He tried hard not to leave anyone out.
“My wife Donna. I love you very much. We met near the end of my career; I wish we could’ve met a little bit sooner. You could’ve seen me when I was a little bit better,” Oates said, choking up and drawing laughs. “Mom and Dad, I don’t know how you took me to all those games. You supported me, you encouraged me, helped me through the tough times and gave me the chance to live my dream. I know it’s not the easiest thing for our family, but I love you very much. Thank you. I’d never be here without you.”
Oates‘ emotional speech was part of a night during which fellow inductees Pavel Bure, Joe Sakic and Mats Sundin were honored. The Washington Capitals coach who played for seven different NHL teams didn’t forget to mention those three.
“I can’t think of any better honor than being grouped with some of the people that you think are special in the game, that you try and raise your game to play against every single night, whether it’s a Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Mario Lemeiux or going into Colorado and trying to beat the Avalanche and try and play as good as Joe Sakic,” Oates said. “Or go into Toronto, my hometown, trying to beat the Leafs and try and play as good as Mats Sundin. Or in Vancouver, how are we going to win? How are we going to shut down the Russian Rocket? And, gentlemen, I’d like to say congratulations for the huge honor which I sincerely think you deserve.”
Oates thanked youth coach Mike Renzetti, junior coach Ken Gibb, college coach Mike Addesa and skating coach Paul Vincent. Ex-Caps Olie Kolzig and Calle Johansson were part of his list of memorable teammates.
A few guys got more specific shout-outs, like Boston Bruins teammates Cam Neely and Ray Bourque. One guy, predictably, held a special place for Oates.
“I got to play with Brett Hull. Hully, I know you know how I feel about you. Seventy-two, 86, 50 in 50, it was an incredible time,” Oates said. “You put me on the map. It was so, so special. My feelings for you, I’ve expressed so many times, you’re absolutely fantastic. I can’t believe it was only three years ‘cause it felt like forever.”
It feels like forever ago that Oates was named Caps coach and then told he was making the Hall of Fame. No NHL games have been played since June 26, a casualty of the lockout, but that day was an exceptional one for Oates: He got the call from George McPhee that he got the job and then the Hall contacted him perhaps 15 minutes later.
“You can imagine that was a very emotional day. Since that day, I’ve spent a lot of time doing what almost everybody I’m sure who’s been inducted has done: You reflect on your career,” Oates said. “I spent a lot of time thinking about the people I played with, my memories of the game and the people that helped me get there. And today is the day of all days that I think I should say thank you.”
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