"Wayne never missed any practice time. He always watched the films with the guys, he was always there at all the meetings. He wasn’t given a lot of special attention away from the building. We watched what he did, but as far as coaching him is concerned, we treated him much like the other guys. Except that we adapted our style around him. We had the other players change while we left him pretty much alone.
I remember the first day we were in the NHL we had a meeting with the team and I told them our goal wasn’t to make the playoffs, it was to win the Stanley Cup. I told them that, for me, that attitude came from the Montreal Canadiens. The year I played in Montreal, Sam Pollock came into the room when the season started and told us "we don’t expect just to make the playoffs, we expect to win the Stanley Cup."
Right from the beginning we developed the attitude that we wanted to be winners, wanted to be great players. They (the boys on the bus) weren’t interested in being so-so."
Glen Sather (from the Dick Irvin book "Behind the Bench")
The dynasty Oilers had so many leaders it was crazy. 99, Messier, Lowe, Kurri, Lee Fogolin, the list was endless. They weren’t all leaders at a young age (Messier once got sent down for missing a flight, but the punishment didn’t take: he had a blast in Houston) but grew into the role and as a group the "Boys on the Bus" have had a long and impressive impact on the National Hockey League.
Ideally, someone like Sam Gagner steps up and emerges as a leader of this generation’s Oilers. He’s 20, has a nice range of skills and three NHL seasons on his resume. It would also be very cool if the Oilers could find a Lee Fogolin type along the blue: a little older, say mid-20s, and possessing a ‘heart and soul’ attitude toward the game (Fogolin once took care of some dental problems with a coat hanger so he wouldn’t miss any game action). Maybe Ryan Whitney is that player.
If you’re too young to remember the Golden Age of Oilers hockey, it is very important that you know these guys didn’t just show up and become legends. It took time, a series of playoff wins and painful losses, and a Stanley Cup final in which everyone agreed the Oilers were the better team (although they lost 4-0). The night they lost the Stanley in 1983, the story goes Glen Sather walked into the Islanders dressing room and saw a MASH unit. A group of veterans who had laid it all out there and had nothing left to give. Slats told us he vowed never to be fooled again.
I’ve never believed that story, or at least the implied lesson it presented. I think young people–even the terribly gifted ones–need to build toward their dream and although Sather no doubt helped them along it was more the player’s story than the coach’s. Those wonderful kids needed to find their outer marker, sure; they also needed to cut down on those mistakes, make the safe play and mark their man even though an opportunity might be available. It wasn’t about working harder, it was about being smarter.
From the kids of 1979 to the Stanley in 1984 took a long time and a lot of learning. We should be prepared to be as patient with this group as we were with those young men. It’ll be worth the wait.