Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Catching Up with Kevin Lowe - January Main Street


In the spring of 1979, the telephone rang in the Lowe household informing a rising young hockey star that the Edmonton Oilers had selected him as their first ever National Hockey League draft pick. As Kevin Lowe would later write in his book Champions, he looked at his Mother and said, “Edmonton? I'm going to Edmonton? That's even colder then Quebec!”

Lowe was about to join a team that would soon become one of the greatest franchises in NHL history. With Gretzky, Messier, Coffey, Fuhr, Anderson, and Kurri to name a few, the Oilers changed the face of hockey, becoming the next great dynasty in the league. After playing 1,254 NHL games with Edmonton and the New York Rangers, winning six Stanley Cups and making numerous all-star appearances, Lowe would become Head Coach of the Oilers for one season, General Manager for eight seasons, leading him to his current role as President of Hockey Operations for the franchise in 2008.

He would also begin working with Hockey Canada, helping to build the teams that represent Canada at the Olympics; including the 2010 squad that will compete in Vancouver. A remarkable athlete and person, Kevin Lowe recently took time from a very busy schedule to speak with The Voice of Sport and Main Street to reminisce about growing up in Lachute, his life in Edmonton and the upcoming Olympic Games.

Throughout their storied history, the Edmonton Oilers organization has always been very active in the community; often going above and beyond to help those in need and that has continued with Lowe at the helm. Growing up in Lachute and working as a teenager at Lowe’s Dairy with his family has stayed with Kevin and helped guide him in his role as team president.

“That was a great upbringing for me,” recalled Lowe on the telephone from Edmonton. “The sense of community that my Dad, his brothers and family had for Lachute, the responsibility of sponsoring sports teams and eventually opening up the public skating rink in conjunction with the Lions Club, those kinds of experiences were a great upbringing for me.”

“Even though my Dad or my uncles were presidents or the owners of the business, they always pitched in and did what they had to do. I think they always treated their employees with a great deal of respect and as a consequence, I think the employees always felt that they were as much owners of the business as the actual owners. As for the Oilers, right from day one there was always a sense of giving back to the community, being a part of the community. It has evolved into now, where we have our Foundation (Oilers Community Foundation) and we generate $2 million dollars a year that we give out to charitable organizations. We are in the process of this legacy project called Inner-City High, which will be an incredible undertaking once it is done; trying to give back to under-privileged people.”

With six Stanley Cups, a victory at the 1984 Canada Cup and being a member of the management team with Hockey Canada (including a gold medal at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake), one victory holds a special place in Lowe’s heart.

“The first Stanley Cup is always the most special and the most impactful,” said Lowe fondly. “As a kid and the reality is, we didn't grow up dreaming of winning a gold medal. Maybe there is a little more of that in young boys and girls playing hockey today, but it wasn't an option when we were kids. So, hoisting the Stanley Cup and of course, growing up just down the road from the Canadiens, seeing the parades on TV and envisioning all that as a possibility someday and then when it actually comes to fruition, you can't really compare it.”

As Lachute prepares for their 32nd annual hockey tournament at the Kevin Lowe/Pierre Page Arena and considering the support the Lowe family has given to youth hockey, I asked Lowe if having his name on the arena was a source of pride for the family.

“You know, I never thought of it in those terms but after I looked at your questions, I thought yeah, I am sure the Lowe family does feel that way,” said Lowe thoughtfully. “I know that we are a very proud family, proud of our heritage and even though a lot of them have moved on to other places in Canada, the memories of the dairy and the rink and what the Lowe’s meant to hockey in Lachute is still with us. To have the Lowe name, regardless of whose name is attached to the arena does make everybody proud.”

Married in 1990 to Karen Percy (two-time bronze medalist at the 1988 Calgary Games), Lowe is the proud father of four children. His son Keegan may one day follow in Kevin’s footsteps; at 16 years old, Keegan has started his first season as a defenseman with the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL (Western Hockey League).

“Keegan spent the last two years at a school in Minnesota, at Shattuck-St. Mary’s. He was in that program and we had him enrolled to go back for the third year but he was drafted by the Oil Kings. He impressed them enough at camp that they wanted to keep him, so he made the team,” said Lowe. “It’s nice that he’s actually back, it’s nice to have him back in Edmonton.”

As a seven-time all-star in the NHL, Lowe can certainly offer an abundance of advice to his son and has on occasion, but it is also equally important to let Keegan find his own way and discover his own style of play.

“I try not to inundate him with information, but I certainly try (to offer advice) whenever I can give him one little thing for his game,” said Lowe. “He’s at an age now where he is starting to learn the game more and he is passionate about it and he is very coachable, so he’s got the right pedigree there. Like a lot of young players, he has a long way to go but he’s headed in the right direction.”

On December 30th, Team Canada General Manager Steve Yzerman, along with Lowe, Doug Armstrong and Ken Holland announced their selections for the men's Olympic hockey team that will compete in Vancouver. The pressure on Team Canada to win gold at home is intense and Lowe knows how to manage the challenge of being in the spotlight, finding the balance between the experience and remaining focused on the ultimate goal. The players will once again stay in the Athletes Village with other Team Canada members and take in as many events as possible, sharing in the Olympic experience with their fellow Canadians.

“I know Wayne Gretzky was really adamant about that at Salt Lake City and it carried on to Torino,” recalled Lowe. “It will definitely be a bit of a focus with the players in Vancouver. We try to give them the right kind of balance. Hockey Canada does an incredible job of making the whole experience; in terms of the logistics, they are just phenomenal. They are so experienced at it. They leave no stone unturned, making sure the players and their families are taken care of and get from point A to point B. It is a tight competition, there is not a lot of time, so in order to balance the two, to try and win and enjoy the experience takes a lot of work and they do a great job at that.”

“It is probably similar to being in the Stanley Cup Finals, you take a moment, you relish the moment and the opportunity,” said Lowe. “You recognize that it doesn't happen every day so you enjoy the experience but you also know that it is tough to win so you have to be focused. The level of players that we will have on the team have a lot of experience at various levels of Stanley Cup playoffs and Internationals, either at the World Junior Championships or the World Championships.”

Many years have passed since Kevin Lowe ventured from Lachute into a life in the NHL, but it is clear when speaking with him that the memories of growing up in Lachute are still with him today. His achievements are something all of Lachute can take pride in, a hometown boy that skated onto the world stage and inspired us all to follow our dreams - whatever they may be.

The conversation continues in the January 22nd edition of Main Street Week with Kevin Lowe’s thoughts on a new arena in Edmonton for the Oilers and the topic of headshots in the NHL. Have a great sports day everyone.

This article first appeared in the January 2010 print edition of Main Street and is reprinted here with permission from the editors - thanks Jack and Sue! For a look at a great community newspaper, drop by www.mainstreetweeknews.com

Photo by mastermaq on Flickr.com

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