Saturday, 29 December 2012

Following Up On A Carrot

I want to follow up on a question I had posed some time ago about the vegetable to the left and its tie-in to the Edmonton Oilers' run of Stanley Cup in the 1980s. Back in June of 2007, I had written an article about some of the Stanley Cup rings given out over the years. There were impressive pieces of jewellry handed out, but the Oilers' 1984 Stanley Cup rings caught my eye because they had a carrot engraved into the right side. At the time, I had asked if anyone knew why there may be a carrot on a Stanley Cup ring, but I received no feedback. Instead, I went off looking for an answer and actually found one! The problem? I never actually published the reason for the carrot! Thanks to a reader, I will now post the reason for the Oilers' carrot-adorned rings.

Devyn V. sent me an email asking about the carrot. Like me, he found this carrot on the side of a Stanley Cup ring to be a little strange. Devyn writes,
My name is Devyn and I'm extremely interested in finding out why there is a carrot on the one side under the Oilers logo on there Stanley cup ring. I see in your blog you posted you were wondering the same thing... I was wondering if you got a answer? I realize you posted this in 2007... So maybe you had time to find out lol.
Thanks to Devyn's prompting me to find an answer, I quickly hit my hockey favorites tab on my web browser, and shot him back a link containing the reason for the root veggie's appearance. So without further adieu and an assist from Devyn, here's the story of the Edmonton Oilers' carrot rings.

The above-linked Edmonton Journal article, written by David Staples and published on Sunday, September 18, 2011, is an interview with long-time Oilers trainer Barrie Stafford. Stafford was there for the good times, the bad times, and every other time in between for the 28 years before he retired in 2011, and he knew about the vast majority of stuff that went on within the Oilers organization. It's in this interview that Mr. Stafford reveals the reason for the carrots on the Stanley Cup rings.
Pocklington and Sather, especially, were tight with a dollar, but they loved to give players financial incentives. Those incentives were symbolized by the carrots image cut into the team's Stanley Cup rings, one bite out of the carrot for each Cup victory.

Each year when the playoffs would come along, Sather would negotiate incentives with his players. Gretzky, Messier and the team leaders would get together at a team party and come up with their wish list, maybe suits from tailor Sam Abouhassan if they won one round, a trip to Hawaii if they won the Cup.

In the minutes before one big playoff game against Los Angeles, Sather announced to the players that Pocklington was coming into the dressing room, a major breach of protocol. "Everybody is going, 'What is he doing here?' Basically nobody cares if he's the owner. Nobody is allowed in this dressing room before the game. It's unheard of."

But in came Pocklington, carrying a brown paper bag, with garden carrots sticking out of the top. He set down the bag on the Ping-Pong table. "So Peter says, 'OK boys, this is an important game for us tonight, and you know, just wanted to give you a little incentive.' Boom! Peter hits the bag, it comes apart and it's full of carrots and cash, $100,000. One hundred grand cash sitting in the middle of the dressing room! We've never seen money like that! 'OK boys,' Sather said, 'It's time to go.' "

After the game, a series-clinching Oilers win, Messier doled out the cash, an equal share to each player and trainer. "I had never seen so much money in my life," Stafford says. "That was a big deal for us. I remember putting the money in my shirt pocket and I felt I had just won the lottery. Like I said, it's like Pavlov and the salivating dog: only good things happen when you win."

Among the rewards were playoff bonuses, Stanley Cup rings and Stafford's name on the Stanley Cup. "All I know is my name is on the Cup five times and they're not taking it off. It's an unbelievable feeling."
Pretty impressive story, right? I mean, what owner would come into the dressing room before a big game with a bag of carrots and a bundle of money as incentive to win the game? Because Mr. Stafford said this was a game against the Los Angeles Kings, this had to have been from the 1985 Stanley Cup Playoffs where the Oilers dispatched the Kings in three-straight games in the opening round. But the imagery of the carrots had to have been around long before that for the players to understand what it meant!

So that's the story about the carrot on the Oilers' 1984 Stanley Cup ring. Like dangling a carrot in front of the team, Peter Pocklington and Glen Sather would dangle incentives like cash, vacations, and luxuries for every series victory that the team earned. Is it any wonder why the Oilers seemed to be more determined to win in the playoffs during those heady days?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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