Hall prepares to sing praises of Capitals' Oates

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Sports,NHL,Capitals,Brian McNally

Enshrinement coming Monday for coach

Adam Oates' journey to the Hockey Hall of Fame was far from typical.

On Monday evening in Toronto, Oates, a Capitals player for six years and their new coach, will be inducted along with legends Pavel Bure, Mats Sundin and Joe Sakic. It is one of the greatest Hockey Hall of Fame classes in history.

But unlike his distinguished contemporaries -- two were first-round draft picks, the other an international phenom -- there was little reason to think Oates would be standing on the podium with them when he went undrafted almost 30 years ago despite being a college star at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Even in recent times -- long after the end of a 19-year career that left him sixth all time with 1,079 assists -- Oates refused to tout himself. If other, lesser contemporaries made it in, he would never think too hard about how that boosted his own chances of induction.

"It's finally happened, which is great. But that's a tough discussion. I want you guys to say that," Oates said. "I don't want to be the guy that says that. And your mind wonders about it sometimes. But every night you went into a city, and no matter what city it was, you want to win that game, but you want to play better than their best player. That's always part of your thought process. There's no bigger complement than being respected by your peers."

Oates never really had to worry. He was one of the greatest playmaking centers in history, a player who helped fellow Hall of Famers Brett Hull and Cam Neely score 50 goals in 50 games. He helped set up Caps sniper Peter Bondra in his prime, and they helped Washington reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the only time in franchise history in 1998. But he was more than a one-dimensional passer. Teammates from Hull to Bondra to defenseman Calle Johansson, now an assistant coach for Washington, lauded him for his intellect on the ice.

"Everybody thinks that Adam Oates was only an offensive player because he had so many points," Bondra said. "But I see him as a two-way player. He was really smart in his own end playing at center."

That ability to see plays before they happened at either end of the ice is what distinguished Oates. He was 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, so he wasn't a physical force. He wasn't an elite skater, either. But he possessed incredible hand-eye coordination to go with that innate intelligence and an obsessive attention to detail. It is part of what general manager George McPhee liked about him as a candidate during the interview process for the Caps' open coaching position this summer.

"I never did it for accolades," Oates said. "It was my job, and I loved it, and I got to play this game. ... The respect from your peers is the ultimate honor."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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Brian McNally

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner