There aren’t really any big problems associated with an election to the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s the pinnacle of a player’s career and it will be for Capitals coach Adam Oates when he’s inducted in Toronto next Monday. Still – five minutes to thank everyone in your life who helped get you to this rarified place? That’s not exactly easy. About the only benefit to an NHL lockout is that Oates has had time to think about how to do exactly that in a short prepared speech he will give.
“When you play 19 years, I played on seven teams, you make connections. And one of the points I’m going to bring up is in life you make connections and they don’t always last,” Oates said during a press conference at Kettler Iceplex in Arlington on Monday. “But you connected with someone whenever it was. 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 coaching for AHL Hershey this weekend when a Division I college game was being played before the Bears’ contest. He ran into a guy named Mike Folga, now the head trainer for Mercyhurst College’s hockey team, but 20 years ago a trainer for the St. Louis Blues where they overlapped for three years when Oates played there.
There’s countless men like that. And, of course, your parents and your college coach and so many teammates and friends in the game. Oates said one of his proudest accomplishments was playing with two men – Brett Hull in St. Louis and Cam Neely in Boston – who scored 50 goals in 50 games. He said he might have assisted on every one of Hull’s. It’s an extraordinary accomplishment and Oates, one of the great playmakers in NHL history, was a big part of their success.
“Those memories of those years that Brett and Cam did it – when Brett did it in St. Louis (1990-91) it was just, I mean he was taking the league by storm,” Oates said. “Like when (Alex Ovechkin) came in here. And it was just fantastic to be a part of it. And then when Cam did it (in 1993-94) he basically did it on one leg. And watching him prepare every day to try and just play the game, let alone do what he was doing, was an incredible feat. And I had the best seats for both of them.”
Oates had a wonderful career with 341 goals and 1,079 assists. He played for seven teams, but had six years with both Boston and the Caps and his relative brief time in St. Louis for three seasons with Hull makes him an icon there still. His other great moment? Playing for Washington in the Stanley Cup finals in 1998 against the Detroit Red Wings. But all the while Oates never allowed himself to think he would one day be in this position, preparing to be honored as one of the all-time greats in his hometown of Toronto.
“To be totally honest – not really,” Oates said. “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.”
Follow me on Twitter @bmcnally14