McDavid looking ready for Heritage Classic comeback

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That’s as good as you were going to get from the Edmonton Oilers Saturday regarding Connor McDavid’s status for Sunday’s Heritage Classic, but all signs point to the captain’s return.

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He took a full practice at Commonwealth Stadium, skating on a line Warren Foegele and Leon Drasiaitl, and looked pretty good doing it.

“It’s feeling good, I’ve made a lot of progress and felt really good today in practice,” said McDavid, who missed the last two games with an upper body injury. “All good signs.

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“Our training staff here is amazing. They’ve been working hard at it all week. I feel like it’s in a really good place.”

The stakes are high and the stage is massive, but McDavid said he isn’t rushing anything because the Oilers are 1-5-1 and this is one of the NHL’s biggest showcases. He says it’s more about competitive spirit and a desire to just get out there and play, no matter where they drop the puck.

“I hate missing games, period,” he said. “Whether this game was played indoors or outdoors it would be something I was pushing for. As athletes, your availability to the team and being able to play is very important, it’s your job. It’s something I take very seriously. Being available is important to me.”

Head coach Jay Woodcroft, who doesn’t even like telling you who his starting goaltender is for a pre-season game, came as close to tipping off the media as you’re ever going to see from him.

“I thought it was a good sign that he practised in a full skate today,” said Woodcroft. “We’ll see, but he looked pretty good to me. I thought today was a good day.”

Connor McDavid (97) and teammates stretch prior to the Edmonton Oilers practice at Commonwealth Stadium in preparation for tomorrows outdoor Heritage Classic game against the Calgary Flames. Taken on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023 in Edmonton. Photo by Greg Southam /Postmedia

What does it mean to the Oilers to have McDavid back is an obvious question, but it’s one they are glad they get to answer.

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“I don’t know if he’s playing or not, I can’t give you that answer,” said Leon Draisaitl. “But if he’s playing he’s the best player in the world. He’s going to give us something that you can’t replace. If he’s in, we’re obviously very excited.”

One thing is for certain, the atmosphere around the stadium Saturday — the Oilers practised and then had a family skate before the Flames took the ice at 6:30 p.m. and did the same thing — is a breath of fresh air. Literally.

They all say that this is a welcome distraction. Instead of answering questions about the roof falling in, it’s all about playing when there is no roof. 

“We know it hasn’t been a good start and things haven’t gone well,” said McDavid. “It seems like whatever could go wrong has gone wrong and we’re going to change that tomorrow. This is a way for our group to come together in a unique situation, kind of a fun environment with lots of families around.

“I enjoyed that a lot, having my dad out there today was something special, something that he’ll remember for a long time. Seeing the smiling families, the kids, the babies, it’s a great thing.”

Draisaitl echoed those sentiments.

“For a lot of guys this is a once or twice a lifetime thing, so try to enjoy it as much as you can,” he said. “I thought it was a good day for us. It’s a really really special event and special to be a part of.”

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Connor McDavid (97) walks toward the ice surface at Commonwealth Stadium
Connor McDavid (97) walks of the ice after a team practice at Commonwealth Stadium in preparation for tomorrows outdoor Heritage Classic game against the Calgary Flames. Taken on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023 in Edmonton. Greg Southam-Postmedia Photo by Greg Southam /Postmedia

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