Since getting word he’d been elected into the NHL Hall of Fame in late June, Adam Oates has been thinking about how to boil down his 19-year playing career in the league into a five-minute speech.
Hired as Capitals coach the same day he received the Hall of Fame call, Oates, 50, has had more time than expected to plan for the ceremony with the NHL lockout dragging into its eighth week. He will do his best to sum up the experience when he’s inducted in a ceremony next Monday in Toronto along with Joe Sakic, Pavel Bure and Mats Sundin.
“It’s amazing how you can get nervous practicing [the speech] by yourself,” said Oates, who has also been staying busy as co-coach of the team’s AHL affiliate in Hershey. “It’s getting closer and just talking to everybody every day, you definitely feel it.”
Oates took time to look back on his career, including six years in Washington, and talk about his work with the Bears but not speculate on the NHL’s uncertain future during a 16-minute press conference Monday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
Oates described the chore of balancing coaching duties, family time and speech preparations as “stressful.” With Hershey, he said he’s learning to manage players’ ice time through the AHL’s often rigorous schedule. He also appreciates the opportunity to work with assistants Calle Johansson, Tim Hunter and Blaine Forsythe, so they are all on the same page when the lockout ends.
“You’ve got to take a mature attitude about it,” Oates said. “Do I want to coach the [NHL] guys? Absolutely. But it happened to me when I was a player [during the 1994-95 season.] As I said, [work stoppages happen] everywhere. You’ve just got to wait it out.”
Oates, a Toronto native, said he made his first Hall of Fame trip with his father as a youngster, and as he’s enshrined alongside the game’s greats, he’ll thank as many people as possible and focus the speech on the connections made during his time in the NHL, which included stops in seven different cities.
On Monday, he remembered his time in Washington fondly, including the team’s 1998 run to the Stanley Cup finals. He did not, however, have those fuzzy feelings about its former home, the Capital Centre: “Thank God I only had to play there for a month,” he joked. It was “dark and slow. ‘Let’s get out of here.’”
Oates got a reminder of how small the hockey world is over the weekend when he ran into former St. Louis Blues trainer Mike Folga before an AHL game in Connecticut. Folga is now the trainer for the Mercyhurst College team that played Sacred Heart on Saturday before the Bears took on the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
“Everybody does that all the time,” Oates said. “You bump into someone, right? Hockey’s no different, that’s life. Those memories are the ones I’m going to try to bring out and touch on as many as I can in that short span of time.”