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Connor McDavid will be under pressure from Edmonton's expectations

07/08/2015 08:30 EDT | Updated 07/08/2016 05:59 EDT
The busiest man in Edmonton these days just might be Dave Chou.

He spends hour after hour churning out official, league-approved Connor McDavid jerseys at the huge SportChek outlet in West Edmonton Mall.
The whole world knew the kid being referred to as "the Next One" was headed for Edmonton when the Oilers won the NHL draft lottery, broadcast live on television, back in April.

But stores weren't allowed to actually start selling McDavid jerseys until the team officially made the pick, broadcast on live television, late last month.

"We were working hard, with overnight shifts, to get ready for the announcement," said Samantha McLaughlin, store manager at the SportChek where Chou works. "I think we sold our first one about an hour after the draft."

And many more since.

On Tuesday, when CBC stopped by, Chou was busy cranking them out. In the back of the store, he had a pile of jerseys and three neat stacks beside him … all those 9s … and 7s … and stark white McDavids.

He put them in place, used a ruler to make them straight, then brought down the big Fanzone press, and 30 seconds later, another jersey was ready for the sales rack.

Chou didn't have time to stop and chat, but his manager said the store, like much of the city, has been buzzing with Connor McFever.

"So many people are touting him as the saviour of the team," she said. "We just wanted to make sure we were ready for it."

Three months ago, The Hockey News ran a story headlined: "Is Connor McDavid hype getting out of control?"

Hype? What hype?

For Oiler fans, the answer might be: Hype? What hype?

Put it this way. On Monday evening, about 7,000 people filed into Rexall Place to watch the Billy Moores Cup, the Oilers annual inter-squad prospects game. (McDavid, by the way, scored five goals).

Registered psychologist Nicolas Allen said he thinks McDavid has handled all the pressure remarkably well, considering he's only 18 and is already being compared to Sidney Crosby and (is it possible?) even Wayne Gretzky himself.

"It willl be interesting to see how he performs now," said Allen, who has a background in sport psychology. "Now we're in the NHL, we've got that spotlight on us, we're in a city like Edmonton, where hockey is life. Is he able to manage that pressure? Does it start to get to him a little bit?"

Allen said every athlete responds differently. And what separates the greatest from the merely great is often the ability to handle, year after year, everything that happens before and after and between all those games and seasons.

In other words, the pressure — from fans, from the media.

Hockey mad city

That job is extra hard in a hockey mad city where Stanley Cups once seemed almost as ubiquitous as the Tim Hortons variety.

Which, of course, is hype, but the point remains.

"I think there are a lot of challenges to having such a passionate fan base," said Allen. "Whether it gets to him or not, time will tell."

Fans can expect plenty of excitement, and perhaps some disappointment, too, as the retooled team tries to play its way back into contention, Allen said.

There will highs, and lows.

"There might be some fans who need a little psychological support as the season goes along," he said.

One fan who will be along for the ride is Jim Bachman.

"I feel sorry for him," he said of McDavid. "So much pressure on a young guy."

Asked if he thinks the kid can handle it all, Bachman said: "He's going to have to, if he's going to stay in this city for any length of time. Because this city has a lot of expectations for the next great white hope."

Back at the mall, Chou was still hard at work on those jerseys.

"Home season opener is going to be crazy," his boss said. "I can't wait."

Only 99 days left to go. Hmmmm. Why does that number seem familiar?

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