2021 oohic kevin lowe

Treasured memories

Leadership and a personable demeanour helped elevate Kevin Lowe into management posts with Hockey Canada, and into a central role in memorable Canadian hockey moments

Jamie Umbach
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June 13, 2021
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The impact of the 1972 Summit Series is immeasurable; in the memory of Kevin Lowe, it’s unforgettable.

The nation stood at a standstill for the eighth and deciding game of the culturally-charged series between Canada and the Soviet Union. Schools around the country forwent instruction that morning, and businesses had televisions tuned in so staff and customers alike could keep tabs on the all-important contest that would decide hockey supremacy.

A young Lowe watched on, engulfed in the moment along with all his schoolmates in Lachute, Que., and an estimated 15 million other Canadians as Paul Henderson scored arguably the most famous goal in the history of the game with 34 seconds left.

“I was 13 years old,” Lowe says. “I remember being in high school and classes were paused. They rolled the TV monitor in and the whole school watched the game.”

Ever since, he’s been driven to help create more of those ‘Paul Henderson’ moments. He’s found more than he would’ve ever imagined, and helped produce plenty more for Canadians everywhere.

“Just the way the series unfolded, it was a storybook finish. Seeing Canada win and the pride that came from seeing the whole country watching, it really planted the seed for me.”

Henderson’s goal still holds exalted status in Canadian hockey history nearly a half century later, and proved to be a major catalyst for Lowe to pursue a hockey career that would land him in the Hockey Hall of Fame as one of the best defensive defencemen in the NHL with six Stanley Cups, a King Clancy Memorial Trophy and 431 points in 1,254 games across 19 NHL seasons as a member of Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers.

A year after receiving his call to the Hall as a player in the Class of 2020, his immense contributions to the game as an executive on the international stage will be celebrated with his naming to the Order of Hockey in Canada alongside fellow 2021 Distinguished Honourees Bill Hay and Angela James.

“The time I spent with Hockey Canada was an honour,” he says. “Thinking more recently about the time committed and the memories made, I feel an immense amount of pride.”

“Having said that, with the Hockey Hall of Fame, there was always a case that I was on the cusp of it for a lot of years. Although it took two decades, I was less surprised about that than I was about being named to the Order of Hockey in Canada.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be [receiving it].”

Lowe recorded a goal and five assists in 16 international appearances for Team Canada, winning bronze at the 1982 IIHF World Championship and winning the 1984 Canada Cup to complement his storied NHL career.

When it came time to make the decision about life after retirement, Lowe could’ve pursued a post-playing career in media but elected to stay on the management side and return to Edmonton thanks to the influence of former Oilers general manager Glen Sather.

“After 10 years or so I knew I wanted to stay in hockey, whether it was directly involved with the team or indirectly on the media side,” Lowe says. “I’d written an article for the Edmonton Sun and did sports editorials on the radio in the mid ‘80s, so I had some inkling to do that. But my preference was always to be on the hockey side.”

“Glen was always thinking about the big picture, and we never had a conversation about [post-retirement] until it was time. I negotiated a contract to come back from New York for a year to play and two years to coach – a contract you couldn’t give today – and that was the seed that set me into the next wave of my career.”

Lowe served as an assistant coach for the Oilers in 1998-99 and head coach the following year before moving to the management side as general manager and executive vice-president of hockey operations in 2000.

Regardless of role, Lowe carried with him his desire to follow the path presented in front of him.

“I never aspired to be just a general manager,” he says. “I just aspired to be in the game, and it would take me wherever my abilities and performance did. It was others that invited me into those positions.”

Perhaps the biggest invite Lowe would receive was from a certain former teammate to join the management staff for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

“We took the step and announced Wayne [Gretzky] as the executive director, and the very first person he wanted to have on his staff, because he said he thought like him and loved his leadership, was Kevin Lowe,” says Bob Nicholson, the current Oilers CEO and vice-chair who served as president of Hockey Canada from 1998 to 2014. “Kevin was a slam dunk from that side. The two won all those Stanley Cups together and learned how to win together, so I thought that was really important.”

To be held in such high regard by his peers for his personable demeanour and leadership qualities was a powerful feeling to Lowe. “It was really heartfelt,” he says. “It was really touching, because it wasn’t like I was in on any conversations for this, and we hadn’t spoken in a long while. The question came out, and I said, ‘Wow, absolutely I’ll do that.’

“The more I thought about it, the more I felt touched by the fact that he thought enough of me that he would make that call.”

Canada ended a 50-year gold medal drought in Salt Lake City, and Lowe had a direct hand in providing Canadians with another foundational ‘Summit Series’ kind of victory – one that will be remembered for a lifetime.

“The Canadian fans singing the national anthem with a few minutes left in the game is something I’ll never forget,” Lowe says.

“Then the stories surfaced after the gold medal game of things like flights in Edmonton heading to Mexico, but the crew and passengers agreed to delay the flight so they could watch the game.”

Salt Lake City was only the start for Lowe, who won the World Cup of Hockey as assistant executive director two years later and joined Team Canada for a second Olympic experience in 2006.

He was also part of Canada’s management team at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, handpicked by Steve Yzerman to help bring Canada a gold medal on home ice.

“[Yzerman] wanted to have one person from the Olympic gold medal team in 2002, and he chose Kevin Lowe,” Nicholson says. “It just shows you the kind of respect Kevin had, not just from Wayne, but from other players and great leaders such as Steve.”

“He’s the first NHL executive to be involved in three gold-medal winning Olympic teams, which is very unique in this country.”

With his extended experience as a player and a well-trusted acumen as an executive for Hockey Canada, Lowe lived in the moments presented to him and solidified himself as a worthy Order of Hockey in Canada honouree among the all-time greats.

“There’s too many people to thank, and the point is that’s one of the luxuries of being in one of those positions; new relationships and other hockey minds where you find the common bond is just trying to win a hockey game for Canada,” he says.

“When you’re working that closely with people, you develop a relationship that’s very strong.”

For more information:

Dominick Saillant
Director, Communications
Hockey Canada
514-895-9706
dsaillant@hockeycanada.ca

 

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-284-6484
emadziya@hockeycanada.ca

 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
Office: 403-777-4567
Mobile: 905-906-5327
ssharkey@hockeycanada.ca

 

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