"Scouting" a Hall of Famer -- two ancient game reports

My first view of Glenn Anderson occurred sometime during the 1978-79 season, when the University of Denver brought their fine hockey team to Edmonton for an exhibition game against the University of Alberta Golden Bears. The Bears were in the second of a three-year run as national champions, perhaps the best team ever iced by this long-standing dynasty of Canadian university sport, their line-up featuring future NHLers like Don Spring, Dave Hindmarch, and their captain and CIAU Player of the Year Randy Gregg.

While I was keen to see how the Bears fared against a top NCAA team, I also went to this game with scouting aforethought. The Pioneers’ roster featured Ken Berry, a draft choice of the then-WHA Oilers and brother of Doug Berry who was breaking in with the Oilers that very season. Little did I know that a childhood friend of the Berrys would be the true find. Or as I said to my seatmate more than once that night: “Berry looks pretty good, but who in the heck is this # 9 ?!” Glenn Anderson was flying on the always-excellent Varsity (now Clare Drake) Arena ice, and made a very positive impression despite being blanked along with his mates in a 2-0 Bears victory.

One person who was likely in the building and certainly paying attention was Lorne Davis. That summer the Oilers drafted Anderson, in the fourth round, 69th overall, in the best ever Entry Draft class of 1979. Oilers’ first three picks, Kevin Lowe, Mark Messier, and Anderson, would go on to win six Stanley Cups together, five of them right here in Edmonton. I remember being thrilled on draft day that I had actually seen two of the guys we picked – Messier and Anderson – during the previous season. I had no problem remembering Anderson’s exciting pell-mell dashes towards goal, and was honestly excited that this was a great pick by the newly-reinvented NHL Oilers.

The following season Andy was back in the same arena, which is hockey’s version of Renfrew/John Ducey Park – hard on the rear end, but a wonderful place to see a game. This time the Bears’ opposition was Canada’s Olympic team that was barnstorming the country in preparation for the Lake Placid Olympics. Father David Bauer’s revised dream team was coached by Drake with assistance from Tom Watt and one Lorne Davis. In fact Team Canada featured six players from that Denver-Alberta exhibition game: Gregg, Spring, Hindmarch, John Devaney, Berry and Anderson. It also featured at least four guys who would go on to play for the Edmonton Oilers: Gregg, Anderson, Berry and (trivia fans take note) netminder Bob Dupuis.

Even though the Bears’ roster had been ravaged by “defections” to the Olympic team, they were no spent force. Drake’s assistant Billy Moores stepped to the forefront and guided a team with 11 newcomers to a third consecutive national championship. On this night they gave Team Canada one of their best games on their season long tour, handing the Red Maple Leaf a rare loss in a spirited 4-3 affair.

While there was lots of story lines and some great hockey to enjoy that night, the apple of my eye was Anderson, now a full-fledged Oilers prospect and clearly one of the stars of Canada's first Olympic hockey team in 12 years. He had an outstanding game, scoring once, setting up another, finding iron at least once while creating one great scoring opportunity after another with his speed, puck-carrying and fearlessness. He was not yet a polished finisher in those days, it took him about a year at the NHL level before his brain caught up to his feet in the scoring area. But man, did he make things happen.

I won’t dwell on Glenn’s NHL career in this post, other than to say that at 20 he was one of the most well-rounded and NHL-ready rookies I’ve ever seen, thanks in large part to that year under Drake, Watt, and Davis. Anderson would emerge as one of the earliest and most successful graduates of Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence, as will finally be confirmed tonight when he finally receives the highest individual honour the game can bestow.


Traktor said...

How do you remember all this stuff?

You should stump the Schwab.

Bruce said...

Traktor: I've been blessed with a very good memory. For sure, those were unforgettable times, swimming with optimism. From 1978-81 the Oilers acquired Gretzky, entered the NHL, drafted five more Hall of Famers in their first three Entry Drafts, hammered the Montreal Candiens into submission, and were clearly on the verge of greatness. The Golden Bears -- a team that I also followed closely -- were so dominant as to be the model for Canada's Olympic team. The Commonwealth Games were a major success, and the Eskimos moved in to establish the greatest dynasty in the history of Canadian fottball. It was a wonderful time to be a sports fan in this city.

Doogie2K said...

Speaking of '81, they also pushed the Islanders pretty hard. Lost in six, with one of the losses coming on an offside OT goal.

Took three tries to finally get to the Isles, but once they were down...

CrazyCoach said...


You bring back some great memories for me as well. I lived in Edmonton from 1972 to 1978, when my parents decided to move the whole famn damily to BC for a better life. What horrible timing!

I used to listen to the WHA Oilers on my AM radio when I should have been sleeping, saw games at the Edmonton Gardens, and the incredibly new awesome Coliseum, and of course idolized Wilkie, Cutler, and some guy named Moon. I also remember going to watch the Golden Bears with my uncle Archie, who started and nurtured my love for sports.

The horrible part about moving was that I was forced to watch Canucks games, missed the 78-79 WHA Oilers run to the final and the debut of some guy named Gretzky, and of course missed out on the Oilers arrival in the NHL.

Being an Oilers fan in Northern BC then was tough, and stating that this Gretzky kid was going to break records was considered lunacy. The deal maker for me though was being able to actually play hockey in a real league from a town that put Brian Spencer and Larry Playfair in the bigs.

It's funny now that thanks to Facebook many of my school mates back in the day are now recognizing my ability to predict the greatness of Gretzky. I haven't the heart to tell them that I made my prediction from the Hockey News.

Bruce said...

Great stuff, CrazyCoach ... too bad for you your luck was as bad as mine was extraordinarily good. At least you had the sense to remain an Oilers fan, and not default to the Canucks. Last time I checked the score was still 5-0. (take that, Temujin!)

Doogie: That overtime offside story is sufficient to warrant a separate post. Watch for it.