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At Random: Good Guys Win

There are lots of things I haven’t missed since getting out of the sports writing game as a full-time profession many years ago – deadlines and too much travel come to mind. That said, there’s a lot of things I do miss, namely the many terrific and truly remarkable people I was fortunate enough to meet along the way while spending 25 years or so hanging around ice rinks and dressing rooms as a reporter. 

I thought of three such people this week when they made headlines for being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. I’m talking about Clare Drake, Mark Recchi and Teemu Selanne, all of whom I’ve brushed shoulders with and known to varying degrees over the years while toting a notepad. So, without any advanced stats handy to offer you, I’m going to take a stroll down memory lane and give my take on each of them.

CLARE DRAKE

Drake had given way to Bill Moores as head coach of the Alberta Golden Bears by the time I arrived in Edmonton in December of 1989. I got to know about Drake mostly second hand – from coaches like Moores and Ken Hitchcock. I was always amazed by the respect and reverence that they, accomplished coaches in their own right, had for Drake when speaking about him. Drake coached the Golden Bears to six CIAU hockey titles and 17 Canada West titles, but all those banners hanging from the rafters were only part of the story.

In the years when I covered university sports, I’d sit with Moores in his office overlooking the ice in the arena named after Drake and he’d talk about him as a teacher of the game, a strategist who was years and years ahead of his time in terms of game-planning and practice. Much the same with Hitchcock, be it at an alumni golf tournament back in Kamloops or just shooting the breeze at a rink somewhere. The other thing, not that it’s a pre-requisite for being a great coach, was how gracious Drake was whenever I bumped into him around the rink. 

THE FINNISH FLASH

Photo Credit: Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY Sports

Selanne’s career as a player speaks for itself, and it was no surprise to anybody that he was inducted on the first ballot this week. Selanne, voted NHL rookie of the year for 1992-93 after scoring 76 goals, was a special player, that rare blend of speed and skill, from the moment he broke in with the Winnipeg Jets. Anybody who ever watched him play knows that. Selanne’s scoring totals aside — 684 goals and 1,457 points in 1,451 games — he also lays claim to one of the best goal celebrations ever. Epic.

The thing about Selanne that sticks with me, though, is how he was never too tired, too important or otherwise occupied at any point in his career to sit around and talk about hockey — or fast cars or just life in general. Selanne, as any scribe who has spent time with him will tell you, was one of the most generous, engaging athletes you’d ever hope to meet. Pre-game, post-game, it didn’t matter. Local writer, out of town guy, it didn’t matter. I never once met anybody who had a bad word to say about Selanne. I never once heard Selanne slag anybody else.

REX

I first met Recchi when he as 17 years old and playing for the New Westminster Bruins of the WHL. Later, he joined the Kamloops Blazers in 1986 when I was working at the Kamloops Daily News. I’ve got to admit, Recchi was always one guy I hoped would make it. That’s in part because he was such an underdog because of his size and partially because he was a wonderful person away from the rink. He worked his backside off to get to the NHL and never stopped. His mom and dad, Ruth and Mel, who was the advertising manager at the Daily News, raised him right.

Recchi, of course, exceeded every expectation after being drafted in the fourth round in 1988 – the fourth friggin’ round after putting up 154 points in his draft year – during a career that saw him win Stanley Cup rings with three different teams. Too small, my eye. Recchi never framed it that way, although he was quietly one of the most motivated players I ever met. More than that, Recchi is the same guy today in his mid-40s, after all the money, all the accolades, as he was when he was 17.  Not one big league bone in his body. He was a terrific player. He is a better man.

Hokey as is might sound, I’ve never believed the old axiom that “nice guys finish last.” Sometimes they do, I suppose, but I’d like to think there’s way too much proof that just isn’t true in the bigger picture. I got a reminder of that this week when Drake, Selanne and Recchi were inducted. I’ve got to admit to doing a little fist-pump over them getting the HHOF call on the same day, now that I’m not stapled to the press box anymore.

WHILE I’M AT IT

  • I like the signings of Kris Russell, Eric Gryba and Zack Kassian. While I’d have preferred three years instead of four for Russell, the contract is structured so the final year isn’t an anchor. Despite all the debate about the signing, I’ll go with GM Peter Chiarelli’s assessment of the player and what he brings to the table over those who are complaining the loudest about it. Every. Damn. Day.
  • What I like most about the Kassian signing, aside from that it’s a reasonable AAV for three years, is it’s an indication the big winger has his life straightened out after a battle with the bottle that threatened his career. I’ve seen too many people lose that battle and lose everything that mattered to them. While sobriety is an ongoing life choice, Kassian is making the most of the opportunity he got here. Good for him.
  • One last thing, I wonder if Todd Nelson ends up getting the head coaching job in Arizona. He did some good things while cleaning up the mess made by Dallas Eakins with the Oilers and just hoisted the 2017 Calder Cup with the Grand Rapids Griffins. Nelson deserves a shot somewhere.

NATION NIGHT AT THE BALLPARK

On Thursday night (June 29th), we’re hosting our first Nation Night at the Ballpark as the Edmonton Prospects take on the Weyburn Beavers. As you’d expect, we’ll have some prizes to give away and stickers for the kids (big or small) so clear your calendar and plan to be at RE/MAX Field on Thursday night. Tickets are available here.

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  

  • Hemmercules

    I’m hearing Mcdavid is getting 13 mil per season. That means Drai probably gets 8 or 9. Team is going to be capped out harder than Chicago pretty soon.

    • AJ88

      And what do you do if Drai is asking for $10 – $11M? Chia may have some hard decisions ahead of him…interesting none of the writers have speculated that scenario.

        • AJ88

          It will be interesting to see if it got the point of an offer sheet. I am wondering what other teams would offer, Chia might have to go to that scenario if Drai’s agent is asking for the moon. Regardless, I think 20M for the pair should be the max, still need a strong supporting cast.

          • Hemmercules

            If McD is getting 13.25 as rumoured I doubt Drai is getting 6.75
            I’m guessing it will be be around 22 for both. Close to the Kane Toews overall hit on the team.
            Chia doesn’t sound too worried about it so I guess I shouldn’t be either haha.

    • Connor'sGotHart

      Give me a god damn break he took less percentage wise than Ovechkin and he did the Oilers a favor signing for 8 years and not five , like all the other stars did,so suck it pal!
      He’s the best player in the game and relatively speaking he deserves every penny.By the time this contract ends he will have played more games in Edmonton than Gretzky! Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

      • Hemmercules

        Ya they outlined it pretty good on SN today. Crosby was around 17.3% of the Pens cap at the time off his first deal. Ovie was like 19% .

        This puts Connor around 17.6% so its on par with the other greats of the league. Will be nice if they can make a nice run this next season while McD is still on the cheap though.

  • Serious Gord

    In defense of the great Leo Durocher, robin you like so many others are misinterpreting the “nice guys…” quote: Here is what he said:

    “…Walker Cooper, Mize, Marshall, Kerr, Gordon, Thomson. Take a look at them. All nice guys. They’ll finish last. Nice guys. Finish last.” I said, “They lose a ball game, they go home, they have a nice dinner, they put their heads down on the pillow and go to sleep. Poor Mel Ott, he can’t sleep at night. He wants to win, he’s got a job to do for the owner of the ball club. But that doesn’t concern the players, they’re all getting good money.” I said, “you surround yourself with this type of player, they’re real nice guys, sure—’Howarya, Howarya’ and you’re going to finish down in the cellar with them. Because they think they’re giving you one hundred percent on the ball field and they’re not. Give me some scratching, diving, hungry ballplayers who come to kill you. Now, Stanky’s the nicest gentleman who ever drew breath, but when the bell rings you’re his mortal enemy. That’s the kind of a guy I want playing for me.” That was the context. To explain why Eddie Stanky was so valuable to me by comparing him to a group of far more talented players who were—in fact—in last place. ”

    ALL of the people who were named to the HHOF – save the female nominee who I know nothing about – players and builders both, were tremendous competitors who HATED to lose – who left it all out on the ice/boardroom. They were not Nice guys in their respective arenas. And they should be celebrated for that.

  • Just facts

    I had coach Drake for a hockey course at the U of A. He was a great teacher, I learned more strategy, tactics and skills in that one course than I had in the 15 or so years I’d played before that. My best memory from the course wasn’t about those things though. While writing the final exam the door to the classroom burst open and Eddie Shack (who was filming a commercial in the rink next door) came in and said “Claire what the f*** is going on in here” Coach Drake calmly replied “Well Eddie this is the final written exam for my hockey course”. Eddie replied “written exam for hockey, I would fail, I can’t even read”. Broke the whole class up and was hard to concentrate to finish. As some commentators have noted, with his record, and influence on so many coaches at the highest level, if he had lived in the US coach Drake would have been recognized up there with the John Woodens of the world. His entry in the HHoF is an honor well deserved and long overdue.

    • As mentioned on here before. Derek Dragers book on coach Drake is fabulous and in my opinion, the final chapter which is written by Drake himself is must have material if you are a coach. It discusses motivation and perspective from the behind the bench side of the game and if it were to be embraced at a high level, things like child and official abuse that are so rampant in minor hockey would by mitigated by some intelligent guidance.
      It IS long overdue. I am somewhat bitter towards the HHOF process given the elapsed time and the repeated and long standing efforts of his champions to get him in. Coach Drake, due to his advanced years has seen the ravages of time diminish his physical body. It is a coulda, woulda, shoulda, bitterness but the HHOF dropped the freaking ball on this one…. badly.

  • Bagged Almond Milk

    Robin, any chance the Oil sign a Bonino or Boyle, and move the Nuge for help on the Wing? Or D? I don’t mind El Nuge, but I think the writing may be on the wall (eventually) for him, as well as Pouliot and Fayne, as the players from the Decade of Darkness are slowly weeded out.

  • Rock11

    Man i was hoping for less than that on the Mcdavid contract. Thrilled with the 8 years but 13.25 is a big nut. Really gonna need that Canadian dollar to rise so the cap can climb to make some room. Hope that Leon can get done so that the total doesnt get too far past $20m. One thing about Chiarelli is it seems like he’s willing to spend his owners money. Not too many value contracts so far.

    • Serious Gord

      Draisaitl should be asking for around 10 or settle for a 1-2 yr bridge contract for less but doing so could really put the oil in a bind in a couple of years…

    • Can’t judge math wiz-kid GM John Chayka yet, but it’s a sideshow in Arizona right now. It seems like Eakins get mentioned by some in the analytics crowd as being on virtually every coaching short-list, but a lot of openings have come and gone since he was fired here and still nothing. Maybe Chayka sees Eakins as a fit.

      • Derian Hatcher

        Maybe Eakins can roll into Phoenix and in his cowboy hat (no cattle), and tell gather ’round the fire sharing fruit and veggie smores and tell all the kids how he invented the game of ice hockey. During training camp, he can stand at the white board on the ice for 15-20 minutes and bore the hell out of elite athletes explaining his latest system. He would fit beautifully into that Arizona side-show. Hope they hire him.

  • Tombstone

    I was really hoping Todd Nelson would’ve stayed on as assistant coach. The Oilers PP was the best in the league when he took over. Yak was scoring again and played well with Derek Roy, he even refused to play on the first line. Anton Lander was also scoring, looking like a legitimate 3rd line C.