TEMPE – On Sept. 10, 2016, a young Texas Tech quarterback threw for five touchdowns, ran for another and racked up 540 passing yards at Sun Devil Stadium, dissecting Arizona State’s defense.
Despite that performance, Texas Tech lost in a shootout. That young quarterback hasn’t lost much since. His name is Patrick Mahomes.
Little did folks in the stadium that day realize they were watching a generational talent, a quarterback who would go on to win NFL MVP awards and Super Bowl rings.
A similar scenario played out just steps away from Sun Devil Stadium Monday night when Edmonton Oilers centerman Connor McDavid took the ice against the Arizona Coyotes at Mullett Arena on the Arizona State campus.
McDavid is considered by many the greatest hockey player of this generation, producing don’t-miss highlights on a daily basis, whether it’s using his blazing speed on the ice to maneuver through defenses or delivering crisp passes to set up teammates for easy scoring opportunities.
“He’s pretty much a cheat code,” said Marc Savard, an Oilers fan from Las Vegas who drove down for the game. “He’s leading the points race by 26 points over the second place player. The bottom line is that, he is just far and above better than anybody else. So to see him do these things, at a close viewpoint, kind of shows you exactly what he has for skills and how fast he is.”
McDavid currently leads the NHL with 140 points, including 60 goals. He’s on pace to win his third Hart Trophy, awarded to the league’s Most Valuable Player, and his fifth Art Ross Trophy, given to the league’s points leader each season.
The last players to reach the milestone of 140 points or more were Jaromir Jagar (149) and Mario Lemieux (161) in 1996.
“Well, 140 points is already impressive as it is, and I don’t think he has any point in spotting over the next nine games,” said Cody Hafso, an Oilers fan from Viking, Alberta. “He’s going to set a modern day generational record, and it won’t be touched for quite a while. He’s miles ahead of the closest competitor.”
Witnessing a talent like McDavid on display in a typical NHL arena is worth more than the cost of a ticket, but to see him in the intimate setting of a 5,000-seat rink is an experience like no other – contradicting the criticism the temporary home of the Coyotes has received by some.
“You can go down and see him behind that glass panel,” Hafso said. “You are basically within talking distance of him. You can see every time he changes his eyesight, where he is looking, where he is going. You can hear what he is saying. It’s just a whole ‘nother experience here.”
Not to mention, the arena’s location gives Arizona State students a unique chance to watch a legend in action just a short walk from their dorms.
“This arena, I think, is really cool,” said Mo Rishi, an ASU student who attended the game. “It might be a little small, but I think it’s really nice. Just being able to watch hockey like a minute away from your dorm and watch ‘McJesus’ play is pretty amazing.”
Louie DeBrusk, the Oilers’ broadcast analyst on SpotsNet in Canada, gets a front-row seat to the greatest show hockey has to offer on a nightly basis in hockey buildings across two countries.
The former Oilers and Coyotes player likes the intimate feel of Mullett.
“It’s a really unique experience because you’re so close to the ice,” DeBrusk said. “Being in a booth this close just gives it a whole different dimension. If you look at the roof height in a normal building in the National Hockey League, it’s got to be three times the height of Mullett Arena. So it gives you the impression that you’re in a rink you used to play in when you were younger.”
While the Oilers were on the road Monday, it felt almost like a home game with a sea of orange and blue Oiler sweaters throughout the arena.
Oilers faithful embraced one another once at the game, singing “O Canada” in unison when the Canadian National Anthem was played, and a roar echoed across the arena every time Edomonton scored one of its five goals in a 5-4 Oilers victory.
“I think that goes along with the climate up in Edmonton, everybody’s always looking for a holiday,” Hafso said. “Everybody’s so passionate about the Oilers that it allows for an easy excuse to go to different locations if your favorite team and favorite players are there.”
Oiler fans are passionate about their hockey team and Savard and Hafso are no exception. The two have followed the team around the league, traveling from city to city.
“I like to follow the Oilers,” Savard said. “It’s taken me almost 20 years, but I’ve been to every single arena but two. Prior to this arena, it was three. So now I’ve just knocked this one off.”
McDavid is skating on the same path as Wayne Gretzky, the former Oilers superstar and the NHL’s all-time points leader, who is widely considered the greatest hockey player of all time.
While there’s still work to be done to dethrone Gretzky as “The Great One,” those who have had a chance to watch both players play in person can see the same greatness in McDavid.
“I grew up in Edmonton and watched Gretzky and Messier and all the great hockey players of that time. I mean, McDavid is skill-wise, just as good as any of those guys.” said Ryan Mcclelland, an Oregon native and Oilers fan who was at Monday’s game. “His speed and puck handling is unparalleled in terms of what I’ve seen in 45 years of watching hockey, so it’s pretty amazing.’’