The Schuchards and the draft of '95

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The generational player the Oilers missed and the grandparents who inspired him

Frances Schuchard was a great woman. Frances taught music. She taught people to sing, to play the piano, and she accompanied them. She taught them how to perform together. But more than teaching music Frances believed in others without expectation and taught them to believe in themselves.

Later in life Frances went blind and taught herself to play completely by ear. It was kind of strange actually. When she was away from music it was as if she was in a place that was unfamiliar. Everyday tasks such as eating were difficult, but as soon as you stuck a piano in front of her or asked her to sing she knew exactly where she was: she was inside music and the music was inside her.

Frances was the best kind of new-ager. She loved church and she was proud that some of her kids were Buddhist. She had several theories about the healing powers of music and the history of the tempered scale. One day I brought my girlfriend around to meet her: "She’s fantastic, she has a pink aura!" she whispered to me out of earshot of the pastor and the rest of the congregation. Apparently pink is good.

Rick—Frances’ husband—was a happy man. He had a musical whistle and every Christmas he would pound-out a couple of songs on a miniature key-chain harmonica, the kind of thing you might have heard in the forties. Then he’d go into this goofy Christmas act he had cooked-up while a radio personality in Oregon.

The Schuchards were my friends. It seemed strange as a young conservative man to befriend a couple 50 years older, but I don’t think it was strange for them. For the Schuchards, people were people and when it came to loving them they weren’t picky. I feel like I was close to them, but I get the feeling that for them closeness was a regular state of affairs. One day, I think it was after the Salt Lake City Olympics, I overheard Rick starting to get upset. I wasn’t really certain what it was all about. He said something about "asking him to his face."

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Everything hinted at changing when Nirvana played the Bronx in March 1991; everything changed when "Smells like Teen Spirit" debuted on Much Music that fall. By October Messier had been traded to New York and the dynasty was over. The Oilers started loosing games, a playoff drought ensued, and I started loosing interest: by 1995 hockey was irrelevant. I paid some attention when Messier took the Rangers to the Cup, but the first lockout and the subsequent draft in Edmonton were completely off my radar.

The nineties were specifically dark. Maybe it was grunge, but probably it was the prospect of being a musician in Edmonton. Edmonton was the musical ends of the earth. We had our spots though as musicians, our shrines. There was The Power Plant, People’s Pub, The Bronx, numerous little clubs along Whyte, and of course the Sidetrack. Every now and again these little places gave us a glimpse of the world. Edmonton had its own specialties like Something Else and Big Tom Laughing. When Dale Ladouceur showed-up with the Chapman it was a pretty big deal. Music was my connection to the world and something bigger than myself.

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"I asked him and he told me that Jarome wasn’t part of the Oilers’ plans," Rick said. He was somewhat upset. Rick and Frances had a famous grandson. I knew him a little bit growing-up, at least I had seen him around: good athletes stick-out in St. Albert.

I was pretty terrible at sports in junior high but thankfully so were most of the other boys. I managed to squeak my way on to the grade nine volleyball team, which felt pretty good. One day as we entered the gym of the Lorne Akins Gators I noticed a small kid practicing lay-ups with a volleyball. He had the Asics kneepads that I wanted. The Gators had a really neat orange and blue logo (I had no idea that it was stolen from Florida). The Oilers colours immediately made me feel inadequate. The small player was in grade seven, a couple of years younger than most of the others. His coach was playing him with the bigger boys and seemed really impressed with the little guy’s physical talent. I didn’t play hockey growing-up, so I didn’t know this kid at all. I didn’t know who Jarome Iginla was but it was obvious that he was super-talented.

I guess during the Salt Lake City Olympics Rick had gotten himself a chance to meet Kevin Lowe and asked him about not picking his grandson in the draft. Jarome was close with his grandparents, and his grandpa had supported him with hockey and baseball. He was always doing nice things for Frances and Rick and the trip to Salt Lake was a big one for them. It must have felt wonderful to watch their grandson win gold for Canada in their home country. But the draft of 1995 probably didn’t feel so nice. I never asked the specifics, but almost a decade later Rick was somewhat agitated about what had transpired.

During the entry draft in Edmonton Jarome was under contract to the Kamloops Blazers and they had just won the memorial cup—twice. It was July 8th and he was probably at home for the summer. It must have been thrilling, waiting for your name to be announced over the same loudspeakers used by Mark Lewis to introduce Grant Fuhr, sitting at ice-level where just five years earlier one of the greatest teams of all time had offered their bodies in sacrifice for sport’s most difficult prize.

Edmonton picked 6th overall. We selected Steve Kelly from the Prince Albert Raiders. Our second-round pick was Georges Laraque. Iginla was selected 11th. Looking back at the numbers there wasn’t an obvious difference between Kelly and Iginla pre-draft. Iginla was, however, on a much stronger team. The season following the draft a statistical chasm started opening between the two players that has never stopped growing. Steve Kelly played 27 games for Edmonton and spent the rest of his career as a tweener. Iginla is 19th in all-time NHL goals right behind Jari Kurri, and has accomplished this with significantly lower quality of teammates.

You’d think the Oilers might have been impressed by a club that had managed to win three Memorial Cups between 1992 and 1995. Tom Renney led the Blazers to the first of the trio after taking-over coaching duties from Ken Hitchcock who had formed a disciplined core that included Scott Niedermayer. But the Oilers drafted exactly zero players from the "dynasty Blazers" and overlooked not only Iginla but Shane Doan in the process. Maybe there was some bad blood between the organizations. In 1984, Pocklington had threatened to sell the then Jr. Oilers to Swift Current but the people of Kamloops got together and rescued their team. The Oilers didn’t draft any players from the Blazers between 1986 and 2004 when they selected current Vezina finalist Devan Dubnyk.

It probably would have been a dream come true for Iggy to become an Oiler that day in Edmonton. He idolized Fuhr and started the sport playing in net. But maybe not being selected by the Oilers helped Jarome more than it hurt him. Maybe Frances and Rick and the rest of his family were able to encourage him to believe in himself in the face of opposition, and maybe these factors helped him to focus his talent. The season after being passed-over by Edmonton Jarome finished fourth in WHL scoring and was awarded the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy as the league’s most outstanding player. Of course, Kevin Lowe had nothing to do with the decision not to select Iggy. He wasn’t even part of the management team in 1995 and was still playing with New York. But as they say, "Nul n'est prophète en son pays".

I don’t think I need to list Iginla’s accomplishments here. The Salt Lake and Vancouver golds were victories most Canadian hockey fans won’t soon forget. I was disappointed that in 2004 he didn’t get to hoist the cup over his head (depending on who you ask the Flames were cheated out of that one). When Jarome was traded to Pittsburg and later signed with Boston I was really happy for him. But if the big win never happens for Jarome in Colorado, as it never happened for Ryan Smyth, I don’t think it will diminish what he’s accomplished. Jarome Iginla might not be a "generational talent," but he’s one of the greatest players of his generation. And I’ve never heard him say it, but I don’t think it’s been an easy road for him.

It’s been twenty years since that draft day in Edmonton. Looking forward to the McDavid draft this year, I can’t help but think about Jarome and the generational player the Oilers missed. Frances and Rick are both gone now but I think about them a lot. When I see Jarome play I’m reminded of the power of positive thinking, the power of believing in yourself, and the gift of believing in others. Just over a month ago the city of St. Albert gave Frances a lifetime achievement award. She touched many lives in St. Albert and the Edmonton area. Thanks Frances—wherever you are—for believing in me.

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