Sunday night’s game between the Senators and Oilers provided one of the most emotional and heartwarming storylines that will be seen across the NHL this season.
Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson, who had taken a leave of absence from the team after his wife Nicholle was diagnosed with cancer earlier in the week, returned to the ice and played in his first game post-leave. He was an absolute monster in net, making 37 saves and shutting out the Oilers in Edmonton.
Immediately following the final horn, each and every one of Anderson’s teammates met him at his net and embraced the 35-year-old veteran.
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On top of that, Anderson was also named the game’s first star and received one of the loudest ovations you’ll ever hear from an opposing crowd for a goaltender who just shut out the home team. It was an extremely classy gesture by the fans in attendance and one that made Anderson visibly emotional as he skated his victory lap following the game.
Anderson left the team on Thursday after getting the news about Nicholle, who is still waiting to hear more about her diagnosis.
After the leave of absence was announced, the Senators’ backup goalie, Andrew Hammond, was injured in a game against the Calgary Flames on Friday night, meaning the team would be forced to rely on an inexperienced duo from the AHL if Anderson remained absent.
Apparently, it was Nicholle who made the decision that Craig should return to the team after just two days.
"Given that they’re in the wait period and Andrew Hammond’s (hurt), Nicholle told Craig to phone me, which he did during the game," said Ottawa general manager Pierre Dorion, per the Ottawa Sun. "We talked to Craig after the game and it was determined that because they’re in a wait period and they were going to drive to Ottawa together as a family today that it would be all right for Craig to come and rejoin his team."
“Nicholle was the one who wanted Craig to come back. She was the one who said, ‘Craig, your teammates need you right now’. We made this decision after consulting with Craig and Nicholle, their doctors and we all felt because of this time frame it was all right for him to rejoin the team,” said Dorion.
The couple is expecting to find out more about the diagnosis and difficult battle this week, but it was very great to see Anderson come back with an incredible performance and receive such overwhelming emotional support in his first game back. It was probably just what that family needed after an emotional roller coaster of a week.