Gustafsson wanted to stay here

JOHN SHORT

, Last Updated: 9:44 AM ET

If a certain move had have unfolded as Glen Sather, original Oilers general manager Larry Gordon and head scout Barry Fraser intended nearly 30 years ago, Edmontonians would have serious interest in the world hockey championships - so-called - that end today.

Swedish coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson's connection to this city was much shorter than he wanted it to be.

Gustafsson arrived toward the end of the Oilers' final year in the World Hockey Association and was designated as one of the four players they could protect. Goaltenders Eddie Mio and Dave Dryden and some guy named Gretzky were the others.

But the Washington Capitals found a technicality in the plan and claimed Gustafsson as their property. President John Ziegler and other NHL thinkers agreed - surprise, surprise - and Gustafsson left early in training camp to join a team where he would have a long run of good years.

As public relations director, it was my job to drive him to the airport. Unlike Chris Pronger, Mike Comrie and others anxious to leave Good Old Ourtown, Gustafsson wanted to stay, at least partly because he saw the potential of Gretzky and Kevin Lowe among the young stars who soon would become Stanley Cup champions.

"Why don't the Oilers make a trade to keep me?" Gustafsson asked. "Find out what those guys (the Capitals) want."

Gordon, of course, had looked at all options. There were dozens of players at camp, including eight or 10 goaltenders, but only a nucleus had proven NHL ability.

As Gustafsson hauled his luggage from the trunk, he finally smiled. "Too bad the Capitals won't take six goaltenders."

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I knew Bob Dean. I liked him.

He was tough enough to be gentle when it mattered.

Tributes have arrived from all over about his value to Edmonton, first as a valuable Eskimo offensive lineman and later, more importantly, as a teacher, principal and valuable all-round citizen.

At times like this, we line up to remember the old Eskimos who made vital commitments: two former premiers, a lieutenant governor, numerous high-level businessmen and those on an almost endless list - Bright, Miles, Dean, John Wydareny, to name only a few - who committed themselves to education.

All of it is part of the legacy a football team has provided for several decades.

Old Eskimos stay and make homes here.

Most of the Old Oilers leave. So do most of the young ones.

Why the difference?

- - -

Norm Lacombe is one old Oiler who stayed, and the community benefits.

He's a terrific choice as head coach of the reborn St. Albert franchise in the AJHL.

It's still too bad Fort Saskatchewan couldn't keep its team, but Lacombe will set a wicked standard for fitness and consistency. His no-nonsense approach will be obvious as soon as holdover Traders and the new guys take a look at his own level of energy.

Lacombe fought serious leg problems throughout his NHL career. Pound for pound, he was probably the strongest man in the league.

He didn't always like his nickname - "Chateau Lacombe" - but the label tells everything about how hard it was for rivals to move him in the corners and near the net.


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