 38 years old and I’ve been watching them since I was 10.

“This is fun right now.”

jmatheson@edmontonjournal.com

Twitter.com/nhlbymatty

 
 
 
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Caleb Syvenky of Kelowna gets an autograph from Connor McDavid after practice at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton.
 

Caleb Syvenky of Kelowna gets an autograph from Connor McDavid after practice at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton.

Photograph by: Shaughn Butts, Edmonton Journal

 
Caleb Syvenky of Kelowna gets an autograph from Connor McDavid after practice at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton.
Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers during the pre-game skate at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton.
Rocky Latimer of Edmonton, second from left, sits among friends and family from Edmonton to watch of the Edmonton Oiler prospects  at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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