“I still wanted to be playing and I was still pretty good, at least for that league. Plus, I was putting the team together, finding players with a team budget. I was running practices. You have a whistle and you jump in for the drills. It was all part of learning.”

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St. Louis Blues interim head coach Drew Bannister wasn’t here for a long time but he had a good time as an Edmonton Oilers defenceman during their improbable playoff in 1997 when they knocked off the heavily-favoured Dallas Stars in seven games in the first round.

“Yeah, a long time ago, great run…I certainly remember the big save (Curtis Joseph) on (Joe) Nieuwendyk (in OT), then it goes the other way not too far later… somebody who hadn’t scored a lot but had a lot of breakaways (Todd Marchant) puts it in the back of the net. Pretty terrific time,” said Bannister, who was only 22 then after being acquired from Tampa at the trade deadline for Jeff Norton, yet played all 12 playoff games that spring, including Round two against the Colorado Avalanche.

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Bannister was the second-ever player taken by the Lightning in their first-ever draft in 1992 after Roman Hamrlik went first. He played 34 games for the Oilers in 97-98, but was dealt to Anaheim for fellow blueliner Bobby Dollas in January, 1998.

The playoffs is what he remembers clearly.

“I had been playing with Kevin (Lowe) but he was injured at that point and Mush (Bryan Marchment) went out in the first (playoff) game. Boris Mironov and I played a lot together but they (coaching staff) were moving people around. There was a young group of us, myself, Dan McGillis,” he said.

Bannister, who replaced Craig Berube as Blues head coach on Dec. 13, remembers his first two Oiler trades like they were yesterday rather than 25 years ago.

“I got traded on the plane (at the 1997 trade deadline) when I was with Tampa… back then there weren’t a lot of cellphones and I found out from one of the media because we were in the air when the deadline passed. He hinted at it.. He had called in (to check on any trades) and (head coach) Terry (Crisp) told me when we landed,” recalled Bannister.

“Then I got traded the day of a game in Anaheim, after the morning skate. I just grabbed my stuff and went over to the other room (about 20 feet away). I played against the Oilers. Bobby didn’t play for Edmonton that night,” he said.

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Bannister

Bannister was on Canada’s gold medal winning World Junior team in 1994 with former Oilers Anson Carter and Mike Peca, as well as Jeff Friesen, Jason Allison, Bryan McCabe. He was a fine junior defenceman but unfortunately had a nomadic playing career.

The 49-year-old who was coaching the Blues farm team in Springfield when he got the call to replace Berube, played 164 NHL games. He had stops in Vegas (IHL), Cincinnati and Binghamton (AHL) along with a series of games in Finland, Russia, Germany, England and Scotland.

He got the coaching bug in Europe, and went right into coaching at the junior level in Ontario. He was an assistant in OHL Owen Sound, then the head coach of the Soo Greyhounds, taking over for current Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe.

“I was player coach my last two years in the U.K. (Hull in England and Braehead in Scotland),” said Bannister.

“I still wanted to be playing and I was still pretty good, at least for that league. Plus, I was putting the team together, finding players with a team budget. I was running practices. You have a whistle and you jump in for the drills. It was all part of learning.”

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While over there he applied for a Ontario Hockey League job as an assistant coach in Owen Sound, and it took off from there. He was head man in the Soo, shortly after Oiler Darnell Nurse left. The Blues hired him for their AHL farm team in San Antonio in 2018. He also had stops in Utica and Springfield, all in preparation for getting back to the NHL, but behind a bench, not on the blueline.

Bannister met his wife Katie, the daughter of former NHL defenceman Mike Busniuk — part of the no-name D with the Philadelphia Flyers’ team that went 35 straight games without a loss in 1979-80 — while playing in Hartford. Katie had also played college hockey at Northeastern U (Boston) and their three girls Brinn, 13, Tatum, 11 and Emery, eight, all play hockey in Thunder Bay where Katie’s currently a high-school math teacher. She also coaches a house league of close to 60 girls, ages four to eight.

Ever since Drew first head coaching job in junior, he and his family have been apart but that’s the life of a hockey coach trying to make it to the NHL with so many port of calls along the way.

Katie is in Thunder Bay where her parents and other family members are, with the stability of having a home base for the three girls — not moving around year to year with different schools and friends.

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Katie’s uncle Ron Busniuk played two years for the Oilers in the WHA, if you’re looking for another six degrees of separation playing link.

The coaching link is Katie’s dad Mike. He was head junior coach of Tri-City (WHL) Americans before being an assistant coach with the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators AHL affiliates. She sees the game like a player, and also a coach because she was behind the bench at NCAA Trinity College in Hartford. She’s his sounding board after games.

“She understands the game very well, and she’s a great coach. I wouldn’t say that just because she’s my wife. I’d be super excited to have her coaching,” Bannister told The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford several months ago.

Bannister met his wife while he was playing for Hartford and they married in 2007. Hartford, of course, is where Oiler head coach Kris Knoblauch also was before he took over from Jay Woodcroft in November. So the two guys who coached against one another in the AHL for years, had that road in common when their NHL number was called.

And speaking of numbers, Bannister’s Oiler career was too brief but he was the first Oiler to ever wear 55.  He’s one of six Oilers — Ben Eager, Mark Letestu, Igor Ulanov, Alex Henry and now Dylan Holloway to wear that number.

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