Boston Bruins graphic courtesy of BostonBruins.com
Today came the devastating news that days after emergency surgery for a brain bleed, Edmonton Oilers forward and former Boston Bruin Colby Cave passed away at age 25.
Words can’t even begin to convey the depth of loss and tragedy that the player affectionately known as “Caver” meant to his family, friends, fans and all who were touched by him in one way or another.
I didn’t know him all that well or cover him closely during his time in the Bruins organization, but the times I did interact with him were indicative of a former junior team captain and underdog who worked and willed himself to the big show after being passed over in the NHL draft. Despite modest expectations, Cave achieved far more than so many players drafted in 2013 and 2014, the two years any one of the NHL’s 30 clubs could have selected him. Here are a few honest observations and anecdotes about a player who is gone well before his time.
The Saskatchewan native was a first-round WHL bantam pick who never played a game for the Kootenay Ice, the team the drafted him 13th overall after a standout 2+ point-per-game season with the Battlefords Barons AAA bantam club. The Dub is the only one of the three CHL major junior leagues in Canada to have a bantam draft, with the WHL teams selecting their players at age 15 (in Colby’s case he was 14- about 6 months from turning 15), a full year before they are even eligible to be full-time players in that league. Cave was dealt to the Swift Current Broncos in 2011, where it is telling that he spent his entire junior career from age 16 to 20, forging a successful path as an all-around threat and respected leader.
Born just six days before 1995, Cave didn’t play his 15-16-year-old season in the WHL (save for one game) like many of his peers, instead playing the bulk of the year in the Saskatchewan Midget Hockey League (SMHL) and seeing a handful of contests in the Sasketchewan Junior Hockey League with the Battlefords North Stars (SJHL) Tier 2 club prior to breaking in full-time with the Broncos in 2011-12. He gradually worked his way up from rookie to role player to captain and key cog in his final two seasons, posting consecutive 70-point campaigns. It wasn’t enough for him to get drafted in 2014, but the Bruins had followed him in his days skating with Jake DeBrusk and they successfully courted and signed him in the spring of 2015 as an undrafted free agent after playing his 287th career WHL with the Broncos.
From there, Cave closed out the 2014-15 season in the AHL with the Providence Bruins on an ATO, playing one game before his pro contract kicked in for the 15-16 campaign. He played nearly three full years in the AHL, seeing a three-game cup of coffee with the big Bruins in 2017-18. After closing out his three-year ELC in 2018 after relatively modest but solid numbers as an honest two-way center who played with intelligence and energy if not a top-end skill set, he signed an extension to stay in Boston and his pro career started to take off.
In 2018-19, he burst out of the gate with 18 points in 15 AHL games with Providence, getting called up and playing 20 games in Boston, scoring his 1st NHL goal against Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens. It was his only tally as a Bruin, but things were looking up. It didn’t last, but where one door started to close in Boston, another opened up closer to home, when the Edmonton Oilers claimed him on waivers when the B’s tried to option him back to the AHL on January 15, 2019. Cave went on to play 33 games in Edmonton, scoring two goals and bringing his textbook responsible defensive play. He started the 2019-20 year in Edmonton, but had gone out to Bakersfield, the Oilers’ AHL farm team, where he was playing when the hockey season for everyone came to a sudden and abrupt halt.
And now, he will never skate in another game in this earthly existence again. Our hearts break for that fact, because Cave, like so many in this game, brought honor and integrity in the way he played and conducted himself on and off the ice. He had much more to do.
I remember talking to him during his first Bruins training camp, and I asked him why go with the B’s when the road to cracking the lineup was going to be harder than some of the other NHL options he had (he declined to mention those teams, and I politely declined to press). His response was indicative of the Colby Cave you will come to know through the first hand accounts and recollections of those who loved and knew him best as his story is told in greater detail during the coming days.
He said that the Bruins had been up front about what they saw in him and that while he knew that the team’s veteran core would provide a formidable obstacle to him reaching the NHL and achieving his dream of playing at the highest level, he believed in himself and the B’s, who offered him a fair and honest chance to earn his way. He talked about the best things in life requiring hard work and effort to truly enjoy them, acknowledging that as a rookie pro he had a lot to learn and was just looking forward to the experience of being around so many accomplished NHL and AHL veterans whose examples he could follow. He struck me as a typical Saskie boy- honest, industrious, tough, intense- those attributes covered with a humble, approachable exterior
The recording of our conversation is lost to time, but if it still existed, here’s betting that Cave used the word “I” maybe a handful of times in our couple of minutes bantering after one of the camp sessions. He mostly wanted to talk about others who had been instrumental in his development- from his family to the coaches and teammates- everyone who had helped him get to that point in his life. The work was only just beginning, but he was excited that the Bruins believed in him enough to offer him a chance. And he wasn’t going to make anyone in the organization regret that belief in him as an asset to the organization.
And then just like that, he went out and put words to action- developing steadily during his time in the minors, learning and paying his dues in Providence first under the guidance of Bruce Cassidy, then Kevin Dean and Jay Leach. When he finally got his NHL shot…the one he had earned through sheer effort and determination…he made the most of it.
Bruins GM Don Sweeney’s words (the team issued multiple statements today paying tribute) are a poignant reminder of how some moments, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant in a hockey player’s career, carry a gravity often unappreciated when simply looking at an NHL stat line that says 67gp 4-5-9-22.
“Colby’s red hair underneath that “Peaky Blinders” brimmed hat during the teams’ march into Notre Dame Stadium for the Winter Classic is a special memory… not because the Bruins won that day but because I know Colby cherished the opportunity to play in that game. The Hockey World lost a great person who was beloved by his teammates and everyone that was fortunate enough to spend time with Colby Cave.”
To his wife, Emily, …his parents and immediate and extended families this post is so inadequate to capture the impact Colby had on hockey and life in his 25 years, but we our extend deepest sympathies and will always appreciate the brief moments we had with him.
Bruins President Cam Neely said it best: As an undrafted free agent from Saskatchewan, Colby chose the Bruins and once he came to our organization, he seized the opportunity and showed on and off the ice that he was a special hockey player and person. He was, and will always be a Bruin, and he will be dearly missed by everyone who was lucky enough to know him.
Godspeed, Colby Cave, No. 26- rest in peace. Gone too soon, but always and forever a Boston Bruin. – KL
Jack Edwards with the call on Cave’s 1st NHL goal, December 2018- NHL video