7 months ago
It was one year ago almost to the day, Aug. 2, 2021, when I was poking some fun at Kevin Lowe over the barn fight that never was with Brian Burke. It was a beef that started in 2007 when Lowe put an offer sheet on Dustin Penner when Burke was running the show with the Anaheim Ducks as general manager.
It was a spat between two ultra-competitive men that were good friends (and are again). It made for good copy, but was put aside years later for more important matters – a Cure Cancer Foundation event in support of the Cross Cancer Institute. Lowe was the guest of honor and Burke was in town to roast him and have some fun. Time, as it often does, muted the bluster in the name of a greater good.
For the longest time, my impressions of Lowe were based almost solely on how competitive, passionate and fiery he was. That held true on the ice as a player, behind the bench as a coach and finally looking on from the press box as general manager. Having worked the Oilers beat during all those stages of Lowe’s career, I ended up on the receiving end of that passion more than once. I’ve told those stories before, so no need to repeat them here.
Jump ahead a year and a day and Lowe has announced that he’s retiring after more than 40 years in the NHL, most of them with the Oilers. Lowe, 63, left the grind of hockey ops behind years ago. He has been vice-chair and alternate governor of late. His career we know – five Stanley Cups with the Oilers, another with the New York Rangers, 1,254 games, Olympic medals and, at long last, induction into the HHOF and having his No. 4 raised to the rafters. It’s all in the record books. It’s engraved on the Cup.
What sticks with me now, what I first thought of yesterday when the announcement was made, is what an unquestionably good man Lowe is. I think about his charitable work, be it with the CCF, the Christmas Bureau or the Zebra Child Protection Centre, to name three organizations with which he’s been involved. I think about how the Oilers’ first-ever draft pick from Lachute, Quebec, a recipient of the 2021 Order of Hockey in Canada, cares about this city and the people in it. For me, that’s the real measure.
WHAT HE SAID
Nov 5, 2021; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Kevin Lowe speaks during his jersey retirement night at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
“I’m pretty much speechless when I think back on it,” said Lowe, selected 21st overall by the Oilers in 1979. “I never envisioned it lasting 40 years. When I first got drafted and came out here in September of 1979, I didn’t know what to expect and didn’t even think I would make the team. I never took anything for granted. I just put my head down and worked hard and it just evolved the way it has.
“I have been blessed all along. I’m 63 now and (wife) Karen has quite often taken a backseat to a lot of things. We could never really plan a trip, especially during the hockey season. Now, we can make plans to go see grandkids, travel a bit and do the kinds of things I’d always hoped we’d be able to do.”
Lowe, who has a home and property in the Shuswap area of B.C., will stay in touch through the Oilers alumni, the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation and he’ll will serve as an ambassador. In the end, Lowe spent more time as a coach and in the front office as a manager with the Oilers than he did as a player.
The team that Lowe put together for that run to the 2006 Stanley Cup final is as close as he got to hoisting the silverware after his playing days were done. As we remember all too well, there were too many lean years before and after that roller-coaster ride. While fans were rightfully unhappy about that, nobody ever hated losing more than Lowe. That much I know.
“It meant so much,” Lowe told Bryn Griffiths and I on our podcast in March when we asked about the submissions made to the HHOF selection committee on his behalf. “To me, the HHOF was always for the likes of Gretzky and Howe and Messier and Jean Beliveau and Bobby Orr. The greats of the game.
“I never sat around waiting. I never really envisioned myself being there, so it was never a big letdown if I wasn’t called. I was happy with my career, happy with my accomplishments. When the time did come, I was a little bit shocked. Having said all that, it was a thrill.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
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The Lowe I first met was the guy who would play through a broken wrist, take the lumber to an opponent and never give or ask an inch because that’s what needed to be done to get one of those Stanley Cup rings. He’d hack you. He’d fight you. Whatever it took to win.
If you remember – I don’t know why this stays with me but it does — Lowe was always the guy in the photos of the team hoisting the Stanley Cup keeping tabs which one it was by the number of fingers he held up. Every time. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. It’s burned in my brain.
I’m told the Lowe I know today will finally take some time to reflect on and enjoy the years that have passed between then and now. My hope is he will have a long and happy retirement well-earned to do so.
Previously by Robin Brownlee
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