September 08, 2017

Legends of Team Canada: Glenn Anderson

Most people know that Edmonton Oilers superstar Glenn Anderson is a Hockey Hall of Famer.

But did you know before he began his NHL career he was an Olympian in 1980?

And did you know he tried to return to the Olympics in 1994, but was roadblocked in controversy?

Anderson, of course, was one of the all time great clutch scorers and big part of the Edmonton Oilers dynasty in the 1980s. His speed was second to none, as he showed in Canada Cup tournaments against the mighty Soviets. And the bigger the game meant the better Anderson would play.

But before pretty much everybody knew who Glenn Anderson was, he was a relatively anonymous player with the Canadian Olympic team in 1980 at Lake Placid.

In an era with no NHLers at the Olympics and just a bunch of seemingly nobodies representing Canada, Anderson dreamed of being a nobody.
"I was never interested in the NHL. I'd lie in bed and dream about playing in the Olympics."
Though Anderson's destiny was NHL greatness, he always yearned for the international game. His stint with the Canadian national team in the 1979-80 season after dropping out of the University of Denver was key to all of this. He got to travel through Europe and parts of Asia. He discovered he loved to travel and experience new cultures. 
"I see all of this as an opportunity to broaden my horizons. The more knowledge I can gain about the world, the better. You can't put a price tag on that. Life is really short. You should experience it to its fullest."
Anderson was lured to the Canadian national team partly because childhood friend Ken Berry was there. They were part of a tight-knit group of Vancouver kids that included Michael J. Fox. The other influence was Marshall Johnston, the 1960s regular on the Canadian national and Olympic teams was Anderson's coach at the University of Denver.

Anderson had a strong showing in the Olympics, though statistically he was not one of Canada's leaders. Yet he was described as "Canada's heart and soul," and played with obvious passion for the cause. 

Canada finished a disappointing sixth.

"God, I cried for two hours straight after we lost (6-4) to the Russians," Anderson says. "We were winning going into the third period."

Anderson opted to sign with the Oilers the next season, though he was really torn about returning to school. His Hall of Fame resume suggests he made a wise move.

Anderson attempted to return to the Olympics in 1994. He began the NHL season by signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs with a handshake agreement with general manager Cliff Fletcher that Anderson would be loaned to the Canadian Olympic team at the appropriate time. 

Fletcher was good to his word, but neither side quite understood the rules. In order for Anderson to be released for the Olympic games, he would have had to clear NHL waivers - something that clearly would not have happened. 

Fletcher and the Leafs petitioned to have a special exemption in this case, but reportedly two American owners refused to grant it, mostly to hurt Canada's Olympic chances.

The Canadian government even got involved with Liberal Member of Parliament John Nunziata meeting with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, but nothing could be arrange. Anderson was not able to compete in the 1994 Olympics.

"There's this unfulfilled self-imagery," he explains. "Fourteen years ago, I thought we'd do better. But the success that I expected was not there."
Instead, the Leafs traded Anderson to the New York Rangers where he was reunited with several ex-Oilers teammates including Mark Messier. Together they won another Stanley Cup.
For the most part that was the end of the road for Anderson. He did reappear in the NHL with St. Louis and even Edmonton a couple of years later, but he was off to play for the Canadian national team for parts of two seasons now that he was able to do that. He also briefly played for club teams in Germany and Switzerland.
``It's giving me a chance to travel the world, see how different societies live,'' said Anderson. ``The heart and desire with which the kids play has inspired me, given me a second wind.

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