In October 2016, Craig Anderson and his family received some of the worst news possible: a cancer diagnosis for his wife Nicholle. At the time, the entire Ottawa community felt their pain and any time Andy needed to take off had been given without a question.
Everyone expected Andy to take an extended leave and honestly, I think few really cared about the impact it would have on the team. Anderson’s priority was taking care of his wife and family, but it also seemed like the situation showcased the kind of work ethic and integrity he possessed.
Only a few days after Andy took a leave, Andrew Hammond sustained a lower body injury against the Calgary Flames which left the Sens short-handed on starting goalies. An emergency call up would have been the expected route, so even if it meant losing a few games nobody expected to see Andy back in net. But that is exactly what happened: four days after getting the worst news of his life, Anderson came to the Sens’ rescue.
The Edmonton Oilers were no easy opponent that night. They were boasting a roster with the roaring Connor McDavid, as well as well known clutch performer Jordan Eberle and they were (at the time) one of the hottest teams in the league. Before the game, most fans (and probably the players) didn’t expect much from Andy and were just grateful he was dressed at all. What happened in that game remains one of the most heartbreaking, emotionally satisfying, and memorable moments in Sens modern history. Anderson managed to stand tall for 60 minutes while his teammates battled every shift for him. Erik Karlsson commented after the game that they really couldn’t feel the “gravity” of the situation until the final whistle. That’s when Anderson truly showed how difficult this all was for him. He didn’t speak to he media after the game because honestly, there were no words left to say after the performance he had just given. To be able to come in and just follow your routine and make sure your teammates didn’t lose their focus only heightened Anderson’s esteemed status within the team and fanbase.
His 35th shutout came in the most impressive and meaningful form of any shutout a goalie could get. Every one of those 37 saves he made was a battle for him and a small victory in itself. The pure appreciation on his teammates’ faces while they celebrated and comforted him at the same time was a clear indication of what kind of family was in that locker room. It still amazes me how someone who was dealing with such a life altering event could come back after missing only one game and have the focus to make save after save. By the end of the game, Andy had not let in a goal for 121 minutes coming off his previous shutout against the Vancouver Canucks. Something to be truly impressed by, but mostly proud of.
The way the team rallied around him that night and the fact that it seemed like the weight of his troubles was heavy on every single player that night was only further proof of how important Andy was to the team.
That game was about more than just a hockey game, it was about sportsmanship, work ethic and the human side of the sport. I am convinced that the 2016/2017 is the best team we’ll see in a while and most of it has nothing to do with the actual product on the ice, although that was fun too.
Anderson eventually went back to be by his wife’s side and returned once again to help the Sens in one of their most exciting playoff runs since 2007. Fortunately, Nicholle was announced to be cancer free in May but the exhaustion of that season must have aged Andy 10 years.
I think what sticks out the most in this whole ordeal was the respect that we saw between Andy and his teammates. The absolute courage for Andy to handle a personal tragedy while also coming to his team’s rescue when they needed him. It also served to put to rest any doubts that folks might have had about his playoff performance as he delivered another star turn.
It is no secret that I am a huge fan of Andy and would love nothing than to see him retire in Ottawa and the reason is moments like these. Ever since Anderson arrived in Ottawa, he has shown nothing but true dedication to the team and the city. He constantly finds ways to battle through some tough moments with the team: whether it’s an on ice issue or whether it’s coming back from a chicken cutting finger injury —yes, this incident will forever be part of his legend.
Anderson’s tenacity was noticed by many in the league, not just in Ottawa. At the time of the game, Oilers’ goalie Cam Talbot said that he would never have been able to play in that game. A few months later, Andy was the easy Sens nominee for the Bill Masterton and he ended up winning the award in Las Vegas with his wife by his side. Andy has always been the “cool, calm and collected” player on the team but that night as he stood on that stage, you could see the pure appreciation on his face and then the pure pain on his wife’s face as she remembered everything they had been through the past few moments. It really is a time in Sens history that very few can forget. Live for the Now.