A lot of us fondly remember the City of Champion sign that greeted drivers to the city’s limits. While the sign was originally installed to celebrate all of Edmonton’s sports team, who were scoring championships in hockey, football and college basketball, it was mostly associated with the Edmonton Oilers, the dream team, and their five Stanley Cup wins between 1874 and 1990. Kevin Lowe, who was recently inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame was there before, during, and after the heyday, and he continues to be one of Edmonton’s champions on and off the ice.
Lowe’s love of sports started early.
“I grew up in a hockey family,” he says. My dad had eight siblings, and we all lived in and around Lashute, Québec. There was hockey for the boys. The girls skied. My dad was always involved in sports and was very family and community minded. The first public skating rink was on my dad and family’s business land. As early as two years old, I was on skates and on the ice.”
Lowe’s journey started in 1976 when he played amateur hockey with the Quebec Ramparts. He joined the Oilers in 1979 and remained with the team until 1992. After a brief stint with the New York Rangers (1992-1996), he finished up the first iteration of his career by returning to the Oilers, playing until 1998.
During that time he experienced what every hockey professional dreams of – hoisting the Stanley Cup.
“It’s surreal!” he admits. “We won the cup in my fifth year, which coincided with the Oiler’s fifth year in the league. It is something you can only dream about, that you never think is possible. Then you get to the hockey league and think ‘wow, I’m in the league.’ When it got too close to the end of that game with minutes left, I allowed myself to think about being a kid watching hockey on television. I never missed watching it as a kid. For me it represented so much. When the realization came that I was going to be able to lift the Cup, it was just one of the moments that you couldn’t believe was happening. It felt like winning the lottery.”
After hanging up his jersey, Lowe stepped into a new role of mentoring, coaching and becoming the vice chair of the Oilers Entertainment Group.
He reminisces, “After being in the league for a number of years, you realize it’s not going to last forever. My goal was to stay in the game by coaching, managing, scouting, or going to the media side of things; as long as I could stay involved with the team. When I came back from New York I signed a contract to play with the Oilers, then transition into coaching.”
Lowe played for two years, became an assistant coach, and then moved on to head coach before being faced with a crossroad.
“Glen Sather, who gave me the opportunity to coach, decided to go to New York and wanted me to go with him to coach the Rangers. However, Cal Nichols, one of the owners of the Oilers at the time, asked if I wanted to be the general manager. I was only two years into coaching! I wasn’t looking to be the GM, but really felt that rather than bringing someone in from outside the organization, no one knew it better or had a feel for it like me. Being the manager was about knowing the people, players, and the city.”
Lowe smiles, “In all of my decisions I knew I had good people to work with and support me, and that made the transition so much easier.”
Another milestone for Lowe came in 2002 when Wayne Gretzky called, asking for assistance in managing the men’s national Canadian hockey team.
“We hadn’t worked together for 14 years and during that time there were lots of changes for both of us. Canada hadn’t won internationally [for hockey] in 50 years – and the first time the NHL played on that level it didn’t go well. There was a lot of pressure, but it wound up being a magical experience. We selected the team, but the players did the job. Bringing back the gold and doing it with Wayne? That was incredible.”
Despite being known as a legendary “dream team” player, Lowe found a lot of similarities between his old teammates and the young men he coached.
“There is no change between them and us. The players have the same passion and love playing for Canada. There is pride in having the maple leaf on your chest. It’s one thing to play in the NHL; to be involved with Team Canada when the whole world is watching is a very cool thing, if not a little daunting. We always had a saying: regardless of your star status, park your ego at the door and play for Canada. Those guys had the right attitude to do that.”
Looking back, he comes to this humble conclusion, “I’ve been so fortunate to be able to remain involved in the game for 40+ years. That is very much a rarity and I don’t take it for granted. But I also think I certainly paid my dues and did enough to merit the promotions, at least in the eyes of the people making the decisions.”
During his time on ice, behind the bench, working with Team Canada, and giving back to the community, Lowe has learned a lot, and he is happy to share his wisdom.
“Hard work and integrity, but mainly hard work, will get you to where you want to go. The ability to work harder than others, or at least harder than your opponent, is vital to success. I truly believe this and have a lot of confidence in knowing this formula works. You put in the time and good things will happen. As Beverly Sills says, ‘there are no shortcuts to any place worth going.’”
Lowe’s hard work and dedication go far beyond hockey. As a noted philanthropist, he not only gives back to the community in time, financially, and through advocacy, he actively encourages others to do so as well.
“I’ve supported the Christmas Bureau for more than 30 years,” he says. This stems from my family’s upbringing. My parents, who were middle class but not wealthy, provided a couple gifts under the tree and a nice dinner every Christmas to make it special. Year after year we would sit down to dinner, and they asked us to recognize how fortunate we were because others didn’t have dinner or a gift. That resonated with me as a person. My father and his family, from an early age, would go out into the community and distribute toys and gifts. I have a built-in sensitivity to the misfortunes of others. Being a good neighbour and trying to help others if you have the means is just the right thing to do.
“When the Christmas Bureau asked me to be involved, I said ‘absolutely! What a fantastic opportunity!’ Sometimes you play the night before and then have an event. You are a little tired, but as an athlete you can find yourself living in a bubble. Not that you choose to, that is how the profession works. You have to go out of your way to get involved. It was nice to talk about other things. It was always a nice way to get out and give back.”
Lowe has been involved with many charitable and non-profit organizations over the years, including Zebra Child Protection Centre and recently, Swim Drink Fish.
“Swim Drink Fish is a water protection awareness organization,” says Lowe. “In working with the organization, I got to meet (the late) Gordon Downie, who was also involved.”
Alongside another Edmonton philanthropist, Sam Abouhassan, Lowe co-launched Tee Up for Tots, a golf invitational that supports the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation. The two gentlemen ran the event for 12 years before passing it to the next generation of what he calls, “energetic community-minded businessmen and women in Edmonton.”
“Professional athletes, to me, they have a responsibly to do something,” says Lowe. “Especially in today’s age, they should be thankful and help out with the social challenges that are out there by donating money, lending their name, or drawing attention. You see a fair amount of it nowadays, corporations and organizations, doing the right thing.”
One surprising thing many people don’t know about Lowe, is that when he is not involved in hockey or out in the community giving back, he is enjoying music.
“I love music! I never played an instrument, but I wish I had. I used to play music in the dressing room. My kids grew up around music. Just the other day my wife said ‘if I’m not around, the music is not on. Nobody else puts its on.’ I think it’s such a big part of life. It’s art. I enjoy the visual arts but music, as long as I can remember, has been at the forefront. I love all music, but especially soft rock or pop. I like a little bit of country, not too much rap. I love all the new artists. I’ll play 60s or 70s then get on Apple music and play all the stuff that is charting. My tastes are eclectic, I guess!”
Lowe is a very humble man, but that has not stopped others from recognizing his contributions to Edmonton, to Alberta, and to Canada. Earlier this year he got a call that summed up the pinnacle of his career. He is being inducted into the Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame.
“That was another one of those surreal moments,” Lowe smiles. “I had been up for it for 19 years, but never got the call. I never envisioned myself as a Hall of Famer. That was for Gretzky, Messier, Howe – names like that. I was proud of my career but to me, the Hall of Fame was for another level of players. The day it happened I was doing yard work. I answered my phone and when I heard chair of the induction committee’s voice, my heart stopped for a minute. We made small talk and then they broke the news. My blood pressure hasn’t been elevated that way in many years! There wasn’t much left to excite me on the sports side, so getting that call was truly special. I appreciate it. The nice thing is, my kids are older now, so I can celebrate this with them and with my family.”
In 2019, Lowe was inducted into the Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame, something he also treasures because, “I was born in Ontario and grew up in Québec. Being accepted as an Albertan was very special.”
As he reflects on a life of being connected to the sport and community he loves, Lowe thanks the people that have supported and helped him on his journey.
“There are too many to count,” he notes. “I’m incredibly grateful to my family and my siblings. My mother passed last summer at 90 and we miss her a lot. My wife’s support has been crucial over the 30 years that we have been married. She raised our four kids, sometimes on her own while I was playing. During the 1994 playoffs for the Rangers one of our kids got chicken pox. I had to stay away from the family for weeks because the team could not sacrifice me getting sick. We moved around a lot, which put stress on the family when I was player, coach, and a manager. But with her support and tireless work Karen and I have raised wonderful children. She has embraced all aspects of my life and deserves 95 per cent of the credit for the way the kids turned out.”
Lowe is excited about the next phase of the game. He’s getting into real estate and loves being a grandfather. There’s another wedding coming up for one of his children and his oldest daughter is being called to the bar.
The whistle blows, the puck drops, and the game of life carries on. For Lowe, having a chance to make an impact in the sport that defines Canada, that helped put Edmonton on the map, and has given him a chance to give back to the city he loves, every moment has – and continues to be – memorable.