There was a picture in the newspaper, a guy who looked like my Aunt Stella standing in front of a strange looking logo on a billboard beside a highway and selling a new hockey league. I was a kid. The newspaper was king in my home–my father followed all world events that way: when he spoke of the DiMaggio streak you’d think he had been there but the truth is he got the news by reading the papers in a Radisson SK cafe every Saturday when he went to town.
The man who looked like Aunt Stella was Bill Hunter, the highway was the Yellowhead and the new league was the WHA. When you’re a kid “new” means “good” and when you’re old it means something you’ll need to adjust to, so I warmed to the new league right away. About 9 months after I’d heard of the Alberta Oilers, Ron Anderson was scoring the first goal in WHA history for them:
The goalies were Ken Brown (Oilers) and Les Binkley (Nationals) and the Meloff penalty came when the defender attempted to play the puck with Binkley’s stick. That got some play in the newspapers the next day. Jim Harrison and Al Hamilton were the big stars, I liked Bill Hicke because he was part of the original Oakland Seals expansion club. Followed that team on the radio mostly (Rod Phillips began broadcasting in year two if my memory serves) but they did have some television games.
The Oilers NHL debut is a pretty famous boxscore because so many incredible players made their NHL debut on the Oiler side. Jim Matheson has the game story here and Terry Jones has an outstanding companion piece next to it that I can’t link to but would highly recommend. Among the Edmonton Oilers who would debut in the NHL during the 1979-80 season:
- Wayne Gretzky
- Mark Messier
- Kevin Lowe
- Dave Hunter
- Brett Callighen
- Blair MacDonald
- Dave Semenko
- Risto Siltanen
- Ron Chipperfield
- Eddie Mio
- Jim Corsi
- Peter Driscoll
- Ron Areshenkoff
- Bryon Baltimore
- Ron Carter
- Don Cutts
- Bob Dupuis
- Kari Makkonen
- Mike Toal
The veterans on that first NHL team (Stan Weir, Colin Campbell, Al Hamilton, Bobby Schmautz, Dave Dryden, Bill Flett) were for the most part unable to provide leadership for one reason or another (Hamilton was injured, Schmautz wanted to be traded, Dryden was pretty much done and Flett was all done) but this year’s veteran group is stronger and deeper. Ryan Smyth and Shawn Horcoff are along for the heavy lifting and Ales Hemsky is going to have an enormous season if he can stay healthy.
I think Ralph Krueger, Nail Yakupov, Justin Schultz, Craig MacTavish and Mark Fistric are excellent additions to this hockey club. Why?
- Krueger: Smart guy, he’s already impressed me by not hiding Gagner on the 4line or talking about Hemsky needing to be tougher. The only “news” that got through during camp was Ryan Whitney telling Jason Gregor he needed to be a better man because Krueger was disappointed in him. Do you think the players felt the same way about Pat Quinn? He’s a motivator and a communicator and with young men like the Oilers cluster that’s going to sell all day.
- Nail Yakupov: We should be prepared for him to be the most outspoken of the #1′s and possibly the best (seriously). Yakupov has immense skill and the one thing that has stayed with me is a comment from Stu MacGregor about the kid always hitting his spot when shooting. This guy is a sniper and he’s going to have an impact.
- Justin Schultz: I think he’ll help the PP and am curious about him defensively. There was so much attention paid to his defensive game that I think we maybe forgot this was a first year pro. If you’re expecting perfection, you’re going to be disappointed but that’s on you. Manna from heaven.
- Craig MacTavish: A wonderful addition because he’s the bookend to Lowe’s emotional leadership. MacT is the voice of reason and I do believe he’ll be an enormous help for coach Krueger.
- Mark Fistric: I think this is an important addition in that he’s tough but not stupid. Fistric doesn’t have insane PIM totals but can blow up sorties with a big hit and stay out of the box. Oilers need some of that Jason Smith-Steve Staios toughness and Fistric–while not the same quality of defenseman–can certainly do that without hurting the team with silly trips to the penalty box.
There are many questions and the answers flow beginning tonight. Bless you Oilers, we’re behind you.
- Injured: Sutton, Khabibulin, Jones, Peckham.
I’ll update if anything changes.