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Kevin Lowe's Search For Cam

Is it the fists?

Bruce Bennett

In "Searching for Cam Neely" I wrote:

The Edmonton Oilers have spent a dozen years on their own search, the search for a big and strong forward who hits with the force of thunder, who can fight like Sam Langford and score goals like Boom Boom. They've been searching for Cam Neely since the moment Kevin Lowe ascended to the front office at The Skyreach Centre.

Lowe's quest has been such a consistent part of the Oilers through the draft and free agency that the search itself has become a meme among Oilers' fans from Lowetide's "coke machines" to the facetious Milan Lucic comparisons for Mitch Moroz, the awareness of the joke has become part of being an Oilers' fan.

With the help of Benjamin Wendorf, I attempted to figure out why Lowe is so infatuated with Neely. Ben is working on a fascinatingset of data in his Boxscore Project, and had all of the data I was looking for.

Ben provided Neely's counting numbers from each game in which Neely appeared against Kevin Lowe. The numbers cover Neely's career in Vancouver vs. the Oilers, his time in Boston vs the Oilers and his time in Boston vs. the Rangers after Lowe was traded to New York.

Cam Neely's Career Statistics vs. Kevin Lowe
GP G A1 P G/G P/G PPG PPA Shots* S/G
45 14 13 27 0.31 0.6 5 3 66 3.3

*Shots were measured for 20 of the 45 games

Below is a table measuring those numbers against the rest of his career:

GP G A1 P G/G P/G PPG PPA Shots* S/G
vs. Lowe 45 14 13 27 0.31 0.6 5 3 66 3.3
Career 681 381 286 667 0.56 0.98 137 81 2082 3.1

Neely's numbers were significantly off against Lowe's teams, but Lowe played for some of the best teams in the NHL through this period, so it comes as no surprise that Neely wouldn't produce as well against the juggernaut of the 80s or the stronger Rangers teams of the early 90s.

The final piece of information, and maybe the most important for Lowe, is Neely's fight record against Lowe's teams. Neely is widely remembered for his ability to handle his own battles and a handful of his fights are legendary.

The box scores show that Neely fought 5 times against the Oilers, all while he was with the Canucks. Reading accounts of the games and various websites devoted to hockey fights led me to the conclusion that Neely's fight "record" was 4-0-1 against those Oilers:

Year Opponent Result
1984 vs. Larry Melnyk* W
1984 vs. Dave Semenko D
1985 vs. Don Jackson W
1986 vs. Steve Smith* W
1987 vs. Kelly Buchberger W

*The fight vs. Melnyk was in a pre-season game and the Steve Smith fight came during a playoff series.

There's not much in the numbers that we can directly tie Kevin Lowe's search for Cam to, but the last table is at least curious: were the fists of young Cam Neely indirectly responsible for coke machines, 3rd round goons and a current-day search for a face-punching goal scorer?