This is the part of the movie where the camera pulls back, the tail lights flicker at the end of the driveway, and a lone figure in shadows raises a hand to wave goodbye. The reasons for leaving are known and have been discussed on many mornings and a few midnights, and anyone could have written the final scene. Both sides will heal, both sides will see the sunshine, but today is about moving on, about hearing the words and not having them sink in, about looking off into the distance at nothing at all.
Ales Hemsky is from Pardubice, which is an hour out of Prague. It’s about the size of Red Deer, and they celebrate hockey and their famous sons like Dom Hasek and our man Ales. He was barely more than a boy when he arrived from Hull, Quebec and junior hockey. Even as a teen he was so talented that Craig MacTavish dared not send him back to the Q, for fear they damage the youthful gem.
His skills were obvious from the moment we saw him, and unlike so many other first rounders Ales Hemsky learned the lessons set down by Craig MacTavish. He improved in the weaker areas and gained the trust of the coaching staff, to the point where his playing time grew from 12 minutes a night as a rookie to 16 minutes a night during the most important Oiler spring in the last 23 years.
The 2006 Stanley Cup run was a glorious moment in team history, and that team remains frozen in time. Each year that goes by makes the heart grow fonder, and today we say goodbye to the final member of the team to have been on the roster every day since. That 2005-06 team is the best way to remember Hemsky as an Oiler, but the long, gut-wrenching march from 2006 summer to today is impossible to set aside.
I don’t blame Ales, who left us breathless over and over again. The failure of the Edmonton Oilers 2006+ lies in management’s inability to cobble together anything resembling a playoff roster, and to a rebuild (the one started in 2010) that could not find balance. The Oilers of Hemsky could best be described as shorthanded from the moment their training camp roster became public, a problem that continues through this day.
Craig MacTavish picked up the phone this week in order to convince NHL general managers that his man could play. What an absolute shame. A talented man who signed as recently as two years ago with the idea he could be part of something special again, and it ends with another trade deadline goodbye.
Ales Hemsky grew tired of losing, and found freedom today on the QE2 heading out of town. It’s an emotional day for all of us, so I will wish you Godspeed and tell you that we sincerely hope you find your beach in Zihuatanejo.
We will never forget you, Ales Hemsky. That’s a promise.