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ALUMNI: Lowe's Hall of Fame induction a product of timing and connections

Developing connections over a 35-year career and being in the right place at the right time helped elevate the former Oilers athletic trainer to hockey's highest honour

by Jamie Umbach / EdmontonOilers.com

EDMONTON, AB - Longtime Oilers Athletic Trainer Ken Lowe had a knack for being in the right place at the right time over 35 years in the profession.

During Canada's quest for gold at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, he was presented the opportunity to play a small but significant role from the treatment room.

Two back-to-back games against Germany and the Czech Republic would decide Canada's fate in the group after an opening loss to Sweden. A serviceable, then 36-year-old Mario Lemieux was critical to determining that outcome.

Fixing an ice pack for Lemieux and his lingering hip issues that stemmed from arthroscopic surgery just over three months earlier, The Magnificent One posed the question to Lowe of playing back-to-back games for the first time in an extended period.

"What do you think?" Lemieux asked.

It would be a defining moment for Canada, and one of the biggest thrills of Lowe's career as a trainer.

"I remember looking up at him and thinking 'Holy geez, this is Mario Lemieux asking me that,'" Lowe said to EdmontonOilers.com. "I said: 'So, you figure you need to play against Germany then the Czechs? If we can't beat the Germans without you, we shouldn't be here.'"

Mario didn't dress in Canada's 3-2 win over Germany before coming back the next day to deliver two goals against the Czechs in a 3-3 tie. The rest, and a gold medal for Canada, was history.

"You get so wrapped up in it and don't realize the impact your decisions have."

An induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame by the Professional Hockey Athletic Trainers Society (PHATS) and the Society of Professional Hockey Equipment Managers (SPHEM) this week for Lowe comes as one of the most decorated trainers in history with 1,500 NHL games of experience with the Oilers, a Stanley Cup, and gold medals at the 2002 Winter Olympics and 2004 World Cup of Hockey to his name.

Video: Hall of Fame | Ken Lowe Honoured

"I look at the people who've already been inducted ­- people like Larry Ashley, Pete Demers, Barrie Stafford and Gaetan Lefebvre - these were the guys who started the program and association and built on it," Lowe said. "Just to going in with them is an honour."

A bit of it was luck, but relationships were instrumental.

An industrial accident on his family farm in Lachute, Quebec following his rookie season as a goalie for the University of Concordia in Montreal pushed Lowe out of hockey for a year, and eventually towards a long career as an athletic trainer thanks to the tutelage of Doctor Jim Sullivan, Concordia Head Coach Paul Arsenault, and Athletic Trainer Garry Cummings before eventually assuming the latter's role.

"Those three people are more instrumental than anyone in getting me into the field because Paul kept me around for the year as a video guy to help out and Garry had me working with him," Lowe said. "Things fell into the proper place for me, so I was lucky."

With experience and a Master of Arts Degree specializing in Athletic Training and Conditioning from the University of Alberta, an opportunity arose in the Canadian Football League in 1981 thanks to a familial connection.

"I was the head athletic trainer at the time at Concordia, but I wanted to go somewhere with my Master's Degree," Lowe said. "My younger brother Kevin was instrumental in getting me out here and letting me know that the Eskimos were looking for a trainer. I came into the right place."

It was also the right time, as Lowe won a Grey Cup in his first season with the Green & Gold. That started a stretch of championships for him on the first try, including a Stanley Cup in his first year with the Oilers after former equipment manager Barrie Stafford recommended the position with the team in 1989.

"I keep telling people I was in the right place at the right time. I was so lucky," Lowe said. "My first Stanley Cup was probably my greatest, being it was with my younger brother and it's so hard to win a Stanley Cup. I don't think people realize how hard of a grind it is. That was probably my biggest thrill from a championship perspective."

At the heart of Lowe's extended career as an athletic trainer was a love for the every-day in between with the players he tended to on a daily basis.

"Early morning coffee and sitting in the training room with Kenny," Jason Smith, a seven-year veteran and five-year captain with the Oilers, said of his best memories with Lowe. "I had a lot of great memories of just good conversations talking hockey and life, and him taking care of guys in the room."

There were also the personal relationships that formed in tough times. For former Oilers forward Fernando Pisani, that included an emotional discussion with Lowe prior to the start of the 2007-08 NHL campaign after being diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis.

"The phone call that I had with Ken was an emotional one for me, and he was really good to me and put things into perspective," Pisani said. "He was really good in helping find me the right people to help. It was kind of something that was new to him as well, and we just took a step back from hockey.

"That was one of the things that stood out to me with Kenny, and he and I have a special relationship from that because it was a very personal thing and difficult for me to deal with."

 

Looking back on his career, Lowe sees the real championships as the friendships he formed and the lives he helped improve.

"That's the way I wanted it to be," Lowe said. "You develop such a relationship with them and you get so close to them, especially from an athletic trainer perspective.

"Fernando is one I go back to remembering his bout with Colitis and what he went through, so there's a special touch when I go back and take a look at it and remember how fortunate I was being in the right place at the right time."

From the colleagues he worked with in the profession to the players he encountered over his 35 years as an athletic trainer, Lowe will remember the relationships more than his plaque that will be immortalized in the Hockey Hall of Fame when he's inducted at the PHATS/SPHEM annual dinner in Austin, Texas this Saturday.

"To me that was most important. I always wanted my players when they left to say maybe he wasn't the best trainer that I ever had, but he was my friend."

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