The first NHL team jacket I ever bought was that of the New York Islanders. The first NHL team I really truly disliked was the Edmonton Oilers. That was a long time ago on both counts.
I cheered for the Islanders when they stank — when they came into the NHL as doormats — because they drafted former New Westminster Bruin Lorne Henning and a bunch of other good, old WHL guys. I took a lot of razzing for wearing that jacket, too, especially from one of my front-running buddies, a fan of the Montreal Canadiens. Pencil-neck geek.
Henning? One day when some friends and I — not the Montreal towel boy — cut class to watch the Bruins practice at Queen’s Park Arena, Henning flipped me a puck. Once the Islanders drafted him 17th overall in 1972, they became my team. It was a long time until the first of four straight Stanley Cup parades, starting in 1980.
The Oilers? As a kid growing up in the Vancouver suburb of Coquitlam, B.C., I was a Canucks fan from the first time they dropped the puck on an NHL game at the old Pacific Coliseum.
The Canucks won nothing, of course, and then the Oilers strutted into the league a decade later from the WHA all smart-assed like and starting kicking them around within a few seasons. With Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier and all the rest, it was easy to envy them, and dislike them, even before they won five Stanley Cups in seven years.
How times have changed.
HERE AND NOW
I haven’t seen that old Islanders jacket in 25 years, and it’s been almost as long since the parades ended and they were any good at all.
As for the Oilers, who put an end to New York’s run of four straight Cups and still stand as the NHL’s last and, arguably, greatest dynasty — with all due respect to the Detroit Red Wings this past decade — I let go of my dislike for them about the time I graduated from journalism school.
The once-great Islanders have missed the playoffs four of the last five seasons and 11 of the last 15. Laughing stocks many seasons. An afterthought. Lousy rink. No fans. Goofy owner.
The Oilers we know about — out of the post-season for four straight seasons since the run to the 2006 Cup final and five of the last six years. And that four years on the outside looking in starting in 1992-93? Playing in front of 10,000 fans. Gord Mark. Brent Grieve. Ugly.
So, here we are. The Islanders and Oilers near the top of the standings in the race for a lottery pick, New York in 29th place and the Oilers, losers of seven straight games, in 28th.
It’s nothing less than jarring for an oldtimer like me, who remembers when the Islanders and the Oilers were the greatest teams I’d ever seen, and can’t help but wax nostalgic.
Butch Goring, now a TV analyst, was at the rink this morning. He looks old. So was Rod Phillips, who will call tonight’s game as one of the 10 encores he’ll do this season before jumping a jet back to retirement in Arizona.
HOMECOMING FOR SCHREMP
Rob Schremp is making his first appearance in Edmonton since the Islanders claimed him off waivers from the Oilers in September of 2009. I made a bee-line for Schremp before New York hit the ice this morning, thinking he might spin some gold. No cigar.
When the Oilers first drafted Schremp 25th overall in 2004, he had the label as a brash kid, a cocky loudmouth whose confidence outstripped his considerable offensive skills. Schremp was certainly good for a juicy quote or two. I always liked him for it.
I tossed him some underhand stuff this morning hoping he’s hit it out of the yard, but Schremp wasn’t swinging. Time, maturity and humility will do that to a guy. He played it straight.
"I’ll be playing against some buddies on the other side, so it should be good," Schremp said. "I know Dooby (Devan Dubnyk) and Gags (Sam Gagner) and Storts (Zack Stortini), a bunch of guys.
"I pretty much grew up from age 18 to about 23 with those guys, so there’s still some connections."
A NEW START
Schremp, still only 24, played just seven games during his tenure with the Oilers. He wasn’t a fit here, at least not with Craig MacTavish calling the shots. Never really got a sniff, or did enough to earn one.
He seems to have found a home with the Islanders. After missing 11 games to start the season with a back injury, Schremp will face his former team with 7-7-14 in 23 games.
"It would’ve been nice if it worked out here with all the history and the way this town rallies for their team," he said. "It’s such a cool atmosphere to play in Edmonton and be part of the Oilers.
"I looked forward to being part of that, but it didn’t pan out. That’s just how it goes in this business. You start to understand guys get slotted in different areas and sometimes it doesn’t work. If I can get my feet planted on The Island, hopefully I can be here a long time."
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.