It’s coincidental that Adam Oates’s first game as an NHL head coach will take place against the team with which he started his coaching career. Back in the 2009-10 season, then-Lightning coach Rick Tocchet asked his friend and former teammate if he would consider being an assistant coach.
Oates accepted the offer, returned to hockey and put himself on the path to become the Capitals’ bench boss. He’ll make his debut facing many of the same players – Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos to name a few – he helped guide that year.
“Really from Day One it was something that I went, ‘Oh yeah, this is what I’ve been missing in my life,’ ” Oates said of that first step. “It’s been the next challenge of my life to try and pass on your knowledge learn how to coach and become a coach.”
Oates enjoyed his time with the Lightning, and even though it was only one season, he made an impact on the players he worked with.
“Whether you’re going through a great stretch or a tough stretch he knew exactly what you were feeling and what you needed to do to stay focused on that task,” defending Maurice Richard Trophy winner Steven Stamkos said. “It was the little things like curves on your stick, little passing lanes, fakes. He knew exactly what you were thinking on every play and if it didn’t work and you came back to the bench, he knew what you were trying to do and never discouraged you to try creative things.”
St. Louis was 34 years old and already established in the NHL when Oates came through Tampa, but he fed off the coach’s play-making knowledge and they became friends.
“He really analyzes the game to a different level, not just X’s and O’s and systems, it’s tendencies, why some guys do certain things,” St. Louis said. “He loves the game and I think that’s the reason why we became pretty quick, is because I think I have the same love for the game.”
One of Oates’s idiosyncrasies throughout his career as both a player and coach is his passion for offering advice about stick-blade curvature. He’s suggested changes to a few Capitals already this year and, so far, there’s only one player Oates coached who didn’t need to receive the sales pitch: Stamkos.
Oates liked Stamkos’s pattern so much that it’s the stick he uses to this day in practices.
“I was lucky. He loves my curve and he tries to get everyone to use my curve so I didn’t have to hear the speech,” Stamkos said with a laugh. “Just hearing him talk about the little things like that and if you think about it, how big of a difference it can make along the boards, getting a shot off quick, taking or receiving a pass. Little things that you never really think of he’s able to break it down.”