Hockey Great Kevin Lowe on 40 years with the NHL & why he calls Mexico home part-time
Drafted to the NHL's Edmonton Oilers as part of the team's 1979 NHL Entry Draft, Kevin Lowe played 13 full seasons with the Oilers before moving on to the New York Rangers. Regarded as one of the three kings of the Oilers 1980s dynasty, alongside Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, Lowe won 6 Stanley Cups within his playing career. He also managed to be a seven-time NHL All-Star beyond being the recipient of 1990's King Clancy Memorial Trophy.
While a 19-year playing career in the NHL would be enough for most players, Kevin Lowe went on to join the Oilers staff as an assistant coach in 1998. He transitioned into a head coach the following year, then became the team's general manager in 2000. Still employed by the Oilers, Lowe is currently the Vice Chairman of the Oilers Entertainment Group.
Lowe has also been involved with interesting projects over the years outside of hockey. One such project is consulting for Vivo Resorts, an all-suite beachfront resort in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. Vivo is the brainchild of another notable pro athlete, former World Cup downhill ski champion and Olympian Cary Mullen of Canada. When speaking with Lowe by phone, I asked him about his careers both on and off the ice, in addition to how Mexico first became part of his life.
For someone who knows their NHL history, you are a seven-time NHL All-Star with six Stanley Cups to your credits. Is there a career accomplishment that you are most proud of?
Kevin Lowe: In the sports world?
Sports world and beyond, if you don't mind...
Kevin Lowe: I think I'd have to say my time spent in hockey overall. I'm proud of my playing career over 19 years, but I'm proud that I was probably only one of a handful that's been an assistant coach, a head coach, a manager and a president. Next season will be my 40th season involved with the National Hockey League so that itself is probably what I'm proud of.
Was there a person who specifically recognized that you had that ability to work behind the scenes and not just on the ice?
Kevin Lowe: At a young age I realized that pro sports wasn't going to last forever and it can go by so fast. I was fortunate to play for 19 years, I think the average career when I started was about six years. I was always prepared for what I was going to do after hockey. I had some businesspeople along the way that helped me get experience away from the game. All that was primarily focused on what I was going to do when I was finished with the game.
I think Glen Sather, the former General Manager of the Oilers, now the President of the New York Rangers, he helped me recognize at an early age that I had the capability of being involved in the sport after my playing days.
I used to say I always wanted to stay involved with the game if it wasn't directly in coaching or scouting or managing, then possibly being involved in the media side of things. I also felt that the capacity to do something like that.
A lot of people who have long careers in sports that are still involved, you'll hear them say that athletes today have it easier than they did at the beginning of their careers. Looking back at your early days in hockey, how do you personally feel about that?
Kevin Lowe: I think it's all relative. We used to hear when I started in the late 1970s that we're so fortunate because the money was so much better than the generations before us. Likewise is the case now. I think there's much more demand on the players, yes the money is much better in pro sports, but the demand is greater. The demand on their ability to train and be ready to play. The demand on the promotional and media side that the organizations rely on them to be a part of.
I think probably the really biggest different from their era to our era is you're literally in a fishbowl every month. Even in our own city we can go out and have a good time from time to time without being on social media. That's changed a lot.
But it's all relative to your era. To me, I don't want to say it's any harder or any easier. You do what you do to stay at the level of your era. Demand's on in the business world on CEOs and employees. HR's prominence in companies didn't exist. They're all good things, but they're certainly more demands on employees in terms of social responsibility.
What is your work like as the Vice Chairman of the Oilers Entertainment Group?
Kevin Lowe: I'm quite fortunate to have this position. A lot of times I get to observe and help out at the business from 30,000 feet. I've been able to work closely with Bob Nicholson, the CEO, and the Oilers executive staff on operations, on strategy, on future growth, on public relations. I do very little on the hockey side, but our business from the business of things, there's as much demand on that group as there is the hockey side. It's a really nice transition for me to have had 30-plus years on the hockey side...
I'm also involved whenever there's a special project. We just went through this project where the NHL voted the 84-85 Oilers as the greatest team of all time. I was really involved with that file and putting together a big celebration, doing a lot of promotion on that side. Anything that's not the normal day to day business of operations I usually have some sort of capacity in.
On the other end of things, I'm aware of you spending a lot of the time that you're not working in Mexico. How did you wind up going to Mexico for the first time?
Kevin Lowe: My wife, who was a ski racer for Canada, we both joke that we had spent too much of our lives in winter climates. (laughs) So we're trying to escape the winter as a lot of Canadians and Americans in the northern part of the country do. But not having a lot of time, in fact, this past January was the first ever winter holiday I had taken in my life.
In terms of a real holiday where we may get away to Palm Springs or Florida in the middle of the winter for two or three days to get away from the cold. I had a couple of weeks at Vivo, although I had been there a couple of times in the summer or spring.
I always knew that I'm not going to spend my entire life in the cold. Meeting Cary Mullen, the founder, and knowing him for a lot of years through my wife and their skiing, having a lot of respect for Cary's story and history... He brought us down to Puerto Escondido eight or nine years ago. If we didn't have that relationship it's doubtful we'd have ever arrived there. I'm really glad we have. Just weather-driven, affordability-driven, proximity-driven, a lot of the metrics that are exciting about that area.
Had you been to Mexico at all during your NHL playing career at all?
Kevin Lowe: I had been to Cabo once. Maybe I lied, that was a winter vacation as well? The NHL had gone to the Olympics for the hockey side in '88 in Nagano, I was coaching. We spent a week in Cabo, so I had taken a winter holiday before, although it was during the middle of the season and I was still probably never able to shut off the hockey world... (laughs)
I hadn't spent a lot of time in Mexico and it was a place I wanted to and knew I would visit. But since then I've been to Mexico City, I've been to parts of the country, and I have a great appreciation for the people. But certainly the climate... It's such a beautiful country.
When you're down at Vivo, are you on-site at the property the whole time? Do you go into town much?
Kevin Lowe: That's a nice thing about it, you can certainly just stay on the property if you choose to, but we like to venture out. There are all sorts of side trips and outings that you can do. Just the town itself of Puerto Escondido, Vivo's 15 or 20 minutes from the heart of the town. I say "town" but it's a small city, it's got about 45,000 people. It has a beautiful market that you want to visit weekly if not daily.
Zicatela Beach is the famous beach in the heart of downtown. It's nice to stroll for dinner, to walk along, to watch for surfers. My wife and kids surf, but I can't say I graduated to Zicatela yet. (laughs) It's where the world's top surfers go every July and August.
Generally, when I've been there, it's not been for as long as two weeks, so there's still lots more to see. This last time my wife and I did this horse trip up to some hot springs, it was about 45 minutes by a horse. There's much more for us to explore in the coming years, which I plan on doing as I spend more time down there.
When you're not busy with the Oilers or advising for Vivo, how do you like spending your free time?
Kevin Lowe: I love to travel. Life after hockey is coming very soon, and I love to travel whenever I can. I've travelled extensively in Europe, not much at all in South America yet, so I plan on doing that out of Puerto Escondido. I'd love to get to the Galapagos.
I am involved in some real estate holdings in British Columbia, so that's a part-time to full-time thing for me in the coming years. I really appreciate recreational property, like Vivo and what I have in Canada.
So finally, Kevin, any last words for the kids?
Kevin Lowe: (laughs) Our kids are university-age and some graduated, so they're spread out all over. One's over in London, England, one's in Toronto, our son plays pro hockey, last year he was in Bakersfield, California -- so they're spread out all over... That's the thing we really like about Vivo, the kids probably love it there more than my wife and I do, which is hard to believe.
We see it as a place where we can congregate together in the future. It's going to be one of those places where they'll want to visit their parents, and perhaps the day comes when they have their own children, that the grandkids will want to go and visit as well.