Ales Hemsky has officially hung up the skates. After a lengthy and successful NHL career, Hemsky announced the inevitable on Friday. Hemsky has not played since he suited up for seven games with the Montreal Canadiens during the 2017-18 season. He played for the Oilers from 2002-2014, when he was traded to Ottawa at the deadline.
Selected 13th overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Hemsky was the lone bright light for a specific era of Oilers fans. Hemsky made the jump for the 2002-03 season, playing in 59 games as a rookie with the Oilers. He collected 30 points (6-24-30) and never looked back.
Hemsky proved to be a mainstay for the Oilers during his career in Edmonton. A consistent top-six forward who eventually was a building block on the Oilers’ top line, Hemsky flashed a brilliant combination of speed and skill. He’s responsible for some of the most memorable moments of the post-lockout era, including Game 6 of the Red Wings series in 2006.
The 1980’s dynasty Oilers get a lot of love, and deservedly so, from the fanbase and the organization. There is a large and growing percentage of the fanbase, however, that has no memory of those dynasty days. Sure, everyone knows the stories and has seen the highlights, but a good chunk of fans don’t connect to those teams.
They connect to the late 1990’s and early 2000’s teams, those hardworking groups that always overachieved. They connect to the 2006 team, one that brought Edmonton within a game of glory and allowed the imagination to run wild. Hemsky was a major part of that 2006 team, and was the best player on the team every season until Taylor Hall showed up. Even in Hall’s first season, Hemsky will still Edmonton’s best player.
Those days are long gone, but for fans like myself, they are still firmly ingrained in the brain. Hemsky made the Oilers, most seasons, watchable. His speed, skill and dangles were the most exciting thing about a team that usually had to grind its way to any victory.
Hemsky never got the love he deserved from the organization or most of the Edmonton media. His toughness was always questioned, but I’ll remember Hemsky for battling in the tough areas and taking on players like Robyn Regehr on a nightly basis. It wasn’t an easy job, yet Hemsky always did it well.
My hope is that the organization, when it is safe to do so, will recognize Hemsky for what he was. For a good chunk of the younger fanbase, Hemsky was the best Oiler. He was the face of the franchise. Ales Hemsky was a lot of fan’s favorite player.
We all knew Hemsky’s retirement was coming. After all, he hasn’t played in multiple years. Yet, today is still a sad day. I’ll always look back fondly at Hemsky and his Oilers career. His time with the organization will always be special to this fan. I doubt I’m alone in that thinking.