WHERE WERE YOU?

Edmonton Oilers

Wayne Gretzky was so good none of the words in the dictionary do him justice. “The Great One” is miles from the truth and yet that moniker is the one that has lasted forever. As good as he was, and as much as we knew about the importance of money (or lack thereof), the trading of Wayne Gretzky was a stunning moment in Edmonton history. For an Oiler fan it was kind of like, and exactly like, falling off a cliff. 

August 9, 1988: Wayne Gretzky is traded to Los Angeles by Edmonton with Mike Krushelnyski and Marty McSorley for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, Los Angeles’ 1st round choices in 1989 (later traded to New Jersey – New Jersey selected Jason Miller), 1991 (Martin Rucinsky) and 1993 (Nick Stajduhar) Entry Drafts and cash.

Cash. Whenever anyone tries to tell you it was a hockey deal, please remember that last word. Cash.

I never found a way to cheer against 99, even when the Kings were beating my own beloved Oilers. The guy had done so much, was so far beyond anyone who had come before, he had become an icon and other-worldy by the time of the trade. I well remember the stories of Slats saying that Wayne just had to say the word and the deal was dead, and another story that Sather wouldn’t approve the “sale” without players coming back to Edmonton.

The press conference remains one of the truly incredible moments in Oilers history. Wayne crying, grim Oiler men and Peter Pocklington looking for all the world like a 10-year old who’d broken his neighbour’s window and was about to catch colossal shit.

It was a harsh lesson for Oiler fans. The fans can cheer, yell, scream, drink,  get angry and walk their seaon’s tickets, but they are far from the decision making process. Having said that, no one knew better what that trade meant to the Oilers. The club–despite winning a Stanley without him–was never the same.

WHERE WERE YOU?

Paulina Gretzky was a distant bell that day, and for Wayne Gretzky it probably took something like being a parent to surpass the emotion of being sold to Los Angeles. 

I was on holidays the day of the trade, in the USA where hockey coverage in January sucks let alone August. The fame of 99 was so big he made the front page in Seattle, and I honestly didn’t believe it even when reading the paper.

Seriously. Reading it in the newspaper and still not really getting it.

Where were you on that fateful day? My guess is many of you weren’t even around or were very young at the time. I’d still like to hear what you have been told from family and friends about the day Wayne was sold to the Kings.

 

 

  • Wanyes bastard child

    I was celebrating my 8th birthday… needless to say, worst birthday ever!

    Probably celebrate tonight like I did back then… get drunk with pops.

    And holy… I’m older than both Arch and Willis! Who would have guessed that?

  • Jaw17

    I was far from being born, but after watching documentaries and reading the book “Gretzky’s Tears” I have grown to hate Pocklington and hearing about the glory days of the 80’s I have actually grown resentful of Oiler fans that got to see something I can only dream of, an oilers dynasty, lets pray the “fab four” can make it come true.

  • Petr's Jofa

    I was 42 and had been a season ticket holder before we even got into the NHL . Being older plus having met most of the players at luncheons & dinners including Wayne I was upset but knowing Pocklington not as surprised as many of the fans .PP was an a- hole and I know personally as I worked for one of his companies in a senior position. In fact the real problems started when they wouldn’t give #7 what his agent asked for so I have allways told my sons when they let Paul go it was the begining of the end . For me that’s when it really started .I don’t care what Sather supposedly said because he stuck by Pocklington right up to his arrest in the states .WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN and now WHAT MIGHT BE AGAIN.

  • Petr's Jofa

    I wasn’t even born yet. My parents are not Oilers’ fans either. It was nice to watch the ’30 for 30′ episode on the trade. I have lived through trading favourites like Doug Weight and Ryan Smyth as well as trading a superstar like Chris Pronger. I can only imagine what it was like seeing your favourite team trade away the best player in the league because of money.

  • DSF

    I was living and working in England at the time. My father telephoned from Edmonton to tell me and my wife that Gretzky had been traded. It was late at night and we were asleep. The ringing phone woke me up. I had that instant panic – you know – that something bad has happened to someone in the family. I was actually relieved when my father first told me the news – relieved it wasn’t that bad. But, to be honest, as it sunk in, I did feel some of the sadness of a loss.

  • Lawndemon

    I was 13 years old at the cabin. We had one of those giant aluminum satellite dishes up there but it was attached to a tv the size of a dinner plate. We huddled around it in stunned silence, then I got pissed off and cried a bit. I remember yelling about how it wasn’t fair and how “they” were all stupid.

    Then I went fishing because it was summer and I was at the cabin.

    The Oilers were a huge part of my life – still are – but it’s still just hockey.

  • Great story’s everyone!

    I was 14 and reveling in yet another championship for the Oilers when someone ran up and kicked me in the gut!

    I was at home when the story broke then glued to the TV for the rest of the day, I cried, then got pissed off!

    Gretzky to this day is still my favorite hockey player!

    I still get angry and will argue till I pass out that he is the best player of all time, I don’t even think its close, my dad often would get me going telling me that Orr was the best.

    The trade to this day still pisses me off!

  • Lawndemon

    I was driving on a dusty gravel road on the bend of Corner Lake. The Calgary radio station said something like “Oilers trade Gretzky. Details after the commercial” I felt sick to my stomach. All my visions of a few more Stanley Cups were sent flying. I couldn’t possibly imagine how Sather could have been so brain damaged to trade The Great One. I remember thinking unless Bo Jackson has taken up hockey we just get robbed. When I heard the details I turned around and spit gravel most of the way home to tell my wife and phone my Dad. I’m still bitter.

  • Reg Dunlop

    The Gretzky sale was truly a sad day just like the Gretzky sale a decade earlier. Skalbania made the worst business decision since the sale of Manhattan, at least Pocklington got the best years out of Wayne.

    All these stories are wonderful and prove how important Gretz was to the city’s psyche. I would contribute but I don’t remember anything specific. Maybe the cumulative effect of head injuries. However…

    @Soup Fascist…I remember Bill Matheson shopping at Woodwards food floor saturdays and having an entorage of blue-haired ladies following him as he would say stuff like,’If I felt any better I would have to be restrained’ and ‘My escutcheon remains unsullied’. He was like catnip to those Grandmas.

    • The Soup Fascist

      Yikes! Woodwards. There is a blast from the past. The $1.49 Day jingle still resonates. I will remember Bill’s famous .. “The Dreaded of all meteorolgical phenomenon – the Siberian High” until the day I am on the wrong side of the sod.

      A lot of bad memories about the Gretzky trade. But fun rememdering some of Edmonton’s old haunts. Forgot about Molson House, David’s Restaurant, Goose Loonies. Lots of changes since the late 80’s. BTW did any Fieros survive to the millenium? What pieces of crap.

      • paul wodehouse

        …Hey Soup…ever see the plaques on the west bar at Barry-Ts?
        Grant Fuhr, Kevin McClelland and Dave (lap area) Hunter all had them …little brass ones made up by THE best bartender EVER Barry Countryman to reserve those places at his bar for those regulars…ok maybe Troy was the best but…how ’bout The Grinder on 124th …I waited til six a.m. for Gretz and VikkiMoss to show up after the first Cup win…and they showed up for owner and super slider owner Ray Goodman…weeeeeeeeeee those were the days!

        • The Soup Fascist

          Barry T’s was part of the “trapline” Friday and Saturday nights.

          The Grinder was a cool little place. A buddy of mine loved it. I was a St. Albert guy, but I missed out when Mess rolled into the Bruin Inn with the Cup, I believe it was just before the Bruin Inn’s brief stint as a Strip Bar … er … “Gentleman’s Club”. The local CWL ladies were not big fans! But I digress . .

          Anyway not sure how much of the story was an urban myth, but apparently Messier and Sammy just showed up on a Saturday afternoon with the Cup and there are like five people total in the place, playing pool / darts, whatever. Suddenly, these five guys are fighting over the payphone* (cell phones were a rarity) to tell their buddies to come down. The place is packed within an hour. Those were Great times.

          *for the youngsters in the crowd a payphone was a device that was found EVERYWHERE; on every corner in every little business where you would “drop a dime” in and make a phone call. This DOES NOT refer in anyway to the band Maroon 5.

  • Abby Oil

    I was 8 years old that summer and truly a die hard Oilers fan. Always a goalie fan first and always the seldom used backups for some reason. Daryl Reaugh and now this new Bill Ranford, but of course Gretzky was the man.

    We were living in Prince George BC at the time and my Uncle and Auntie who are season ticket holders were out visiting from Edmonton. My sisters and I had finished swimming lessons for the day and Mom was driving us home. It was around lunch time. The news came over the radio in the car….unreal! I remember not so much my feelings but breaking the news to my Uncle once we arrived home. Shock and disbelief all around! He swore that we were yanking his chain. Will never forget that sunny summers afternoon in PG….

  • Snowdropper

    I’m reminded of Don MacLean’s ‘American Pie.’ “The day the music died . . .

    There’s a special circle in Dante’s ‘Inferno,’ for Peter Pocklington. For money, filthy lucre, he destroyed something wonderful, something fantastically great, a club hockey team that would have gone down in the history books as the best of all time. It started with Coffey, next were Gretzky and Messier, and then the rest were all gone. And he did it for money, money that didn’t do him a damn bit of good anyway as things turned out.

    Bitter? Always and forever.

  • The Soup Fascist

    I was 15 years old at the time and I remember the day vividly. Vividly.

    It was hot that day – probably in the high-20s, which up here was a scorching summer day back in 1988.

    My dad, my younger brother and I were wallpapering my mom’s kitchen and it was a miserable job. The bozos who built the house had glued the old wallpaper to the wall, so the first part of our job was peeling and scraping and tearing with scrapers and our fingernails, often in hard-to-reach places, like underneath cupboards and up high near the ceiling. It would have been an awful job on a cool day, but on a hot day it was awful.

    And, of course, we all were working with hollow feelings in our stomachs.

    What a lot of people might not know is that the news of the trade essentially broke the night before but, as I recall, it broke in the evening. I don’t think it was on the supper-hour newscasts in Edmonton, but I can remember watching a story on the 11:30 p.m. sportscast on either CFRN or CBC (we lived in the country and only had two channels) that there was a HUGE press conference being called for the next morning and it was expected to do with a transaction involving No. 99. I didn’t sleep very well that night.

    The next morning, as we toiled away with the wallpaper, a local radio station was on in the kitchen and news of the pending press conference and likely trade dominated the newscasts at the top and bottom of the hours and deejays were taking calls from pissed-off fans between songs.

    Grande Prairie had two AM stations at the time and BOTH ran the press conference audio live. By then, of course, we were downstairs in the cool basement, watching the presser on CBC, which had slightly better reception off of our antenna (I recorded the presser on our VCR and I still have the tape somewhere).
    I sat closest to the TV so my brother and my dad would be able to see the tears in my eyes. But when I turned around to steal a quick look at them, I saw their eyes were glassy, too.

    It all sounds so melodramatic now, but like I say, I was 15. At that point in my life, all I ever knew of NHL hockey or the Oilers was Gretzky and Messier and Kurri and all those Cups. When I was a young kid, they came into the NHL. When I was in elementary school, they were an up-and-coming team of cocky young kids. By the time I hit Grade 10, they’d won three Cups. One school year later, they’d won their fourth. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, the Oilers were never anything less than great and Gretzky never anything less than iconic. And the thing is, you never really realized how “special” it was. We had no idea of what the odds were of fate bringing together Gretzky and the amazing supporting cast. We had no idea of how “finite” it was. We assumed it would last, maybe not forever, but a long, long time.

    Hockey – sports, really – changed for me big-time that day. I remained a fervent Oilers fan and cheered against No. 99 when the Kings came to town (cheer for LA? As if!). Still liked Gretzky, but I’m proud to say my loyalty to the Oilers never ebbed – and of all the Cups, the post-Gretzky Cup in 1990 is the best one, IMO.

    But it’s still not hard to wonder what might have been if he hadn’t been traded.

  • The Soup Fascist

    We had moved to Hong Kong the year before. Actually one month before the tornado hit. If you think hockey coverage was bad in the US then, try being a diehard hockey fan (11 years old) in South Asia in the late 80’s. I recieved a letter from my Aunt in September or October and it was something like “….so I’m sure you heard what happened with Gretzky and the Oilers. Everyone is still in shock.” That was at the end of the letter. No elaborating. Needless to say we spent a small fortune on a long distance call that day to find out the bad news.