With the NHL lockout delaying the start of training camp and threatening the Oct. 11 start of the regular season, Capitals coach Adam Oates agreed to sit down for an exclusive interview with CSNWashington.com Insider Chuck Gormley.In Part One, Oates discusses his life as a young hockey player, his athletic battles with Wayne Gretzky and his life a teenage punk.
Tomorrow: Learning the ropes as a college player.
CSN: Were you introduced to hockey at a young age?
Adam Oates: Yeah, I started playing when I was 4, a typical Canadian kid growing up in Toronto, where hockey was everything. I grew up in Rexdale, but I consider myself a Toronto guy. My older brother Lawson played, so Id play my game, then watch his. We actually played together at one time, so I was exposed to a lot of hockey at an early age.
Do you have any other siblings?
Two younger sisters, Laurel and Michelle, one three years younger; one 10 years younger.
What was it like growing up in Toronto?
A very close family. My brother and I played a lot of hockey. I played lacrosse as well growing up. Back then I was kind of a typical kid. I played sports every day. My toys were my sticks.
Was there a point when you had to decide between lacrosse and hockey?
Yep, it was pretty late. I was a decent lacrosse player and probably around 15 or 16 I had to make a decision. There was no pro league in lacrosse. I really wanted to be a hockey player so it was an easy decision. I might have been a little better lacrosse player than a hockey player. I was a center, the same type of player. I set a few scoring records, but its a hockey world in Canada. Dont get me wrong, I loved hockey.
Which was tougher physically, lacrosse or hockey?
Lacrosse. Probably one of the reasons I dont think it makes it as a big sport. I played indoor, not outdoor. It was too rough and its a tough game to televise. The balls in the air all the time. We played in the hockey arenas. Very fast game, a lot of checking. Gretz Wayne Gretzky played. Gretz was good. Its so funny. I ran track against him, I played baseball against him, hockey, lacrosse. He beat me in everything.
Oh, yeah. I think he was a pitcher in baseball. I played against him in lacrosse a bunch when we were young. Its funny how I know that but he probably doesnt. Thats how famous he was already.
As a hockey player or as an athlete?
Hockey player. We knew about him at 12 years old. He was a year older than me. I remember running track against him in the mile. He beat me. It was in Toronto, maybe an Ontario meet. It was a long time ago, but yeah, he beat me in everything. Gretz was an awesome athlete.
Were you an elite hockey player all the way through high school?
I would say I was the kid who was always a little smaller than everyone else. I was a late bloomer. Every year Id struggle to make a team in Toronto but Id always contend for a scoring title, thats why Id keep advancing. I would say when I got to Tier II of junior hockey I really turned it on and grew as a player and then I got to go to college Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which really helped me.
You were not drafted by an NHL team as an 18-year-old. Was that a big blow to you?
Yeah, for sure. I had a couple kids on my team that I was better than that got drafted because they were bigger and when youre in juniors theyre drafting size and I was small. It was so hard. Youre going to high school every day and all of a sudden everybody knows about it. It was a blow to the ego. I dont remember talking much about. It hurt me and I kind of hid it. You act like its no big deal. Youre a kid, youre macho. I acted like it didnt bother me.
So youre 18. Youre not drafted. What did you do at that point?
I kept playing. I guess I fought through the adversity a little bit. Maybe I was a little stubborn. Maybe I was a little nave that I thought I was going to make it at all costs. I really sacrificed my schooling. I warred with my dad David about it. My dad said, You didnt get drafted. Who are you kidding? I ended up playing Tier II, a college coach RPIs Mike Adessa came up to me and I was illegal because I played two games of major exhibition, so I lost my amateur status.
Did you get paid for those two games?
No, so they appealed my case. The NCAA board suspended me seven games as a freshman, but they let me into school. I ended up getting my grades up and got a scholarship to RPI.
How were your grades in high school?
I couldnt care less. Hockey was my life. I was a punk, I really was. I was your typical guy from that Rob Lowe movie.
Yeah. That was our life
What about school?
Couldnt be bothered. Unbelievable. Im a lucky man, I really am.
Because I was that close to not making it. And then I would have had nothing to fall back on. No school, no nothing.
What was your relationship like with your dad at that point?
My dad and I were warring at that point. He wanted me to stay in school and get my grades. If youre not going to make it youve got to have something. We butted heads big time. Big time. He kicked me out, the whole deal.
Where did you go?
I lived with buddies, a little bit of a vagabond.
You were 18 at the time?
I was getting a stipend as a junior player, I was working at a gas station, making a few bucks, and couldnt care less. I was playing hockey. I mean, it would have been over that summer. Its so funny. I played with retired NHLer Steve Thomas on my team and he was in the same boat. I ended up getting a scholarship to RPI and he ended up playing for the Toronto Marlies as an overage, because hes a year younger than me. We both didnt get drafted and we both ended up playing 20 years in the NHL. We were both in the same exact boat. And hes actually in the movie Youngblood.