Nine years after Adam Oates hung up his skates, the Hockey Hall of Fame has finally inducted the former Washington Capitals captain. In Toronto on Monday, in front of his mom, dad, wife Donna, George McPhee, and many others, Oates gave a stirring, eloquent, and totally unscripted speech, thanking the people who helped him in his career.
Hall of Famer Brett Hull, part of a video package about Oates aired before the introduction, called his former teammate “Gretzky-like” in his vision and passing skill. “Adam belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame because he’s one of the greatest players to play the game,” Hull said.
Oates made it through his most of his speech, which included personal thanks to Olie Kolzig and Calle Johansson, without getting emotional. But then he brought up his wife Donna and recalled his parents dedication and support throughout his childhood, and he couldn’t hold back the tears.
Oates has been compared to Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux a bunch these last few days, and while that’s a controversial claim, there is one thing that is not debatable: Adam Oates was one of the best playmakers of all-time. He made everyone on the ice a better player. With him, the Capitals would not have made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 98 and so many of the other players we loved growing up would have been deprived. Shame on the HHOF for inducting this man six years later than they should have.
Oates’ speech and a full transcript of his remarks are below the jump.
As most people know, last June there was a very special day for me. I got a call for George McPhee telling me I was going to be the head coach of the Washington Capitals and 15 minutes later I got a call telling me I was going to be in the Hall of Fame. As you can imagine, that was a pretty emotional day. Since that day, I spent a lot of time doing what almost every player that has been inducted has done: you reflect on your career. I spent a lot of time thinking about the people I played with, my memories of the game, and the people who helped me get there. And today is the day of all days that I should say thank you.
Growing up in Toronto, I moved north when I was 16 and I played hockey in Weston with a man named Mike Renzetti, who coached me, drove me and was like a big brother to me. My junior coach Ken Gibb, who when I said I wanted to get a scholarship did everything in his power to try and help me. My college coach, Mike Addesa, who recruited me, appealed my case, got my amateur status back and taught me so much about the game. And Paul Vincent, my skating coach who took me into his home for two years, no questions asked, to help me work on my game. To them I want to say thank you. I want to let you know that I haven’t forgotten that you helped me.
I can’t think of any better honor than being grouped with some of the people 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. 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.
In life you have relationships, they don’t always last, but you make a connection. Hockey is no different. Whether it’s coaches like Brian Sutter, Tom McVie, Tim Army, Mike Babcock, or players: Mike O’Connell, Doug Halward, Rick Zombo, Gino Cavallini, Kelly Chase, Sergio Momesso, Rick Tocchet, Don Sweeney, Olie Kolzig, Calle Johansson, Peter Sykora, Paul Kariya. To them and many others I want to say, thank you. I think we connected. You meant so much to me in my career.
I also had the privilege of playing with some special players. I was in Detroit when a young Steve Yzerman was named captain. I watched him turn into the superstar he became. I got traded to St. Louis and played with Scott Stevens, who was a fantastic player and went on to become the rock of the New Jersey Devils.
And I got to play with Brett Hull. Hully, I know you know how I feel about you. 71, 86, 50 in 50, it was an incredible time. 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 because it felt like forever.
I got traded to Boston and I got to play with Cam Neely and Ray Bourque. Cam, 50 goals in 42 games has to be one of the best seasons of all-time. I’m one of the few people that know what you had to do every night just to be able to play. It was an absolute privilege. I had the best seat. I wish it could’ve been longer. And Ray, six of the best years of my life, my man. My friend, my teammate, I got to watch you work every day, work with you, you challenged me, you made me better. You made me better as a player. You were so good. Thank you and thank you to those guys for all the memories I’m going to carry with me my whole life.
Lastly I’d like to thank my friends and family, my wife Donna. [Oates begins to choke up.] I love you very much. We met near the end of my career; I wish we could’ve met a little bit sooner so you could’ve seen me when I was a little bit of a better player. I’m happy that you’re hear today to experience this and see what we’re all about here in hockey. And thank you for supporting me in the next challenge in my life, coaching.
My sisters Laurel and Michelle and all my friends. You all had to watch so many games and support me and deal with my moods the next day. The best way I can say thank you to you and honor you is to remind you that I hope you know that… every single one of those games, a part of me was playing for you.
Mom and Dad, I don’t know how you took me to all those games. You supported me, encouraged me, helped me through the tough times, 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’ plaque which sure looks like he’s in the old Capitals eagle jersey.
Capitals GM George McPhee looks on during Oates’ speech.
Oates’ parents and wife look on proudly.
Oates hugs his mom.
Oates kisses his wife.
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