You know the Edmontonian phrase "Everyone knows where they were when Gretzky was traded?" Well, I have no idea where I was twenty years ago ― Aug. 9 to be exact ― and it's a disappointment that ranks right up there with sleeping through all of 9/11 (eventually I heard a radio report about the collapse of the twin towers as I bought a Dairy Milk bar ― hardly a flattering portrait of my lifestyle back in 2001 that I wanted freeze-framed for posterity). Nope, I can only presume that I was doing the usual ten year-old things, like building a fort out of sofa cushions or finding tattered porn in the ravine, but I have no recollection of when I first heard about the trade.
Oddly, I remember reading a small story (Terry Jones in Sun?) rumouring of Gretzky's departure a few days before it happened and feeling outraged at the idea, probably as much for the article being the one bum note in what I presume would have been a 120-page 1988 Stanley Cup Champions sports pull-out section at the time.
The press conference itself serves as a demarcation point in Oilers history in which anything during and after that point involves a lot of crying, and the city's sense of civic pride arguably (at least to people that don't like hockey) took more groin shots than the 1990 Cup was worth.
Kurri and Messier were to leave shortly, with guys like David Oliver and Shayne Corson serving as less glorious replacements on the first line, and team owners from then on would never hesitate to remind fans how their city and rink were inadequate in the new era of the NHL, threatening to move the team from time to time. And now, every summer, not unlike a goth teen "cutting" in her room, Edmontonians have to read about their city being a bad destination because it's really cold and inhospitable for hockey players and their wives (of course, it's all overblown, but "is Edmonton good enough?" has been a regular feature every off-season, even before Chris Pronger). The Gretzky trade kick-started the darkest, often most hilarious, era in Oilers history, marked with inadequacy and failure, and it dovetailed rather nicely with my teenage years.
People have often pointed out that the Gretzky trade/sale was great for hockey, that moving the game's poster child out of a small, Northern outpost allowed the league to grow in new, untapped markets in the US. But of course, I kind of hate these people. What do I care about Phoenix or Florida as hockey markets, except as vacation opportunities to catch Oilers games at liquidation prices? I'm kidding, but then again, I'm not kidding at all ― I don't think the league has been run very well.
In the meantime, for those of you that want to relive the day in which Peter Pocklington sold off the game's greatest player for 1/4th of Rick Dipietro's contract, the NHL Network is revisiting the trade on a new program, A Day The Game Changed, airing Wednesday night at 7pm (Mountain).
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