2 minutes and 20 seconds with Connor McDavid

Connor McDavid chats with Hailey Rose Gattuso.

Connor McDavid chats with Hailey Rose Gattuso.

By Hailey Rose Gattuso   

He had the bottom of his dark heather blue shirt wrapped around his clenched fists. He kept his eyes focused on the floor, rarely allowing them to wander up and meet mine. His voice was barely above a whisper.

Was this really the Connor McDavid I had heard so much about? The soon-to-be first overall 2015 NHL draft pick? The so-called Next Great One?

Before my two minutes and twenty seconds with McDavid I was pacing the hall of the Erie Insurance Arena. I was nervous. To have the opportunity to talk to someone a few months younger than myself who possessed such an incredible amount of talent felt like a lot of pressure.

There was so much I wanted to ask, and so much I wanted to say. I was envious of his athleticism and success before even meeting him.

I prepared myself to deal with an arrogant teenage boy. After all, he is a superstar athlete with all kinds of publicity. Not long after our conversation, the then-Erie Otters center became the first overall pick of the Edmonton Oilers.

Instead, I met a nervous young man who possessed so much humility it made me sick with shame.

I remembered back to my fall cross-country season and how much I struggled while juggling life as a college student and a Division I athlete. I thought about the way I felt right before a race. Everyone approaching me to wish me luck and remind me of their high expectations – each interaction causing my shoulders to tense up a little more and make the knot of nervousness in my gut grow a tad tighter.

Anyone who competes at a high level knows the damage pressure has the potential of having on a person. McDavid feels this pressure at a level I can’t begin to comprehend.

I wasn’t only ashamed of my poor assumptions about his personality, but of the fact that I had envied him. I can barely handle the pressure that comes with running competitively. I can’t even imagine the pressure McDavid is feeling. Not to mention, he’s a senior in high school holding a 3.86 GPA.

“A lot of kids with his status and who are projected to be a first overall pick and probably playing in the NHL next year may slack off in their schooling and not take something like that seriously,” said Jay McKee, a former NHL defenseman who was one of McDavid’s assistant coaches with the Otters.

I asked McDavid what he thought made him stand out from other players.

“I’m not too sure to be honest,” he shrugged, “everyone has their strengths and,” he shrugged again, “whatever it is I’m not too sure.”

When I asked McKee what he thought made McDavid stand out, he replied, “Some of the things Connor does on the ice – I just don’t know if it’s teachable. He just has that exceptional level of athleticism.”

McDavid does not see in himself what his coaches so clearly see in him.

“A lot of real good hockey players will have one or two real good attributes whether it’ll be a real good shot or really good speed, real good vision. Some guys play real smart defensively. Connor has all those attributes together in one person,” McKee said.

McKee compared McDavid to a combination of several of “the greats.”

“He skates like Pavel Bure did. He’s got that kind of speed. He’s got vision and passing like Wayne Gretzky had and a shot like Joe Sakic, so you put all these great players into one player and that’s Connor McDavid,” McKee said.

Almost as impressive as his skill on the ice, is the way he carries himself off the ice.

“He’s a real humble kid. He comes from a really good family that humbles him. He’s a treat to be around. On the ice, off the ice, he’s pretty exceptional,” said McKee.

He also stands out from other players in the way that he handles his mistakes.

“Usually when players make a mistake we’ll sit them down and have a chat but he’s just on a whole new level. He’s taking everything in stride,” McKee shared, “He’s very mature, very humble, and he’s a kid that not a lot of teaching off the ice that needs to be there because he’s so good with everything. “

When my interview with McDavid came to an end I saw the humility his coach had spoken of. He replied to my “thank you” with a humble nod, keeping his head down and fists clenched as he swiftly disappeared down the hall. The scene did not match the one I had in my head going into the interview. But what I saw from the Next Great One was certainly impressive.

Hailey Rose Gattuso is a journalism and mass communications major at St. Bonaventure University, where she is also a Division I cross country runner.

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