The Prince Albert Raiders team bus rolled through Vegreville Monday on their way to face the Edmonton Oil Kings in Game 3 of the Western Hockey League Eastern Conference Final at Rogers Place on Tuesday.Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid is familiar with the town located 100 kilometres east of Edmonton.“This is where Slats (Glen Sather) threatened to have us practice for two months, I think,” laughed the one-time Edmonton Oilers centre now in his 15th year of coaching in the WHL, the last five with Prince Albert.Habscheid, 56, played 345 NHL games with Oilers, Minnesota, Detroit and Calgary, also in the Olympics for Canada in 1988, and has Kamloops, Kelowna, Chilliwack (owned by Sather and Brian Burke) and Prince Albert in the WHL with more than 500 wins, one of only eight coaches who’ve done that. He won a Memorial Cup in Kelowna in 2004, also coached Canada’s world junior and world championship teams, was on Canada’s 2006 Olympic coaching staff and was Boston associate coach with head man Dave LewisHabscheid has never lost his farm-boy roots with his immigrant dad Nicholas moving from Luxembourg with his wife Virginia to a farm outside Swift Current in the late 1950s with his dad taking any job he could to support his family. His dad, who started out as a hired hand on a ranch, died of cancer 10 months ago at the age of 94.Marc grew up poor, the youngest of three boys, with no electricity or indoor plumbing, no insulation in the house for the first 10 years of his life but his parents went without and his dad built the obligatory outdoor rink. A neighbour gave Marc his first pair of skates and used equipment (football shoulder pads).“We had an old car, but because we had no electricity to warm it up (winter), my dad would crawl underneath and build a fire under the engine so it would start,” said Habscheid. “I was in Edmonton playing and I phoned home when I was 19 and was complaining and my dad said; ‘Oh, really, if you don’t like it quit and come home because we’re picking rocks in a couple of weeks.’ Well said.“My dad figured out how to build a rink on his own. He told me I could use a new stick for games but if I was outside, he’d find broken sticks and he would cut the blade end and top end on a sharp angle, then glue them together and brace them, sanding off the glue.“I would go to school in the morning after a big snowstorm and there would be five-feet of snow on the ice, and I would come home and there would banks of snow and a clean sheet of ice. He would park the car by the rink with the lights on if I wanted to keep practicing.”His dad thought nothing of driving from outside Swift Current to Edmonton to watch his boy play with the Oilers. The games were on television but not all of them.“He would feed the cattle until about noon, eat, then drive seven hours, get a ticket for the game, watch and drive back. He’d get to Brooks, pull over and fall asleep for an hour, and get home and feed the cattle all again. I never knew he was at the game.“My parents did everything to support us (brothers). You don’t realize it at the time but as you get older you do. When my dad was dying, we had some good talks.“Respect was big for him. Growing up we had this little cow who was a good mother and always led the cattle out in the spring and brought them back in the fall. As it got older, we told my dad we had to cull this cow … you could get $100 for a cow but my dad said no. He said that cow would die on the farm. Respect.”At the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, Luxembourg’s royal family was in Alberta to watch their only representative, skier Marc Giardelli, and found out Habscheid’s parents’ lineage and invited Marc and his folks to a gala.“All these monarchs there, the heir to the throne of Spain and my parents wind up talking to the grand duke and duchess. Pretty cool for my mom and dad who lived a simple life,” he said.Habscheid was never part of the constellation of stars on the Oilers but was in the dressing room with lots of Hall of Famers and soaked all of that up. He’s in a group photo of the ’82-83 Oilers in a row with Kevin Lowe, Paul Coffey, Charlie Huddy and Dave Hunter. He never had a chance to push Wayne Gretzky or Mark Messier aside, obviously.“I was in the media room at Rexall Place once with Sammy (Dave Semenko) and they had all these pictures on the walls of the star players and I said, “where’s mine?’ Sammy says, ‘we’re renovating,’” laughed Habscheid.Habscheid was a hockey savant as a young pro, an obsessive note-taker. He was intrigued by everything, keeping notes in binders. Well over 1,000 pages.“I absolutely still have them. They’re on my desk (office). I look at them less and less because obviously the game’s changed but some of the core things are still there like what makes a team,” he said.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.orgOn Twitter: @NHLbyMatty
Latest Oil Spills podcast: Oilers and lost opportunitiesHockey Hall of Fame writer Jim Matheson talks to host Craig Ellingson about the playoff picture in the NHL’s Western Conference, which has seen three of the top four seeds eliminated, and ‘what could’ve beens’ if the Edmonton Oilers had somehow, someway made the post-season.