Dallas Eakins made his regular-season debut as the Edmonton Oilers coach on Tuesday night, and it was an unforgettable one.
Not because of anything the Oilers did on the ice – blowing a lead in the third period, losing to the Winnipeg Jets – but because Eakins wore one of the single most garish ties that has ever graced the neck of an NHL rookie coach.
It was a collage of jungle animals, overlapping with one another like a child’s puzzle with scattered pieces. Giraffe, monkey, elephant, a giant tiger head and a panther crawling around it, with a rhino and a zebra underneath.
It was the kind of tie that dangles on a rack unsold at a zoo gift shop for $59.99. It was the kind of tie that Don Cherry would look at and say, “It’s a little much.”
But it wasn’t too much for the late Roger Neilson, who was known to rock a garish tie in his storied Hall of Fame coaching career.
Neilson, who died of bone cancer in 2003, was a mentor to Eakins. OK, more than a mentor – a second father, who had known Eakins since he was 12. So as he coached his first NHL game, Eakins decided to honor Neilson by wearing one of the coach’s old ties.
“I’ve been saving this tie for a long time, and Roger was known for his horrible ties. He didn’t put much thought into them,” said Eakins, on the Edmonton Oilers bench for the first regular-season game of 2013-14.
“Our friend Rob Campbell texted me last night and said, ‘the great thing about Roger’s ties is that they go equally bad with any suit. It will be an honour to wear it out there tonight.”
Indeed it did.
In many ways, Eakins was standing behind the Oilers bench because of Neilson’s inspiration, who always told him that he’d make a fine hockey coach.
“I knew that Roger was right that coaching was in my blood,” Eakins told the Globe & Mail.
Last night, Neilson was clearly in Dallas Eakins' head and heart.