Connor Brown snakebit? Yes. Fighting injury? Yes. Fan favorite? Suddenly, definitely

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I’m online plenty, reading this and that about the Edmonton Oilers, and from that experience I had assumed that a large faction of Edmonton fans disliked Connor Brown.

I could not be more incorrect.

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Yes, a vocal group of fans on social media has been on Brown’s case. They argued that GM Ken Holland should never have played him in ten games, and thus denied him his $3.25 million bonus payment for, essentially, proving he had recovered enough from major knee surgery to make it back to the NHL on the Oilers this season.

These same fans pushed repeatedly for Brown to be benched or sent down to the minors.

Three weeks ago, with Brown still not having scored, I wrote a post defending Brown but noted that most fans of the Edmonton Oilers no longer believed that Brown could help the team come playoff time.

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All the negativity made me feel a bit sheepish about rooting for the guy. But I admired his obvious effort and still hoped he’d score his first goal, then more goals.

Like most fans, I was frustrated and bit perplexed with his lack of scoring. He seemed like good old Charlie Brown, forever running up to kick that football only to have Lucy pull it away.

But I was OK with good, old Connor Brown. I still thought the signing would likely work out and that Brown would get his game together for the playoffs. I was glad when Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch stood up for the player in a Feb. 20 interview, saying on Oilers Now: “Connor has been a really good player for this team… It’s been very unfortunate that he doesn’t have more goals and assists than he does.”

When it came to benching Brown the odd game, Knoblauch said, “I think this is just a little reset for him. And he’s going to be a big part of this team moving forward.”

Then came Wednesday night’s 7-2 win over Washington, Brown’s first goal of the season, and one of the most heart-warming moments in Edmonton Oilers history, the crowd at our downtown arena rising as one and giving a seemingly endless ovation to Brown.

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Around the hockey world, folks noticed, including Hockey Night in Canada’s Craig Simpson, a former Oilers playoff hero: “Bravo to Oilers fans for your celebration for Connor Brown. Love it.”
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And broadcaster P.K. Subban on X-Twitter: “MAD RESPECT TO THE Edmonton Oilers fans!! what an awesome place to play! & awesome moment for Conner Brown.”

And commentator Paul Bissonnette: “Awesome scene in Edmonton for Connor Brown. First NHL goal since 2022 gets a standing O.”

The Cult’s Bruce McCurdy was at the game and tweeted out: “Incredible ovation for Connor Brown, wow, I got chills.”

“That was as good a moment as you’re going to find, a heart-warming moment,” said long-time TV hockey producer John Shannon on Oilers Now. “To see the reaction of the Edmonton fans to the moment, if I was to give the team any advice, if you’re sending a link to a free agent this summer about why to come to Edmonton, send them that moment. Send them that moment to let them know the fans appreciate hard work and the honest player.”

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It turns out Brown was more of a fan favorite than with me alone. It turns out a lot of us had noticed his unending hustle.

It’s also clear now that Brown has been dealing with a bit more than most of us realized.

The NHL and the Oilers are secretive about injuries but Brown missed two weeks of play early in the season with an injury. There was also the ongoing rehab and recovery from his surgery for a torn ACL.

Shannon pointed out that people don’t realize how long it takes to come back from the kind of injury Brown had: “In talking to him when I was there ten days ago, he only really felt comfortable after Christmas. Even now I suspect there’s lingering pain, nagging pain in certain scenarios, but at least he feels confident enough now in the knee that he can do anything he wants.”

In a short post-game interview with Gene Principe after the big goal, Brown said a bit more about his health status. “It’s been a challenging year with injuries but I am feeling great again physically… It’s good to be feeling good at the right time of year.”

He also mentioned three times that he’d been “snakebit” when it comes to putting up points.

There’s some truth to this notion. Brown has launched 38 Grade A shots at net this season. Those shots usually go in about 25 per cent of the time.

On that kind of shot quality, it would be reasonable to expect about seven or eight goals by now, not just one.

But one is better than none.

One is a start.

We’ll see how Brown finishes. I’m still expecting big things from him in the playoffs.

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