Wayne Gretzky had already been gone for 18 months, sold to the Los Angeles Kings, the very first time I walked into the Edmonton Oilers dressing room with Jim Matheson at Northlands Coliseum midway through the 1989-90 NHL season.
But Joey Moss was there, busy as can be, folding towels and filling water bottles while players and reporters sat around the room shooting the breeze before practice. I’ll never forget it because I’d read about Moss before that day, heard stories about the remarkable kid with Down syndrome who worked for the Oilers as a dressing room attendant. I was pretty stoked to meet him.
Not Mark Messier. Not Glenn Anderson. Not Jari Kurri or Charlie Huddy or Kevin Lowe or Craig Simpson. I wanted to meet Moss, who’d been taken into the Oiler family fold by Gretzky back in 1984 and was something of a celebrity – at least to an outsider like me. “Hello, Joey. Pleased to meet you,” I said, introducing myself. Moss glanced at me, then at equipment man Sparky Kulchisky, then carried on with his duties without saying as much as a word. I was not a familiar face or a part of Joey’s routine then, although that would change over the years.
Jump ahead to today, and most of the people who were in the dressing room that day I met Joey — the players, coaches, scouts and reporters — are long gone, having retired and otherwise moved on over the years, although Gretzky, who met Moss when he was dating Joey’s older sister Vikki, has circled back after more than 25 years away.
And then there’s Moss, now 53 years old, who was named Friday as an inductee to the Professional Hockey Athletic Trainers Society and Society of Professional Hockey Equipment Managers wall of honor at the Hockey Hall of Fame. In a new building and a new dressing room full of new players, he’s still here. Never left. Folding towels. Filling water bottles. Belting out the national anthem. Doing what he has always done.
ONCE AN OILER . . .
Moss, who was inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame back in 2015, is likely as famous a dressing room attendant as there has ever been. He’s been recognized for his work with the Oilers as well as the Edmonton Eskimos, not to mention the celebrity he’s gained as the team’s unofficial anthemist — he also did a solid version of La Bamba behind closed dressing room doors back in the day. When the announcement about Joey’s latest honor came Friday, it struck me, yet again, how time flies.
The picture above is of the Oilers training and equipment staff, taken sometime in the early 2000s. From left to right, that’s Kulchisky, who watched over Joey as a mentor and a mother hen for decades, assistant equipment manager Sliver Delorey, Moss, Barrie Stafford, fitness consultant Daryl Duke, athletic therapist Ken Lowe and massage therapist Stu Poirier. I love that picture. It’s a time capsule that reminds me of when that team and that dressing room was a big part of my life. Today, only Moss remains, doing what he’s always done. Me? I’ve been off the old newspaper beat since 2007. Ten years.
In years long past, when reporters were allowed into the dressing room to hang around before practice, Moss would make sure there was always a fresh pot of coffee on. “You look good,” he’d say as we strolled in. Joey never had much time to talk in the morning because he was too busy making sure everybody had what they needed when they needed it, but you could count on “You look good” every single morning. So what if it wasn’t true?
The one constant — during five Stanley Cups, through the glory years and the lean years, through the parade of so many great players out of town and the arrival of new players who weren’t even born when Joey started slinging water and folding towels in the dressing room – has been Moss. From Gretzky to Connor McDavid, the Great One to the Next One, Moss has represented, without even setting out to do it, the best of the Oilers and the best of us. He’s as much a part of the fabric of this team as the banners from days gone by now hanging in Rogers Place.
Congratulations, Joey. You look good.