September 11, 2017

Legends of Team Canada: Randy Gregg

Randy Gregg enjoyed one of the most interesting hockey careers, and it all started almost by accident.

Though he played hockey during his childhood, he didn't consider himself to be a very good player. He played just because he loved the game, even though he was far from the best player even as a midget or juvenile.

So when Randy got accepted into medical school at the young age of 16, he promised his family that he would forget about his past time of playing hockey and concentrate on his scholastics. Only one problem. Randy showed up at the tryouts for the University of Alberta Golden Bears hockey team.

"I knew it would be impossible to do medicine and hockey, too. But I also knew that I'd be cut from the team long before it made any difference or before my brother found out."

But it didn't quite work that way. As Randy put it: "In a nutshell, two or three practices became ten, then twenty, then we had exhibition games, and, well, four years of university hockey later......"

And what a four years it was for Gregg. He led the Bears to two national championships. In his final season he was named the Canadian Intercollegiate Player of the Year. Randy attributed that title to the fact that he was a medical student who starred at hockey, not because he was the best hockey player in the CIAU.

Gregg likely figured his hockey days would be over once school was done, and he'd focus on his medical career. However things didn't quite work out that way. During one of his final games in his final year, Gregg was approached by Father David Bauer - the legendary hockey coach who created the Canadian National Team program. Bauer was looking for players for the 1980 Olympic Games.

"I was extremely intrigued by him" said Gregg. "He'd already identified some players that he felt might work out in the program and I was lucky enough to be one of them."

Gregg decided to postpone his medical internship and even passed on a $250,000 contract offer (over 2 years) from the New York Rangers to be a part of the Olympic program. For Randy, he had no regrets.

"I wouldn't trade any of it for anything else I could have been doing. We traveled Europe, to Japan; we were incredibly close and we had the benefit of working under a terrific coach, Clare Drake, and under Father Bauer, the team's general manager. The guys played the entire year for $4000!!"

Father Bauer played a huge role in Randy's life.

"Father Bauer's emphasis was on character development, the whole person, not just athletics. When we traveled, he'd encourage us to go to museums, art galleries, to interact with the people around us. There was very little emphasis on winning for its own sake. Which of course just made you want to win all the more for the guy."

However the team didn't win, and finished a disappointing 6th in the 1980 Olympics. But Randy was so excited about the Olympic experience that he wanted to play in the 1984 Olympics. He passed up on more professional offers and went to Japan where he played with the Kokudo Bunnies. He did this in order to keep his amateur status so he could play in the Olympics. The Olympic program as it had existed however was wiped out after the 6th place finish and replaced with a whole new program headed by Dave King.

As a result of the change in direction, Gregg began to think about returning home. When Glen Sather offered him a contract he jumped at it. Although Calgary and the Rangers also made offers, Gregg wanted to play in Edmonton, the town where he was born and raised. So after two years in Japan, Gregg flew across the Pacific and debuted in the playoffs, appearing in 4 games. Gregg's timing wasn't great in the sense that Edmonton would be upset by the Los Angeles Kings in those playoffs.

Gregg had a solid first rookie season and helped the Oilers reach the Stanley Cup finals before bowing out to the dynastic New York Islanders. But his second year was a year to remember for Randy. He had a career best 13 goals and 40 points and helped the Oilers win their first of 5 Stanley Cups in the next 7 years. In the autumn of '84, Gregg was part of Team Canada at the Canada Cup.

However Gregg's Canada Cup experience wasn't a highlight of his career. He was invited because Team Canada wanted a well rounded team and not just a lineup of superstars. Gregg not only was a big defensive d-man but he had loads of international experience. Despite this the media cried Oiler favoritism (Glen Sather picked the team) and often asked why all star Scott Stevens wasn't there and why Gregg was. Despite this, Gregg earned a Canada Cup championship, but admitted to feeling out of place in that situation.

Randy, a stubborn and principled man, retired for the beginning of the 1986 season because of a contract hold out. Remember at this time players of Randy's stature were getting paid around $125,000. Randy asked for a raise of $5000 and the Oilers refused. Randy quit and intended to move on with his medical career where he could earn comparable and perhaps better money! Gregg's retirement lasted 6 weeks before he and Sather patched up their differences, and it wasn't long before Gregg was helping the Oilers win their 3rd Cup championship in 1987.

However a funny thing happened to Randy following the 1987 championship. Having grown tired of the business side of pro hockey, he retired to concentrate on his medical career once again. He applied for the residency program in orthopedic surgery at the University Hospital in Edmonton. Two days after he was accepted, the International Olympic Committee announced the former professional hockey players would be allowed to complete in the 1988 Olympics. Of course Randy had very fond memories of his 1980 Olympic experience and quickly withdrew from his residency program and concentrated on the Olympics in Calgary.

Canada finished 4th in the Calgary Olympics but for Randy it was a disappointment. He had hoped to recapture the magic of Father Bauer but found Dave King's Team Canada to be too much like the pros. "It turned out the organization was focused almost exclusively on winning with absolutely no interest in the sort of character development we'd seen under Father Bauer."

Following the Olympics Randy rejoined the Oilers and helped them win the 1988 Stanley Cup. It was Randy's 4th Cup ring. He also played the 1989-90 season in Edmonton as well.

In 1990 Randy retired, for a third time, though this time it appeared to be for real. He founded a non profit organization called Funteam. Funteam was built in the spirit of Father Bauer, and offered an alternative to traditional kids sports organizations that focused strictly on the on ice or on field development. The Oilers figured this time Gregg had indeed called it quits and exposed him in the waiver draft. Gregg told all the other NHL teams not to select him because he didn't want to play in any city other than Edmonton and wouldn't report. Despite this, the Vancouver Canucks selected Gregg.

The Canucks were looking for a veteran d-man to help turn their fortunes around and once they selected Gregg they offered him a large amount of money. Gregg became interested in the Vancouver offer but he felt he had to stay in Edmonton to help establish Funteam. He's the kind of guy that won't back out on his commitments. Gregg told the Canucks that he may be interested next year.

The Canucks came back the following summer and offered Gregg a contract he couldn't refuse. Funteam was solidly established. And while Gregg only played in 21 games, he had the time of his life.

"It was one of the most rewarding years of my career. It was almost exclusively because of Pat Quinn (Canucks coach). He's such a great guy, an amazing man. I developed so much respect for him. It's a rarity in hockey to find a guy who can be a friend to the players, as Pat is, without losing their respect."

However his year in Vancouver also helped Randy realize his hockey days were near done and he had to move on. He retired for a 4th time, this time for good.

Randy returned to Edmonton and completed his medical internship. He soon teamed up with another doctor to create a sports medicine clinic.

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