Just after noon Tuesday, the first report came out that Adam Oates got the nod as coach of the Washington Capitals. Receiving the call about getting your first NHL head job is unreal in itself.
Then hours later Oates got the message that he was being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“Definitely, I think it would have to be a first where you get a head coaching job and think that’s the highlight of your day and then turn around and it’s announced that you are being elected into the Hall of Fame,” ex-Caps teammate Olie Kolzig said. “He says he was going to go out and play the Powerball now. It’s unbelievable. It’s definitely deserved. You can kind of say, what took them so long?”
After 19 seasons, 341 games and 1,079 assists, it seemed like his numbers made him automatic. But Oates had been passed up before.
Even amid the New Jersey Devils’ run to the Eastern Conference final as an assistant and the Caps’ coaching search, the Hall of Fame was on his mind.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t; I think we all know when the date is,” he said. “It wasn’t as much as maybe in the previous years, but yeah, for sure. I knew it was coming around, and I knew today was the day.
This was Oates‘ day. He’ll be inducted Nov. 12 in Toronto. The Caps are off then, too, which will allow their coach to attend the ceremony.
“Absolutely fantastic day,” Oates said Tuesday. “Just two huge honors. Obviously, I’m very excited about the coaching job and to be called from the Hall of Fame, it’s just a special, special day.”
Kolzig, who joked that he wasn’t too worried about his own candidacy, wondered if it was ever going to happen for his roommate of three years. New players are becoming eligible for the Hall each year.
“I’m glad they finally decided to do it because I don’t think people really understood how good a hockey player he was,” Kolzig said. “He put up the points but at the same time, what he did offensively, he was just as important and accountable defensively.”
Oates was joined by Joe Sakic, Pavel Bure and Mats Sundin in the class of 2012. He made five NHL All-Star Games and finished sixth all-time in assists. Playing for seven different teams, most notably the Caps, Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins, he was always known for his deft passing abilities.
“I played in an era that had unbelievable hockey players. Yes, Wayne Gretzky was said to [be the] best player, the best to ever play the game,” Sakic said. “In my era, it was Wayne and it was Adam Oates for playmaking.”
The origin story is almost as entertaining as watching him work his magic.
“It was just one of those things growing up as a kid, my father was British and he was a soccer player, and his idol was a guy that passed the ball a lot, Stanley Matthews. It was just kind of our family talk that if you can be unselfish, your teammates will always like you,” Oates said. “That became my role where I was obviously trying to please my dad, and then just growing up and just becoming a playmaker out of that.”
Oates played until he was 41 and led the league in assists in two of his final four seasons. But his most notable accomplishment came playing alongside Brett Hull with St. Louis in the early 1990s.
“The year he scored 86 [goals] was just magical,” Oates said. “We played the game the same way, we understood each other, the chemistry, it was just excellent.”
But the praise for Oates goes beyond Hull.
“Really Adam and Brett Hull, the magic that they had and the chemistry he had with him,” Sakic said. “It’s not just with Brett, it’s with everybody. He made everybody around him better. If there’s a guy that you want on your team that’s going to set everybody up, it was Adam Oates. He was just unbelievable, one of the best playmakers of all time.”