One of the best players in the NHL, his teammate and his coach all gathered for a Zoom call Thursday.
But it wasn’t to discuss the upcoming season, or any signings or the potential lineup. It was to remember and mourn Ben Stelter. That’s the impact this 6-year-old boy had on forwards Connor McDavid and Zach Hyman, coach Jay Woodcroft and the rest of the Edmonton Oilers.
Stelter died Tuesday, 18 months after he was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer, in March 2021.
Stelter had become known around the NHL as an Oilers superfan, encouraging them to “Play La Bamba, baby,” in social media videos after each postseason win during their run to the Western Conference Final.
“I thought ‘Woody’ made a great point: athletes have an impact on kids, but Ben had such a great impact on our team and myself, even in the short time we knew him,” McDavid said. “He was just such an amazing kid, so strong, so brave. When you watch anyone go through that, especially when you’re 5 or 6 years old, it’s truly inspiring. He was such a fighter. Just an awful, awful day.”
McDavid said he first met Stelter last September, after Ben’s father, Mike, sent a message to the Oilers.
“Obviously I just fell in love with him right away, and the entire family,” McDavid said. “We just developed that relationship over the course of the year. I just loved being around him.”
So did the rest of the Oilers, who felt Stelter’s impact throughout the season.
Stelter was the Scotiabank Skater when the Oilers played the San Jose Sharks on March 24, and stood on the ice with the players during introductions and the national anthem. Then he attended the postgame press conference with Hyman after Edmonton’s 5-2 win. Hyman situated the microphone in front of Stelter, who laughed as the press conference began.
When Stelter was asked to name his favorite Oilers player, even with Hyman beside him, didn’t hesitate to say McDavid and forward Leon Draisaitl.
“First and foremost, he wasn’t nervous or shy at all,” Hyman said. “He was ready to go on stage, he was excited to go on stage, whereas most kids his age would be nervous in front of a room of media. Some players would be nervous in front of a room of media. This guy was excited, huge smile on his face, and just wanted to talk about the game and talk about the win.
“It was awesome and obviously the fans were outside our media room, you have the fans on the glass and they were all kind of chanting his name. So that was another cool moment to share with him, and his family was in the room also. It was just a great moment and something that I’ll cherish for sure.”
Stelter also joined the Oilers for their morning skate April 28, and afterward was presented his own Upper Deck “Heroic Inspirations” trading card by McDavid. It was an officially licensed card with 4,000 printed to be given to the Oilers and the Stelter family.
“In my time getting to know Ben and his effect on our team, I thought it put a lot of things in perspective for a lot of people, in defining what’s important in life,” Woodcroft said. “To see the courage that this young man had to battle what he had to battle, and the lessons that could be learned from him. In terms of getting to know Ben and working our way through a tough day yesterday, I think it puts a lot of things in perspective.”
How will the Oilers carry on Stelter’s legacy? McDavid said it was something the team would discuss during the next few weeks. On Thursday, the pain of losing Stelter remained too fresh to think about that. Nevertheless, Stelter’s impact was obvious, and his heart, his will to fight and the memories he’s left behind will stay with the Oilers for a long time.
“We lost a little boy who displayed nothing but courage on a daily basis,” Woodcroft said. “He was able to inspire a team, he was able to inspire a city, had the support across the country and the hockey world.
“As a father, as I said earlier, it was special for me to see the effect he had on so many people. I know that I’m just thankful for my time that I got to spend with him. We lost a bright light, but his spirit will live on for sure.”
Photo: Mike Stelter courtesy of Edmonton Oilers