May 03, 2015

Russell Oatman

Russell Oatman was born in Tillsonburg Ontario on February 19th, 1905.

He certainly did not have the easiest of childhoods. Both of his parents passed away when Russ was quite young. He had to grow up quickly in order to raise a younger brother, Byron.

Hockey was a passion and an escape for all the Oatman kids. Russell brought his kid brother with him to all the road hockey and shinny matches. Though we're not sure whatever happened to youngest Oatman, we know Russell had an outstanding career that included three seasons in the National Hockey League.

Russell may have owed his hockey career in large part to another brother - Eddie, who was 16 years older than Russell. Eddie never played in the NHL, but he did play an amazing 32 years of professional hockey mostly out west, and was considered to be the best of the family. It was his stature in British Columbia that led to the Victoria Cougars offering the younger Russell a contract. The Oatman boys lived with their grandmother, Elmira Smith, by the way.

Russell joined Victoria for the 1925-26 season, one season after Victoria became the last non-NHL team to win the Stanley Cup. He helped the Cougars valiantly attempt to defend their Stanley Cup championship, but ultimately lost the Stanley Cup final in 1926.

Big league pro hockey collapsed financially in Western Canada immediately following the 1926 playoffs. Eastern-based money, namely the National Hockey League, won the war for hockey supremacy. And to the victors went the spoils, with many of the west's top players heading to the NHL with dollar signs in their eyes.

A group in Detroit purchased the entire Victoria team, including the player contracts, and moved the whole she-bang to Detroit with the NHL's blessing. The expansion Cougars would go through a couple of name changes, settling on the nickname "Red Wings" by 1933.

Russell Oatman accompanied his old British Columbia teammates to the Motor City, though it was a short and tumultuous stay.

Russell was considered to be a bit of a rebel off the ice, living his life with a certain edge. His tough childhood must have toughened him up in more ways than one. But on the ice he was clean, star player who played both left wing and defense.

An unknown incident happened in Detroit which ended with Oatman being suspended by the team for insubordination. "Breaking training" is the only hint of what happened. He was traded to the Montreal Maroons two days later.

Oatman served mostly as a depth player in Montreal, though he and Joe Lamb seemed to enjoy some nice chemistry. He was a speedster, once winning a speed skating contest with the Maroons The highlight of his stay in Montreal was his overtime goal, set up by rugged Reg Noble, ending a scoreless 1928 playoff game against the cross-town rivals the Montreal Canadiens. The Maroons advanced to the Stanley Cup final but lost to the New York Rangers.

In typical Russell Oatman fashion, he joined the Rangers the next season - always defending but never winning the Stanley Cup.

Russell Oatman's hockey career - and nearly his life - ended suddenly on March 13th, 1930. Oatman, who by this time was playing minor league hockey for the Niagara Falls Cataracts, and teammate Steve Yankoski crashed their car en route to a game in Hamilton. Oatman, who was the passenger, was knocked unconscious and badly broke his left leg. A steel plate was inserted into his leg, leaving him unable to skate competitively ever again.

Oatman dabbled in coaching but mostly moved on with his life. He married, had a son, and moved to Keswick, Ontario. He commuted to Toronto where he worked for a pharmaceutical company. He also seemed to operate a convenience store with a pool hall for some time.

Russell Oatman passed away of a heart attack on October 25th, 1964. He was 59 years old.

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