SASKATOON – Hockey fans in Saskatoon got a first-hand look at Connor McDavid Saturday. But it was also a homecoming for a select bunch during the NHL pre-season game.
The Edmonton Oilers shut out the Wild Minnesota 3-0 at SaskTel Centre. Involved in the action was a bunch of individuals who grew up not too far from the rink.
One of those athletes is Eric Gryba. The defenceman is new to the Oilers defence this season but Saturday’s game had special meaning for him.
“It was a special time, it was a special game. I mean, first time I’ve been able to come back to Saskatoon and play professional hockey, so it was exciting and I had a lot of friends and family in the stands,” Gryba told reporters after the game.
Gryba, 27, recollects the last time he played in the Bridge City, which was with the Saskatoon Contacts of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League (SMAAAHL).
“It’s been a few years but obviously still a good hockey town here,” said Gryba.
The Saskatoon product was drafted 68th overall by the Ottawa Senators in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. He played the last three seasons with the Senators.
Saskatchewan was also represented on the Oilers bench. Todd McLellan, born in Melville, is now leading the NHL team close to where he’s from.
“It’s always good to come home, doesn’t matter where you’re from but in my case, Saskatoon is a really special place for me, my family, I have a lot of really good friends here and good memories,” said McLellan after the game Saturday.
“To come back and participate in, I think its SaskTel Centre now, it’s been called so many different things, but I know it as Sask Place.”
In his playing days, McLellan played four seasons with the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL.
McLellan transitioned to coaching right here in the province. He began in 1992 with the Battlefords North Stars of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) and then with the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos.
The Oilers announced him as the new head coach of the franchise shortly after he led Team Canada to gold at the World Hockey Championship in May.
It was a sea of Oilers jerseys in the stands in Saskatoon but Minnesota also brought some local talent up on their flight.
Saskatoon’s own Darcy Kuemper played the entire game in net for the Wild, stopping 27 shots. The 25-year-old goalie also played in the SMAAAHL with the Contacts and the Saskatoon Blazers. In 2009, Kuemper was selected by Minnesota in the sixth round of the NHL Entry draft.
Regina’s Matt Dumba and Tyson Strachan, from Melfort, were also in the Wild’s lineup Saturday.
In September 2014, Edmonton took on the Chicago Blackhawks in an exhibition game in Saskatoon.