Oilers’ Gordon Bell Concentrating on Coaching
By GLENN HIBDON
GTR Sports Writer
Three injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee may turn out to be a blessing for Tulsa Oilers assistant coach Gordon Bell.
Bell first suffered the injury two years ago in practice, then did it again five games into the 2011-12 season. He injured the knee a third time in an October exhibition game and it appeared Bell’s career with the Oilers was finished.
Bell may be stubborn, but he’s no quitter.
“I’m still working hard (on the knee) right now, but I‘m concentrating on the coaching aspect,’’ says Bell, a 32-year-old native of West Lock, Alberta. “I’m not sure if I will try to play again or not. I haven’t come to that decision yet. I know I’m not ready to be out of the game and the Oilers allowed me to be a part of the team.’’
After six seasons in the Central Hockey League with Oklahoma City, Amarillo and Tulsa, the Oilers gave Bell a chance to get a leg up on his ultimate goal – becoming a hockey coach. He was hired as the team’s first full-time paid assistant and the former center iceman is living the dream.
“I thought I went out at the top of my game,’’ says Bell, who played 21 games in two on-ice seasons with the Oilers. “You don’t always get to pick when your time is up in the game. It’s tough to stop playing when you know you’re becoming successful, but I had talks with the Oilers and they felt it was a good opportunity for me to come in and be a part of the team. They liked the leadership I provided on and off the ice.’’
Bell is fortunate to have a home with the Oilers. Just 19 games into the 2010-11 season he was doing a drill in practice when his skate caught a rut in the ice and his knee straightened out. One of his teammates hit him at the time, and he heard a pop. He was out for the season after recording 14 points in 16 games.
“We thought the quickest way for me to get back was putting in a donor tendon from a cadaver,’’ Bell said. “My body didn’t accept the tissue. The next time I hurt my knee they used tissue from in front of my patella (knee cap) and my seems to be strong now. I went to training camp (in October) and I didn’t think I was ready so I decided it was time to go.
“I took a step back from the game and looked at my options. I could get a job out of hockey, but I didn’t want to do that.’’
Bell could look back at a playing career that saw him suit up in 225 games with 44 goals and 109 assists. He wanted more, but now his satisfaction must come from behind the bench in helping head coach Bruce Ramsay find a way to win.
“We, as an organization, like to take care of our players,’’ says Ramsay. “We want to work with them and help them get on with their futures. It was a tough situation with Gord’s knee, and Jeff Lund (owner) and Taylor Hall (general manager) found a way to take care of him and get him healthy. Now he helps with scheduling in practice and gives me a sounding board. It’s always good to have someone else to talk to and allow me to concentrate on other things.’’
Proof of Bell’s dedication comes from his car’s odometer. He still lives in Oklahoma City with his wife and child and must drive the Turner Turnpike constantly to fulfill his duties.
Bell’s chores include coaching the Oilers defense, making public relations appearances and going on early morning television and radio programs. Community involvement is one of Bell’s off-ice passions.
“There is no other job I’d rather have in the world,’’ Bell says. “Money isn’t the issue, it’s ‘are you happy doing your job.’ I still love the game, and I’m a student of the game. I have a lot of knowledge to pass on to those younger guys.’’
A “hockey guy’’ since age three, Bell’s bench duties include telling defensive players who is going on the ice and in what situation. He also works with center icemen on faceoffs and he takes time after practice to instruct players on shooting skills, footwork and power plays. Whether Bell suits up again or not, he’s discovered that he is an integral part of the Tulsa franchise.
“I’ m definitely looking forward to the future,’’ he says. “I couldn’t have asked for a better experience my first year out. I always knew when I couldn’t play anymore, I wanted to be a coach. I’ve started a hockey camp where I live in Alberta and I’ve been all over the country. I’d like to go to Europe because hockey is a great way to see the world. It helps you grow as an individual.’’
Little did Bell realize how three injuries could blossom into the opportunity of a lifetime.