Slats reminisces

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:49 AM ET

To Glen Sather, it hardly feels like a quarter-century has gone by.

The architect of the Edmonton Oilers glory teams can still remember vividly what it was like winning the Stanley Cup for the first time.

"My favourite memory was probably just the joy of the fans, the look on their faces when you glanced into the crowd after we won," said Sather. "I remember Mark (Messier) skating over to where his dad was sitting and banging on the glass. But what really stood out was the expression on the faces of the fans and them sharing that joy with you."

A youngster in his own right, Sather was 41 when he coached the Oilers to their first Cup victory. He too had gone through the disappointment of previous seasons and learned lessons from the final loss the previous year.

"I don't think it was a mystery to us any more of what it took to win," Sather said. "It wasn't just about talent, but it was the mental toughness it was going to take not just to beat those guys, but to beat anybody.

"You have to go through four different series to win the Stanley Cup. You need that mental toughness to go through that and win it. It's not the easiest thing for somebody to be taught. That's something that has to be learned from experience and know what you have to do to devote yourself to get there."

Having been swept out of the final by the Islanders a year earlier, the Oilers went into their second final with a new-found respect for the four-time defending champions. Yet there was also a belief the Islanders could be toppled if they were willing to make the necessary sacrifices.

"We all had the idea going into that series, that it was going to be tough," Sather said. "We had a pretty good handle of what we were doing, but when you get the experience of playing for the Stanley Cup and competing at that level night after night and traveling back and forth like we did all the time, it takes a lot out of you.

"We weren't chartering in those days. Our team travelled commercially all year long and it was a tough way to play. But these guys learned how to do it and they stuck with it and did it."

With a common goal, Sather was able to communicate to his young team that everyone served a purpose and they all had to work for each other.

The message was received.

"I think when you get to that stage, egos don't have anything to do with it," Sather said. "These guys were playing for each other and it's a real test of will to be able to win. You can't depend on one person, our team didn't depend on any one person when we got in the playoffs, it was really a united team effort. They all played like captains.

"They were a great bunch of guys. Lee Fogolin brought a lot of that leadership because he was one of the older guys at that stage and he passed it on to the younger guys. They learned from him and learned from each other. It was on-the-job training."

Sather was not afraid to let his team learn from experience. The Oilers skipper knew that would register more then any lecture he could provide.

"Even though we were young, he gave us a lot of ownership in what was going on," said Kevin Lowe.

"He treated us like equals. He allowed us to go out and play the game, but even the simple things like what hotel we preferred to stay in or what time we should fly out of somewhere, he asked our opinion. He always did stuff like that to show us this was a special time and that it was going to take a whole team effort."

And it wasn't just in the final. That spring the Oilers needed seven games to dispatch the Calgary Flames in what may have birthed the Battle of Alberta between the two teams.

"Every series that year had significant moments," Sather said. "And it could have gone either way in lots of them. It didn't and I think one of the big reasons is that we became mentally strong as a group."

DEREK.VANDIEST@SUNMEDIA.CA


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