The WHA Oilers were tough to follow, you needed to buy The Hockey News all summer and into fall to even have a fighting chance to know the roster. The 1972 team, the Alberta Oilers, had a large percentage of locals, many of whom played for the Edmonton Oil Kings in the 1960’s. My favorite player in those early years (aside from Al Hamilton) was a winger named Rusty Patenaude. He was smaller, very skilled, could score goals in bunches. You would have liked him.
You know the Wayne Gretzky story, but do you know how much he helped in his one WHA season? In 1977-78, the Oilers (coached by Glen Sather) finished fifth overall, had a 309-307 goal differential and got punted in the first round.
The following year, with 99, the team finished first overall, had a 340-266 goal differential and went all the way to the finals. It was the very beginning of the golden decade of Edmonton hockey.
The Athletic Edmonton features a fabulous cluster of stories (some linked below, some on the site). Great perspective from a ridiculous group of writers and analysts. Proud to be part of The Athletic, we are celebrating our 2-year anniversary this week. To mark the occasion, you can get 40% off subscriptions until Sept. 19 here.
- New Jonathan Willis: Predicting the winners of the Oilers’ top-six and top-nine forward jobs out of camp
- New Daniel Nugent-Bowman: In, out or on the bubble: Breaking down positional battles at Oilers camp
- New Lowetide: Evan Bouchard and the Calder Trophy: The Oilers’ pursuit of the elusive rookie award
- Daniel Nugent-Bowman: Alex Chiasson prepares to return to scoring form for Edmonton Oilers
- Jonathan Willis: Kyle Brodziak defied the odds, and then the Oilers, to carve out a significant NHL career
- Lowetide: Can Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith stop enough pucks for the Oilers?
- Lowetide: Shutdown success by Darnell Nurse and Adam Larsson is a key for the Oilers in 2019-20.
- Daniel Nugent-Bowman: Even if he’s unsure about his return, Oilers’ Connor McDavid looks and sounds like his old self
- Lowetide: RE 19-20: How can the Oilers’ bottom six close the gap in goal differential?
- Daniel Nugent-Bowman: Kailer Yamamoto and Tyler Benson address respective highs and lows as Oilers rookie camp begins
- Jonathan Willis: Riley Sheahan is a prudent signing by the Oilers in more ways than one
- Jonathan Willis: Oilers’ defensive hopes will rest on the new shutdown pair of Darnell Nurse and Adam Larsson
- Daniel Nugent-Bowman: With Evan Bouchard as the headliner, here are the players to watch at Oilers rookie camp
- Lowetide: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the configuration of the Oilers second line
- Lowetide: Connor McDavid’s 2019-20: Pushing for 50 goals while Dave Tippett loads up the Oilers’ top line
- Lowetide: Estimating reasonable expectations for the 2019-20 Edmonton Oilers: A difficult journey
- Jonathan Willis: How much money will Darnell Nurse make on his next NHL contract?
- Corey Pronman: Oilers No. 9 farm system.
- Lowetide: Oilers coach Dave Tippett might have to take drastic action in order to find a second outscoring line in 2019-20
- Lowetide: Oilers top 20 prospects summer 2019.
The first player who I cheered for among the new Oilers was young Mark Messier, who was rambunctious and disruptive and fast. He was not an impact offensive player as a rookie, he was tied for No. 154 among forwards in points in 1979-80. He was No. 25 in PIMs (120) and I swear to you he did something in every game to get noticed. He had a different look about him, tall and thin, young but already hardened. Square jaw, always in motion, determined. Filthy. My Dad called guys like him ‘hoods’ and I think the Russians thought he was a hood, for sure.
In 1980-81, my favourite rookie was Jari Kurri. He was a perfect two-way player, great anticipation, and smooth at everything. Kurri skated slumped over a little, made him ready for passing and a quick, accurate shot. My number one memory, the one I’ll think about when drifting some day, is the clincher in 1984: Islanders are heading to the bench, 99 is heading the center ice, and Kurri retrieves the puck and sends a dart to Gretzky. He scored and the franchise won its first Stanley later that night. Everyone remembers the goal, I remember the pass. You should always remember the pass.
Glenn Anderson and Paul Coffey joined the party same year, Anderson was fearless. He drove to the net and crashed it, shrapnel everywhere, and scored plenty. If Gretzky was the brains of the operation, and Messier the heart, Kurri the conscience, Anderson was the swagger. Also filthy.
Paul Coffey was the misfit, the beautiful skater with elite offensive ability who the coach could never truly love because defense. At least that’s my take. Coffey was a stunning talent but played in an era where expectations required defenders to bleed and break their nose annually.
Charlie Huddy was also a favourite, he was smart as a whip and made good decisions. He also skated slumped over a little, could carry the puck up and pass it too. Huddy was physical and durable (he took a pounding) and I thought he’d stay forever. I was shocked when they lost him in the 1991 Minnesota expansion draft, Oilers were never the same.
The last time I really questioned Glen Sather came when the Oilers drafted Grant Fuhr in 1981. Andy Moog had just emerged! Well, Fuhr turned out well and after that, for basically two decades, Slats could sell damn near anything to the local fans. By the third Stanley, he was a made man in our town.
Each fall, you’d get a look at the newcomers. Jaroslav Pouzar was a tank, an absolute load, and he was effective. Randy Gregg played hockey like a doctor: Careful, detailed, precise. Marc Habscheid had talent but faced an Everest depth chart.
You should have seen Esa Tikkanen as a young player. He was half bubble of plumb but in a good way. If you watched the games on television, you would just see Tikkanen being held back by a ref, while some poor schmoo was trying to get back onto the ice. Tikkanen would have run him along the boards, tipped him over and deposited him in the nearest bench. Absolute chaos, no one (including the Oilers) was safe. I loved him.
I cheered for Selmar Odelein, he didn’t make it. Injuries ate up his career. He was a quality junior. Wayne Van Dorp had a Dutch name and was a giant, he lasted just a few games.
Kelly Buchberger ran out of step with all the skill, but he was a game rooster and fans loved his energy. ‘Take em wide, Bucky’ they’d scream, and that was his move.
All of that in basically a decade, in the same amount of time it has taken us to observe Taylor Hall, Nuge, Yak, Darnell, Leon, McDavid, JP and the rest as first time visitors to training camp.
Remember it. Enjoy it. These are good times. Someone attending training camp this autumn will catch on and perhaps become your favourite player. I saw Shawn Horcoff shadow a center and tie up his stick as the pass went through the slot and out of danger in a preseason game, fall 2000. He was always a favourite of mine.
There are memories to be gathered that will last you a lifetime. Hockey, the best hockey, is returning. The boys are back in town.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
At 10 this morning, we kickstart the weekend on TSN1260. Lots of hockey and football talk, we begin with Steve Lansky from BigMouthSports and a discussion of Bianca Andreescu, Holland/Tippett in Edmonton and the Marner contract. Julien Edlow from Draft Kings will help us tee up the NFL weekend and Matt Iwanyk from TSN1260 will drop in to discuss CFL weekend and the Oilers. 10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. Talk soon!