More than hockey, more than McDavid: Journalist delves into city's psyche at LitFest

Connor McDavid is just starting his second season with the Edmonton Oilers but there’s already a book about him. The launch of the McDavid Effect kicked off the city's 10th LitFest this week.

'It’s about what a single athlete can do for the morale of an entire city'

The front cover of The McDavid Effect shows the rookie walking through the tunnel of Rexall Place. (Martin Weaver/CBC)

Connor McDavid is just starting his second season with the Edmonton Oilers but there's already a book writtten about him.

The McDavid Effect, by Edmonton journalist Marty Klinkenberg, was released this week and launched the start of the city's LitFest, the country's only non-fiction literary festival.

The 11-day LitFest is featuring international authors such as Lindy West and Neil Pasricha, but it opened on Thursday night with the spotlight on Klinkenberg. The Globe and Mail journalist spent a year covering Connor McDavid's rookie season.

The McDavid Effect comes at a time when not only are the Edmonton Oilers trying to build a brighter future for the hockey club, but also as many in the city pin their hopes on a fundamental shift in the look and feel of the city centre.

As construction crews build new towers, universities, and museums downtown, the Oilers new home, Rogers Place, sits at the forefront, a physical reminder of the hope that the team and McDavid can draw excited fans to the building and the city.

Marty Klinkenberg, the author of The McDavid Effect, talks with a fan as he signs his new book. (Martin Weaver/CBC)

"It's about what a single athlete can do for the morale of an entire city," said Fawnda Mithrush, executive director of LitFest, about Klinkenberg's book. "We've seen sport influence Edmonton a lot...so it's a little bit of a cultural study on how people of a city react to an athlete."

It had been a long time since hockey was the subject of a LitFest event, but Mithrush said she was excited to debut a book that focused on the Edmonton Oilers the night after their debut at Rogers Place. The book was about more than hockey, she said, and added to a diverse festival lineup that includes tender memoirs, feminist criticism, and social observation.

Klinkenberg spoke about the night he believed the hockey hype surrounding McDavid. 

McDavid returned to the Rexall Place ice on Feb. 2 of this year, his first game after breaking his collarbone. He scored a goal, possibly one of the nicest in the league, and got two assists.

"I remember the hair standing up on the back of my neck.I was like, 'Oh my gosh this is what people have been missing,'" Klinkenberg said.

The maturity of McDavid as an 18 year-old stands out to Klinkenberg. Even as the rookie was asked to do a lot on and off the ice for the Oilers, Klinkenberg says he never heard him complain once.

"He's a young guy but there's a humility that comes along with it that also kind of immediately attracted his teammates to him."

The book also introduces readers to a cast of characters that surround McDavid, from his parents, to the store owners around Rexall Place, who once basked in the business brought by the previous generation of Oilers stars such as Gretzky and Messier.

"Northlands was the house that Gretzky built. Now there's a sparkling new arena for Connor McDavid."

Oilers defenceman Andrew Ference speaks about Connor McDavid to a crowd at Stanley A. Milner Library Theatre. (Martin Weaver/CBC)

Oilers defenceman Andrew Ference also spoke at the book launch. He talked about not only the fans having hope after a decade of playoff absence, but the players as well.

"He offers the light at the end of the tunnel," said Ference about McDavid.

"You look at Crosby, Lemieux or Gretzky some of these unbelievable players. They can single handedly turn around a franchise and attract other talent to come play with you. That's the biggest effect."

Travis.mcewan@cbc.ca  @Travismcewancbc