- The Washington Times - Monday, January 14, 2002

It is fun to speculate. What if, for instance, Adam Oates' father had been born in Alabama and his idol had been a NASCAR driver? Or if the senior Oates had been born in California worshipping baseball stars?
In fact, David Oates was born in England and idolized a soccer player who rarely scored but loved passing to others so they could. Not just simple passes but artistic drives followed by goals that truly counted.
Adam Oates didn't play competitive soccer growing up in suburban Toronto but did the next best thing he became a center for hockey teams. There he could do on ice what his dad's idol did on grass in England direct the attack, passing to the teammate who had the best opportunity to score.
Tonight or Wednesday or Friday or Saturday but some time soon, the Washington Capital will become just the eighth player in NHL history to have 1,000 career assists. Even Oates admits he is looking forward to it because he is enjoying the enjoyment his parents are getting out of the milestone.
"I look back and every parent who has ever taken a kid, male or female, to some sort of Little League this or that, it's a lot of hours," Oates said the other day. "My parents have been doing it for 35 years now, watching me play. It's been a long time. This … this is really something for my parents. I'm just very lucky to be here."
Oates entered this season needing 37 assists to hit 1,000. He has 36. He is closing in on 1,200 NHL games (1,173) and has 1,323 points. But 1,000 helpers? Wayne Gretzky had 1,963, a figure that may never be approached; Ray Bourque is second all-time at 1,169 and he's retired.
Actually, there is a race within a race here because center Steve Yzerman of Detroit is also sitting there with 999 helpers. Yzerman and Oates were teammates on the Red Wings in the early '80s before Oates went to St. Louis, Boston and finally Washington.
"Whenever it happens, you always try to put things in perspective," Oates said. "It would have been nice to do it on a game-winner in overtime [Friday] night but right now we need points more than anything else. I'd hate to have it happen when we're losing 5-0 and then get an assist. For me, it's gratifying to get to that point because it's the way I play the game and it's been a long time. I feel very lucky."
He has been amazingly durable, especially since joining the Caps in 1997. He missed 23 games three seasons ago with a strained groin but otherwise has missed a handful of games. And he has had at least 52 assists in 11 of the last 13 seasons; he and Jaromir Jagr shared the NHL lead last season with 69. Oates currently has 36 assists in 43 games and leads the league again.
"Four years ago, I never thought I'd get here and here I am," Oates said. "I can't really say [1,000] was a goal because I thought it was unobtainable for the longest time. Then all of a sudden it got close, I was still healthy and still playing, and … here we are."
He hit 90 or more helpers in a single season twice, 97 in 1992-93 in Boston when he was centering Cam Neely and Joe Juneau, and 90 in 1990-91 when he was centering for Brett Hull. He has had more than 100 points four times.
Still, at 39 his future is somewhat up in the air. He will be an unrestricted free agent July 1 if the Caps do not do something before then. If it appears the club won't make the playoffs by the time the trading deadline rolls around on March 19, there is a good chance he will be traded and help somebody else's playoff bid.
"I'd like to play a couple more years, sure, and we'll go from there," the center said. "It's still fun. My parents won't allow me to quit because they enjoy it and I still love playing the game. I love the life, I really love the life. I'll play as long as I can."

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