Cal Nichols (left) receives the Order of Canada
The man who saved the Edmonton Oilers and owned and governed them (as Chairman of the Edmonton Investors Group) from 1998 until 2008 was named to the Order of Canada today in Ottawa.
“It feels great,” said Cal Nichols to Bob Stauffer on 630 CHED’s Oilers Now. “I never expected this. When it first happened, it was a very pleasant surprise.”
A small-town guy from Paradise Hills, Saskatchewan, Nichols joins such distinguished names as Terry Fox, David Suzuki, Margaret Atwood and Tommy Douglas among others. He talked about his community upbringing.
“My mom and dad were community people and that’s where it all started. I was also fortunate to have great friends and people in the community that helped me. You don’t do this by yourself. There’s a lot of luck and a lot of good connections and so on throughout your life.”
Nichols was instrumental in keeping the Oilers in Edmonton on two occasions. First, in 1996 he helped spearhead a season ticket campaign to get the Oilers to 13,000 season seat holders in order to receive the NHL’s Canadian currency equalization payments.
“I kept saying that Edmonton’s a better place with the Oilers than without them. It started in ’96 with the ticket drive. That was a fairly significant task on its own. From that time forward, I felt it was very important to the city.”
Two years later, the Oilers were very nearly sold to Houston investor and NBA Rockets owner Les Alexander.
“Then 1998 came along and we saw what happened in Winnipeg and Quebec City. I just became more driven to ensure that didn’t happen to Edmonton,” Nichols remarked. “It was a tough sell because the team was losing $4 million a year, the dollar was 67 cents and the seats weren’t exactly full.”
|Nichols at an Oilers press conference in 2007. |
Despite those challenges, he managed to find over 30 investors to come together and purchase the team from Peter Pocklington.
“People were hesitant to start writing cheques and invest in this but they believed in me, I guess. I just kept grinding away until we found enough people to make up $60 million and then had to borrow another $50 (million) to be able to purchase the team at that time.”
Nichols was also asked by Stauffer about how the perception of the large ownership group changes over the years they owned the team.
“We were looked upon as a bunch of poor millionaires that had to scrape it together to make this work. It was a process. We had to gain acceptance but I think as we went through the (2004-05) lockout we became a bit of a poster child for what the league was trying to achieve, and that’s cost certainty and revenue sharing.
“We said all the right things in Edmonton in terms of what was needed to survive.”
The Edmonton Investors Group sold the Oilers in 2008 but Nichols has, of course, remained in the city and like many Oilers fans today he’s looking forward to seeing the team move into the brand new Rogers Place less than a year from now.
“It’s going to be fantastic, as well it should. I’ve looked at all the new generation buildings over the years and when you’re the last one to build you should have capitalized on everybody else’s mistakes or the good parts. It’s going to be a lot of fun to go there,” he said.