Colby Cave was one of the best hockey players in the world.
He wasn’t a superstar scorer like Connor McDavid. But Cave played 67 games in the NHL, and that number alone proves it.
He was a cattle rancher’s son from North Battleford, Saskatchewan, who battled for every inch of the ice, every chance he got. Because life can be cruel, he ran out of chances.
Cave died Saturday, four days after emergency surgery to remove a colloid cyst that caused a brain bleed. He never woke up from a medically induced coma. He was 25.
Those he leaves behind include his wife, Emily, whom he married last summer; parents Allan and Jennifer; and a younger sister, Taylor.
He was “earnest and hardworking,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in one of many tributes that poured in Saturday, his career “inspiringly emblematic of the best of our game.”
Bruins president Cam Neely said Cave, a square-jawed, red-haired, sturdy center who wore No. 26, will “always will be a Bruin.” General manager Don Sweeney praised Cave’s “Patrice Bergeron-like characteristics, on and off the ice.” Bergeron remembered him as “genuine, respectful, and always full of life.” Jake DeBrusk, teammates with Cave on the Western Hockey League’s Swift Current Broncos, called his former junior captain an “amazing person, player, and friend.”
Twice passed over in the NHL Draft, Cave signed with the Bruins in 2015. He became a critical piece of the team, and not because he scored 40 goals a year. His role was a “AAAA” player, able to fill holes in the varsity lineup and set a hard-working example for newcomers. Every organization needs people like Cave.
Boston waived him in January 2019. He was quickly picked up by Edmonton, where he played 44 games the last season and a half, spending some time with their AHL affiliate in Bakersfield, Calif.
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, who on Saturday remembered Cave as “a solid player, beloved teammate, but more importantly a truly special person,” said on the day he was waived it was bittersweet.
“I’ve got a fondness for him,” Cassidy said then. “I had him down in Providence too, and I’ve always got a fondness for the guys that pay their dues in the American League. Now he gets an opportunity somewhere else. It’s a loss for the Bruins organization because he’s an asset, but it’s a great day for the person.”
Cave’s first NHL goal came in Montreal, on Dec. 17, 2018. Subbing for an injured Bergeron, he finished a pretty high-low passing play, David Pastrnak to Charlie McAvoy to Cave in the slot. Grinning in the dressing room afterward, his comments were all about the team, all about the win. He was pleased to learn a teammate grabbed the puck.
“It’ll go in the trophy case, that’s for sure,” he said.
Cave’s only goal last year was an impressive one. Recently called up, Cave was on the ice against Sidney Crosby’s line, in a scoreless game in Pittsburgh. He took a pass out of the Oilers’ zone, burst around defenseman Marcus Pettersson, cut across the crease, and scored on Matt Murray.