Glenn Anderson was, as many athletes do, trying to cope with an injury that held him off the ice and away from the team. Glen Sather made it easier.
“I remember the first year I got hurt, he tells me to go over his house and have dinner,” said Anderson. “I went over there. The kids were playing in the background and Annie cooked up a great meal. We watched the game, I think they were playing on the east coast. I remember that like it was yesterday because that’s how he cared about you. He goes, ‘make sure you go over there, have a good meal and get into therapy the next day. We need you back in the lineup as soon as possible.’”
Sather was the Oilers general manager, their coach, their psychologist, mentor and father figure throughout the late 70s and early 80s. His caring nature is one of the things Anderson remembers the most of his former bench boss.
“I think that’s him just being him wearing his heart on his sleeve and really caring about the individual and about the team,” said Anderson.
On December 11, Sather’s name will join Anderson and the names of six more of his former players in the Rexall Place rafters as a banner will be lifted in honour of the hockey legend. The Hockey Hall of Famer (Class of 1997) won four Stanley Cups with the Oilers as President, GM and Head Coach (1984, 1985, 1987 and 1988) and a fifth in 1990 as President and GM.
His contributions to the game on the ice are well-documented but Anderson remembers Sather’s off-ice personality and style as unique and beneficial to the Oilers successes.
“He was a mender, a fixer, he was constantly looking at hunting books, fixing things, looking GQ, what’s the latest fashion, what’s going to look good,” said Anderson. “He ran the gauntlet as far as what was out there. He kind of made sure that we dressed well, we had another interest, we had a charity and all those little things that made you a pro. He made you a better pro at the end of the day, and everything he’s done, basically, is towards helping you out as an individual and what’s going to make you better as a team player.”
Considering the nearly unbelievable collection of talent the Oilers assembled in the 80s, one might think Sather’s coaching job was easy. Anderson argues the opposite.
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“I think it’s harder, because you have to be very delicate with basically a bunch of superstars. We didn’t realize how good we were going to be, but we knew we had a lot of talent,” said Anderson.
The great Oilers forward, who played more than 1,100 NHL games in his career, says Sather had to figure out how to manipulate and motivate each star player as an individual. He had to tinker with the group to keep success consistent.
“Slats was kind of the straw that stirred the drink that got us all together and on the same path,” said Anderson. “That’s what was so special about him. He knew how to treat each individual differently if he needed to. He’d yell or scream or do whatever he had to do in the dressing room.”
Anderson was no stranger to the vocal chastisement of his bench boss.
“Oh my god, all the time,” Anderson laughed. “You know what? It was good. It was all good because you knew if you didn’t come to perform or something happened and you were having an off-night, you can’t go hide in the corner. You have to face the music. I think that’s what made us such a great team and Hall of Famers.”
Sather defined jobs and responsibilities for not only the superstars, but for the important role players as well. If one guy had an off night, it was expected that another would step up and fill the void. Accountability and expectations dominated that era of Oilers hockey, just as the players dominated the game.
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Sather was a catalyst for that. He was a moulder of men, shaping a dynasty still respected today.
“He made sure that you were involved in the hockey itself and that you dedicated yourself, how you presented everything and how you played,” said Anderson. “He also gave us the freedom to do what you had to do and that’s what made our teams so special. Not only did we have a lot of talent, but he moulded us as teenagers into men.”
Anderson remembers Sather as the coach, the manager and the man. On December 11, when the Oilers take on the New York Rangers, fans will get a chance of their own to remember and celebrate.
There will be a public celebration for Glen Sather on Thursday at 12:15 p.m. at the Winspear Centre Foyer. The banner ceremony takes place approximately at 6:20 p.m. on Friday ahead of the game.