To those who know me, I wasn’t originally a Canucks fan. To a fault, I will admit that I am a bandwagon jumper. Yes, I am guilty of jumping from team to team depending on their winning streak. My career spans from St. Louis (because of Brett Hull), Vancouver (between 1989 to 1995-ish), Toronto (don’t ask me how or why – okay, I liked Mats Sundin), and back to Vancouver (Sundin signed with them before retiring.)
But from my early days of immigrating from Hong Kong, my first Canadian home was Edmonton. Growing up there was a truly Canadian experience. I got to experience winter, lots of cold days at school, and hockey. Despite the economic hardships plagued by Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program, a topic of intense political debate that can be discussed somewhere else, our family held firm and allowed me to play hockey in the community Atom league for five seasons.
Right from the get-go of the Edmonton Oilers’ merger into the NHL in 1979, the Edmontonians including yours truly were in for a treat.
On the day that the unthinkable happened, I was sad. After that fateful day, August 9, 1988, the Edmonton Oilers that I knew and loved would never be the same. With Gretzky gone, it was a matter of time before the rest of his supporting cast would follow suit.
Sure, the Oilers rallied from that heartbreak of a trade and won their fifth Stanley Cup with out Wayne in 1990. But the writing was on the wall for the club as the player salaries were starting to climb. Gone was Jari Kurri, then Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Grant Fuhr, Kevin Lowe, Craig Simpson & MacTavish, and so on. By 1994, the Oilers were nothing but a rag-tag group of unproven young stars. How the mighty have fallen.
To be able to win consistently year after year these days is a monumental task. Free agency and salary caps are making it difficult for championship teams to retain their top players. Teams like the Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins, and lately the Chicago Blackhawks are keeping their winning ways close to a maximum. But when you have the likes of Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Fuhr, and Coffey on your roster, you have to admit that the Oilers were truly the NHL’s last great Dynasty.
So in 2016 when the Edmonton Oilers play their final game at Rexall Centre, or as I still call it Northlands Coliseum that sits on the the northwest corner of 118 Avenue and Capilano Road (changed to Wayne Gretzky Drive in 1999), the organization needs to make a big statement. They must honour their past and carry it forward into the new arena that will be called Rogers Place (why does every new rink have to be called Rogers?) While there have been only a couple of highlights from the Oilers since 1990 (see Todd Marchant’s series winner in 1997 and the miracle Stanley Cup run in 2006), it’s important that the fans get behind the current Oilers squad, no matter what version this rebuild is.
Perhaps they should learn from the Montreal Canadiens and how they treated their Hall of Fame Habs at the closing of the Forum in 1996. They brought Maurice Richard to tears, so the Oiler fans should do the same for Gretzky & his cast. And it won’t be the first time Gretzky cries.
My ideal Oiler honourary special super-duper legends that should take to the Coliseum ice in the closing ceremony as follows:
A parade of lesser-known Oilers alumni who could attend the grand event (including those who played in the WHA), then followed by…
Builders: Peter Pocklington (no-show), Glen Sather, John Muckler, Ted Green
Fillers: Dwayne Roloson, Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, Ethan Moreau, Jason Smith, Chris Pronger (don’t count on it), Eric Brewer, Roman Hamrlik, Janne Niinimaa, Jason Arnott (maybe), Doug Weight, Todd Marchant, Curtis Joseph, Dave Manson
Legends: Bill Ranford, Kelly Buchberger, Craig Simpson, Craig MacTavish, Esa Tikkanen, Charlie Huddy, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Andy Moog, Grant Fuhr, Kevin Lowe, Mark Messier and finally the Great One – Wayne Gretzky.
A former novice/atom player, timekeeper and fan of the game, Peter has lived and breathed hockey throughout his life, covering hockey happenings in Edmonton, Vancouver, and currently in Saskatchewan. He is now a contributing writer for the Hockey Writers.