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Oilers to honor Sather for role in building dynasty

by Dan Rosen

Glen Sather could have chosen his first Stanley Cup championship with the Edmonton Oilers in 1984. He also could have gone with his second, third, fourth, or his fifth. Heck, he could have even chosen the first time the Oilers appeared in the Stanley Cup Final in 1983.

He didn't go anywhere near the championships and all the winning he did with the Oilers when asked during a phone interview for his favorite memory of the near quarter-century he spent in Edmonton.

"One of the best memories, and the one that really stands out to me, is the night I benched Wayne Gretzky when we were playing in Cincinnati in the 1978-79 season, our last in the WHA," Sather told "Wayne came out and scored three goals in the third period and won the game for us after I benched him for a whole period. After that I could see this guy is the star he eventually became."

Thirty-seven years after Sather benched him, Gretzky will join a party of legends in Edmonton on Friday to honor the architect of the great Oilers dynasty of the 1980s.

Prior to the Oilers' game against the New York Rangers, Sather will have his name on a banner go up into the rafters at Rexall Place to fly alongside the names and numbers of those he molded into Hockey Hall of Fame players, including Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson and Grant Fuhr.

"I think the best thing I could say is if you asked those greats, those players about Glen having his banner raised, they'll say he warrants that as much as they do," said defenseman Kevin Lowe, who played on all five Oilers championship teams and now is Oilers vice chair. "I think you can't say anything better than that. They'll all say the same thing."

Sather remains Rangers president after relinquishing his duties as general manager prior to this season. He said being honored in the last season of Rexall Place means a lot to him. The building opened in 1974, two years before Sather got to Edmonton. The Oilers will move into a new building, Rogers Place, next season.

"We certainly had a lot of success, a lot of fun, a lot of happiness and some tears along the way in that building," Sather said.

Sather said he benched Gretzky for the second period of that game against the Cincinnati Stingers because he was a young player who wasn't applying himself the way he could and should.

"He was 18," Sather said. "There's a turning point in everybody's career and I knew at that moment what we had as a player."

It was that type of motivation that helped Sather get the most out of Gretzky and his Oilers teams. He pushed and prodded players to get their physical attributes to come to the fore. Once they started to shine, he let them go.

The Oilers turned into an offensive machine. They scored an NHL-record 446 goals in the 1983-84 season; the Quebec Nordiques were second with 360. They continued to lead the League in scoring the following three seasons with 401, 426 and 372 goals.

Gretzky had four seasons with 200-plus points, with a high-mark and NHL record of 215 in 1985-86.

"Slats [Sather] was good," Coffey said. "Slats was hard. Slats was honest but he allowed us all to be and become what we thought we could be and become. Whether it was how you dressed, how you played, he was pretty good at giving you confidence, giving you free reign. He deserves a lot of credit for developing our mental part of the game."

Sather said his tactics came from years in the game as a player and moving from team to team. He played for six teams in 10 NHL seasons.

"How do you tell anybody where you learn things?" Sather said. "You pick up a lot of things from different people, different experiences, different coaches. I had a lot of good ones. I think I was lucky to get traded as much as I did because you get exposed to different coaching styles, different attitudes, different players."

Sather typically saw his motivational tactics and team rules pay off. For example, he never let his players kneel on the ice during practice because he said he saw it as a sign of weakness.

The rule became a strength for the Oilers in the third overtime of Game 1 of the 1990 Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins. Sather was Oilers GM and president at the time; John Muckler was the coach.

"The Bruins guys are all sitting on the boards or on the ice or on the bench, and our guys were all standing," Sather said. "I knew right then that we were going to win the game. Petr Klima scored the goal."

Sather also believed the Oilers would defeat the Montreal Canadiens in the 1981 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He just had to convince his players of it.

Edmonton, seeded 14th, swept the third-seeded Canadiens in three games.

"We went into the Montreal Forum in 1981 with knees knocking and everything, and he's like, 'You guys can beat these guys,'" Lowe said. "We were like, 'We don't stand a chance.' But the fact that he stood up there and said, 'You can beat them,' that's the confidence that he was famous for."

Sather thrived on conflict and used it to play his mind games with his players.

"He was always a contrarian," Lowe said. "When we expected him to be difficult, he was easy. When we didn't expect him to be hard, he was hard."

Sather required his players to wear suits to games, at home and on the road. Anderson said Sather read GQ in order to keep abreast of the latest fashion trends. He also read hunting magazines to keep up on the latest trends there too.

"He just made you a better pro," Anderson said.


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