In less than a week, Oilers legend Glenn Anderson will receive an honor that’s long overdue. And when he is officially welcomed into the Hockey Hall of Fame, I’d love to see him freak out the starched shirts in attendance with a speech as unpredictable and colorful as he was during his memorable career.
That Anderson was labeled a “space cadet” as a player because of his unconventional nature is more of a comment on the ultra-authoritative philosophy of those who govern the game than it is on the man himself.
In fact, when I spoke to Anderson for The Hockey News’ Top 60 Since 1967 book (in which a panel of seasoned observers ranked him as the 55th best player in the post-expansion NHL) I found him to be personable, witty and, most importantly, worldly in a way that’s extremely rare among any elite-level hockey player I’ve ever dealt with.
His natural curiosity about topics other than hockey revealed itself in virtually every decision Anderson made. Although he was drafted by Edmonton 69th overall in 1979, his primary goal initially wasn’t to make it to the NHL, but rather, to play for his homeland in the Olympics and gallivant around the globe as part of the Canadian National team.
“When you signed with Edmonton, (coach) Glen Sather gave you a psychology test and you were asked your goals and ambitions,” Anderson told THN in 2007. “And mine was playing hockey and visiting different countries, whereas everybody else’s was hoisting the Stanley Cup over their heads.”
Now, you or I might think Anderson’s hockey-related priorities make him three idiots shy of a moron quartet, but our notions of what works best for him are just that – ours.
And although his decisions didn’t endear him to those hockey authorities who believe every player should have a singular focus on the game – at the expense of even cursory knowledge of the world around them – I’m glad Anderson was comfortable enough in his own skin to stick to his guns.
Even after all his success with the Oilers, Anderson maintained his love for the international game, to the point he negotiated the option to play in the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics into his pro contract. The NHL ultimately denied him the opportunity, but couldn’t stop him from using the sport to see the world once his days in that league were done. Anderson would go on to play in Germany, Finland, Italy and Switzerland before retiring in 1997.
It was a surprise to many that Anderson was willing to spend his last on-ice strides outside the professional organization in which he achieved fame and fortune. Stars of his caliber – excuse me, that’s North American stars of his caliber – were expected to ache with every heartbeat to remain in the NHL as long as a team would hire them.
However, those who knew him knew better. They knew Anderson’s most prized hockey experiences never were ones you’d find on standard lists of famous achievements.
Take, for instance, his first Olympic experience with Team Canada – a dubious sixth place finish during the famed 1980 “Miracle” U.S. tournament win in Lake Placid, N.Y.
“(That) was one of the biggest stepping stones in my career, both in terms of developing into a player and developing into a human being,” Anderson said. “My learning experiences are probably my fondest. The ‘80 Olympics was a big standout.”
In addition to the Olympics, Anderson said the 1982 Miracle on Manchester, when his Oilers were winning 5-0 in Game 3 of the opening round and the Los Angeles Kings came back to win 6-5 in overtime, will always standout in his mind.
“I’ll remember those games forever, because those are the ones you learn from. If you’re constantly winning, you don’t appreciate it if you haven’t lost before.”
For all his brilliance scoring key goals in the NHL, Anderson didn’t let it define him as a person. He dared to believe those who told him that hockey wasn’t everything and lived his life his own way.
Sure, he was one of the people directly responsible for this pox on modern music, but nobody’s perfect.
When he sees his plaque put up in Toronto early next week, it would be perfect to see him underscore his individualism one last time.
Hockey needs more Glenn Andersons more than Glenn Anderson ever needed hockey.
Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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