- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 11, 2012

TORONTO — Adam Oates was devastated.

Growing up in Toronto just wanting to play hockey, his chances of being drafted into the NHL came and went.

“I didn’t get drafted. You’re a Canadian kid, that’s all that matters,” Oates said. “You go to high school, ‘Did you get drafted yesterday?’ ‘No.’ That’s devastating for a kid in Canada, in Toronto. My parents [said], ‘Hey, keep playing. You never know. You never know.’”

Oates lived by that. Often along the road to Monday’s induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, the ex-Washington Capitals center with 1,079 NHL assists went unnoticed or underappreciated.

Even for a confident man, that can leave plenty of doubt that his dream won’t become reality.

“I think every single time that you have a hiccup. I never got drafted in major [junior]. I never got drafted in the NHL,” said Oates, now coach of the Capitals. “You have an inner belief that you’re still good or you can make it, but, yeah, no question you’re like, ‘Uh oh, what if?’”

That question of “What if?” popped up throughout Oates‘ life. Fortunately for him, enough scouts and coaches along the way saw something that was worth taking a chance on. And one break at a time, Oates crafted his Hall of Fame career.

‘Trying to please my dad’

Oates developed his passing prowess at a young age. His father, David, emigrated to Canada from England and was a soccer player who idolized Stanley Matthews, known as “The Magician” and the “Wizard of Dribble” because of his passing skills.

It was taught in the family, as Oates described it as, “if you can be unselfish, your teammates will always like you.”

“It just kind of became my role where obviously trying to please my dad,” he said. “I think it’s just the way that you’re 7 years old and your dad’s like, ‘Pass the puck. You’re a centerman.’”

Maybe it happened before Oates was 7. Hall of Famer Brett Hull, who scored 50 goals in 50 games twice with Oates as his center on the St. Louis Blues, said, “I think he was born to be a playmaker.”

It didn’t hurt that David Oates gave his son a stick that allowed him to perfect his backhand and see both sides of the ice. From there, Adam Oates began building awareness on the ice, soon able to see 135 degrees to his left as a right-handed center.

But the idea of being a selfless player was present before he ever laced up a pair of skates, and it showed.

“It brought him much greater pleasure to make a play to set up a teammate who would set up a goal than when he would score himself,” said Mike Addesa, Oates‘ coach at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). “That was his game.”

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