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Another great one honoured

Although we have been in the same room over 500 times I have never really met Glenn Anderson. He came to my wife's class at Glenrose School Hospital with Ken Linseman and Don Jackson; and we once passed him at Pharos Pizza after a routine Oilers' win in which the conversation consisted of "Great game, Mr. Anderson!" from my wife, a smile and a nod from the man himself, and tongue-tied-ness from me. Around 1986 a thoughtful co-worker ran into him at some function and, knowing I was a huge fan, got him to sign the above poster which has adorned my basement wall ever since. The inset picture of Anderson with the little girl from Cross Cancer Institute sitting in the Stanley Cup was typical of an Oiler team that did great work in the community; that part of his fame Anderson took seriously, even as he danced to his own tune in many other respects. He and the media were never a mutual admiration society, let's put it that way.

I was an Anderson fan from the get-go, having
seen him good during two cameo appearances at Varsity Arena during his amateur days. By the time he burst on the NHL scene at the advanced age of 20, he had developed an impressive array of skills to complement his blinding speed. The year on Clare Drake's Olympic team had done him a world of good.

In The Game of Our Lives, the must-read book on the developing dynasty that was the 1980-81 Edmonton Oilers, Peter Gzowski described Anderson at the beginning of that season:

"Number 9 is Glenn Anderson, still another vaunted rookie - perhaps too vaunted. At Lake Placid last year, Anderson was the most exciting player on the Canadian Olympic team, and when the Oilers signed him to a professional contract this summer, the scout who'd followed him made a flattering comparison between his speed and that of Guy Lafleur. Sather reacted vehemently, but the comparison had already been published. Still, if anyone can handle the pressure that kind of comparison entails, it is Anderson. He is fey. He comes either from Vancouver, as his birth records show, or from another planet; he seems incapable of giving a straight interview - he doesn't take the process seriously enough. He told the Oilers publicity department that his childhood idol was Wayne Gretzky, who is younger than he is. He has told other reporters that he dropped out of boyhood hockey because his feet got cold. Anderson bears an uncanny resemblance to television comedian Robin Williams, and since he does not appreciate being called Mork, he is in the process of growing a beard."

It took most of that first season for Anderson's head and hands to catch up with his feet, and for a brief time he was known for creating scoring chances that he couldn't finish. After a mid-season knee injury he returned stronger than ever, and during the team's remarkable late-season surge to the playoffs, he scored 9 goals in 7 games to reach the 30-goal plateau.

As those playoffs began, Gzowski did a similar review of the Oilers' starting lineup, including these words on Anderson:

Number 9, Glenn Anderson, is Andy now and not Mork, and he is close to fulfilling the potential the scouts saw when they signed him. As he went on his late-season scoring spree, he was named the Hockey News player of the week, an honour that among the Oilers had heretofore been reserved for Gretzky, who was so named an unprecedented four times. One of the newspapermen here, Tim Burke of the Gazette, is convinced that Anderson is cut from the mould of Maurice Richard - like Richard, he shoots left-handed and plays right wing - and Sather is concerned with that comparison as he was in the fall with the comparison between Anderson's skating abilities and those of Lafleur.

Hardly intimidated by such heady praise, Andy stayed hot right through the postseason, scoring the first goal in the Montreal Forum that kick started the Oilers shocking three-game blowout of Lafleur's Habs, and posting an impressive 5-7-12 in just 9 GP, all of them against either the Vezina trophy winning Habs or Stanley Cup champion Islanders. He was a great playoff performer right from the outset.

The next season the young Oilers blossomed into a fearsome offensive machine, with their first of five consecutive 400-goal seasons, a feat which has never been accomplished even once by any other NHL team. Anderson emerged as a 100-point scorer, setting a still-extant franchise record for assists by a winger (67). It set a standard even Mark Messier or Jari Kurri couldn't topple during their seasons on the First All-Star Team. His frequent linemate Messier achieved his career high 50 goals that 1981-82 season; in subsequent years Messier became more the playmaker and Anderson the finisher, although each was v-e-r-y comfortable in either role. Anderson potted 54 goals on two occasions during that run, sniping 198 goals in the four seasons 1982-86. He also recorded two more 100-point seasons, and another of 99 in 1983-84 in which a scorekeeper's error in Montreal cost Andy and the Oilers their best chance of having five 100-point scorers on the same squad.

For all his regular season success, Glenn Anderson lived for the playoffs, and always seemed to raise his game when the stakes were highest. A cursory look at his career stats indicates he kept his production near the same level: 0.97 points per game in the regular season, 0.95 in the playoffs. This is, however, tempered by the fact that Glenn played a disporportionate number of playoff games at the tail end of his career when his scoring rates were down. From the time the Rangers acquired him 'til the end, he played just 80 regular season games (just 7% of his career games), and 40 in the playoffs (18%). So it's hard to compare Anderson to say, Mark Messier, who played 484 regular season games after his last playoff game, thus dragging down just his regular season per-diems and effectively inflating his playoff numbers in comparison.

It's more germane to compare the performance of the Big Five during their time with the Oilers, where all played similar numbers of regular and post-season games at the same stages of their respective careers. First off, the Oilers themselves saw their per-game production decline slightly in the post-season. During Andy's career here 1980-91, their G/G rates dropped 4.65 to 4.36, a decline of 6.2%. This is pretty typical of the post-season generally. However, looking at the individual performances is instructive to say the least:

Player PPG ** R.S. / P.S. = difference
Anderson **** 1.07 / 1.22 = +13.3%
Messier ***** 1.22 / 1.30 = +6.6%
Kurri ******* 1.38 / 1.38 = +0.0%
Gretzky ***** 2.40 / 2.10 = -12.4%
Coffey ****** 1.26 / 1.10 = -12.9%

While opposition teams ratcheted up the defensive pressure on the Great One, the Mess-Andy duo would pump up the volume and provide a much greater percentage of the scoring from the second line. In particular, Anderson's +13.3% is off the charts.

Edit January 31: In an ongoing discussion over at MC79hockey I have discovered I made an error in calculating the foregoing. Anderson's PPG rate in the playoffs in Edmonton was 1.12, not 1.22. That figure is not quite "off the charts" but is nonetheless exceptional. For details see my comment #19 on MC's site.

More evidence of Anderson's post-season focus can be found in shooting percentage. In his NHL career he exceeded 20% in just one regular season, 1985-86. Compare that to these post-season numbers:

1984-85 - 21.3%
1985-86 - 21.1%
1986-87 - 22.6%
1987-88 - 20.9%
1988-89 - 6.3% (7 games)
1989-90 - 21.7%

Anderson admits to losing focus after the Gretzky trade and the death of his friend George Varvis, scoring just 16 goals that 1988-89 season and just 1 in the Kings series; otherwise he was a monster in the post-season every year.

Of course stats don't, and shouldn't, tell the whole story. Fortunately, there's lots of us old-timers around with anecdotal evidence. One stunning example that I witnessed with my own eyes was Glenn scoring the game winner in three consecutive Oiler playoff overtime games (1985-87), an extraordinary "natural hat trick" after just 46, 64 and 36 seconds respectively. Boys, it's beer time. And you're buying.

Anderson could beat you with a move, a pass, or a shot. If you don't believe me, ask Doug Crossman, the Philadelphia blueliner who was a common victim of three memorable Andy plays in the wonderful series that was 1987 Stanley Cup Finals. All were scored in the east end of Northlands Coliseum so I had an identical view as each play unfolded with Anderson bursting over the right side of the Flyers' line. In Game 2 -- the greatest live hockey game I have ever seen -- Anderson scored the third period tying goal on a brilliant solo effort, freezing Crossman with a great move before blazing past him and picking the corner on Ron Hextall, sending the game to overtime and ultimately a 3-2 Oiler victory. In Game 7, with everything on the line, Anderson played perhaps the greatest game of his career. He set up the tying goal with another great effort, taking a lead pass right at the centre line, beating the first defender one-on-one before again freezing Crossman with a fake slapshot, this time slipping a pass through to Kent Nilsson who fed Mark Messier at the doorstep. Then late in the third, with the Oilers clinging to a 2-1 lead against the comeback-happy Flyers, Anderson again cruised over the blueline at speed, once again bearing down on Crossman and winding up for a slapshot. This time it was no fake, as he absolutely boomed a wicked drive right through Ron Hextall, a goal that finally nailed shut the coffin of the never-quit Flyers, even as it nearly tore the roof off of Northlands Coliseum. A moment I shall never forget.

Like Tim Burke I saw quite a bit of the Rocket in Anderson, from his blazing speed to his ability to rise to the occasion. On the attack he would cut hard to the net from either wing, most often the right side, protecting the puck with an out-thrust leg and shoulder, often handling the puck with one hand on the stick or even just one skate on the ice, driving straight at the goaltender, daring the defenceman to pull him down so he, puck and all, could crash right into the goalie and on into the net if need be. He drew a metric tonne of penalties -- only Gretzky was close -- as he drove through checks, kept his legs moving, didn't do the swan drive but crashed hard (and convincingly) to the ice, occasionally with his own stick flying up and "accidentally" clipping the defender. More than once a bewildered opponent needed a towel in the penalty box. Again like the Rocket, he was a hard, occasionally vicious competitor.

Andy was committed to Hockey Canada's national program, playing no fewer than 119 games for the Red Maple Leaf over parts of three seasons, as well as participating in the Olympic games, two Canada Cups, and two World Championships. He also represented the NHL's best in Rendezvous '87 against a Russian squad that he always admired.

One of seven Oilers who won all five Stanley Cups, Anderson later joined Kevin Lowe and Mark Messier in New York, where the first three draft picks in Oiler history won their sixth Cup together. Still in his young 30s, Andy became an international hockey nomad, playing in four different European leagues, as well as Team Canada and a couple of cameos in the NHL, including a late return to the Oilers. His priorities -- seeing the world, having fun, and winning -- took precedence over statistical objectives like 500 goals, a number he came up two short. Some Hall of Fame voters held this "shortcoming" against him, as well as some personal animosities which built up through Anderson's unwillingness to play the media game, delaying his admission into the Hall for a number of years. But Andy's spectacular record of accomplishment couldn't be denied forever, as voices from Wayne Gretzky to Mark Messier to Scott Bowman to lowly fans like
me made the overwhelming case on his behalf.

After his Hall of Fame induction in November, tonight comes the cherry on top, as Andy's #9 is being raised to the ceiling in the building he called home for the greatest of his playing days. Congratulations, Andy, you deserve this.