Chris Gordon/Russian Machine Never Breaks
Adam Oates is constrained by time.
The Washington Capitals' head coach has five minutes to cover nearly two decades of professional memories in his Hockey Hall of Fame induction speech Monday, and he is resigned to the fact that "it's pretty impossible to thank everybody in five minutes."
"Since June, all you do is reflect on the people you played with and the people who helped you get there and your family," he said last Monday. "I'm trying to put it in an order where you thank the right people. You are going to miss some unfortunately, and you try and make it as many as possible. You try to thank them."
A stressed Oates stressed the importance of the "connections" that he made during an illustrious career that spanned 19 years and seven teams. To his credit, he made plenty -- 1,079 to be exact.
Oates' name will always be connected to the players he set up goals for, from Ashton to Zubrus, but it's the connections that can't be quantified that mean the most to him.
Take, for example, his unexpected encounter with Mike Folga, his former equipment manager in St. Louis, while both were in Bridgeport, RI., last week, Oates for the Hershey Bears' game against the Sound Tigers and Folga for Mercyhurst University's against Sacred Heart.
"He comes walking in and right there, there's a connection and a spark," Oates said. "Everybody does that all the time, bump into someone. Hockey's no different, that's life. Those memories are the ones are the ones I'm going to bring out in a short span of time."
Calle Johansson has memories of his own. Oates' former teammate of five years vividly remembers that fateful day in March 1997 when the Boston Bruins traded Oates, along with Bill Ranford and Rick Tocchet, to Washington for Jim Carey, Anson Carter, Jason Allison and a third-round draft pick.
"I had been playing against him for a number of years and almost feared him when I played him," Johansson said Tuesday. "He's probably the most underrated player that I've played with and against. I always admired his play, so when I heard he got traded to [Washington], I had a hard time believing it. I said, 'This is almost too good to be true.' I just loved that day when he got traded to us."
Johansson admitted that he and Oates weren't necessarily close off the ice during their time with the Caps, a product of Johansson having a family and the two living about 45 minutes apart, but on the ice, the mutual respect between the two forged an even stronger bond.
"I know I respected him a lot for what he did and we always talked on the ice and in the dressing room. I consider myself a pretty good judge of character and I knew from the first day I met him that this guy is serious business. Oatesy is one of the very, very few guys that I've ever played with that can flip his game face and seriousness on and off like a light switch.
"He can be the loose guy and having fun, but when it's game time and practice time, it's 110 percent," he continued, adding that Oates coaches the same way. "That's very, very rare, so that's what I admired about him."
Johansson's reverence for Oates never waned, so when he received a call this summer to leave Sweden and return to Washington as an assistant coach, he didn't hesitate.
"Ninety-eight percent," Johansson said when asked how much Oates factored into his decision to rejoin the Caps in July. "I would never, ever consider being an assistant coach just for being a coach. It has to be the right head guy.
"I was so honored by him calling me and asking me because I know the knowledge he's got about the game and I know all the connections he has. For him to call me, that meant a lot to me."
Oates may be stressed out about having only five minutes to try and thank everybody that has mattered to him, but he doesn't need to be. Those that have connected with him, whether it be on a tape-to-tape pass or on a more intrinsic level, will remember him for a lot longer than that.
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