Staying Power; Oates, Ducks Savoring Run to Cup Finals

Article excerpt

Byline: Dave Fay, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Those who predicted last fall the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim would be participating in this spring's Stanley Cup Finals belong in the make believe world of Mickey Mouse and Pluto.

Nobody, not even Adam Oates, he of the silky touch and keen mind, will say with a straight face that he foresaw this remarkable event.

"I can't say that I thought that [would happen] this year," Oates said yesterday after the Ducks skated one last time before playing New Jersey tonight in Game1 of the best-of-7 NHL championship series. "I thought the team was a lot better than the record indicated the last couple years. I never thought it would get this far this soon - it shows how close the league is."

In March last year Oates was with the Washington Capitals and looked every bit a man who had been engaged in a rough contact sport for more than a quarter of a century.

He was sent to Philadelphia at the trade deadline last season but wasn't the answer to the varied problems that usually bother the Flyers. He was cut loose and went searching for the right team, his sixth in the NHL. Anaheim called, and so did Ducks superstar Paul Kariya, who said it was a great place to play and was getting better. Oates, who will be 41 this fall, agreed to go West.

Southern California has been nice to Oates. He is tan, the result of many hours spent on the golf course. His hair, with touches of gray creeping into the black he had when he was a Cap, is now brown and shorter than it was. There's not a ripple of body fat on his 190-pound frame.

"Obviously, I never thought I would be here, of course not," he said, referring to Continental Airlines Arena where the first two finals games will be played. "I wanted to go to a team where I could play some minutes and prove I could still play, and in the same sense hopefully let some things that you can bring to the table grow a little bit and help the organization.

"It was a lousy start; I broke my hand out of the gate and missed [15] games but the second half of the year was a lot of fun and our team grew. We got better and better and played real good hockey in the second half [25-12-2-3] - obviously the run has been fantastic. It's great - not to say I told you so - to prove you can still play this game."

Oates, one of the most graceful and gifted centers ever to play the game, is on the fast track to the Hockey Hall of Fame - and a Cup victory would grease those skids. …