Coach didn't expect ever to receive that honor
Adam Oates' induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday will be the pinnacle of his career. Even though he was one of the sport's most dynamic playmakers, it isn't something he thought would happen -- even late in his 19-year career.
"To be totally honest -- not really," Oates said at a news conference on Monday at Kettler Iceplex. "I never put myself in the category of Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux, people that I thought were special players. Am I honored by it? Absolutely -- that someone else puts me in that category. But I can't say that I ever put myself there."
After three years as an assistant coach in the NHL, Oates is biding his time during the current lockout until he begins his tenure as the new coach of the Capitals, a franchise where he spent six years and helped lead to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998.
Since learning he had been voted into the Hall of Fame in July, Oates has heard from countless former coaches, teammates and associates who he had lost touch with as the years passed.
At the request of Washington general manager George McPhee, Oates is coaching at Hershey, the team's top minor league affiliate in the American Hockey League, during the lockout to better prepare himself to take over an NHL bench whenever play resumes. When a Division I college game was being played Saturday before a Bears contest in Bridgeport, Conn., Oates ran into Mike Folga, now the trainer for Mercyhurst College's hockey team but 20 years ago a trainer for the St. Louis Blues. They overlapped for three years when Oates played there.
"And one of the points I'm going to bring up [during the induction speech] is in life you make connections and they don't always last," Oates said. "And hockey's no different. You play with a team and you connect with a guy for a little while and our paths go different. He's married. I'm single. Guys get traded. But there was a connection there. For some point in your career you had something, and I think that's life."
Oates was born and raised in Toronto and remembers going to the Hockey Hall of Fame with his father when he was a young boy and passing it when he went to games at the famed Maple Leaf Gardens. He idolized Chicago's Bobby Hull and later helped his son, Brett Hull, twice score 50 goals in 50 games for the Blues in 1990-91 and 1991-92. In 1993-94 Oates helped Boston's Cam Neely do the same -- a feat rare in NHL history. Neely's accomplishment isn't officially recognized by the NHL because though he scored 50 goals in 44 games, injuries kept him from doing so until Boston's 66th game of that season.
It was all part of a brilliant career for Oates with 341 goals and 1,079 assists. He played for seven teams but had six years with both Boston and the Caps, and his relatively brief time in St. Louis for three seasons makes him an icon there still thanks to his partnership with Hull.