I sat riveted.
I’d watched not one minute of regular season hockey and a total of about a game and a half of the playoffs, and yet, I sat glued to the television for the third period of game six between the LA Kings and the New Jersey Devils.
A third period that started with the Kings up 4-1. And I couldn’t move.
As the crowd got more and more excited for the city’s first Stanley Cup, I couldn’t help but be transported back to the day it all became possible. August 9, 1988.
My clock radio went off that morning, but I struggled to wake up. I swore, I must have still been dreaming as I heard the sportscast because the news couldn’t be true.
It was unfathomable.
A Canadian treasure was being sent to the United States?
I soon realized I was indeed awake, and it was true. Wayne Gretzky had been traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. Forget about Babe Ruth being sold to the Yankees. For Canadians this was far bigger.
Wayne Gretzky was 27 years old and in the prime of a career that belonged on any Mt. Rushmore of athletic achievement. He had just led the Oilers to their fourth Stanley Cup in five years that past spring, and now he was traded to a team in California where there was no snow below the mountains?
His arrival sparked an amazing growth in hockey in the West. A growth that led to the eventual formation of the San Jose Sharks in 1991, the Anaheim Ducks in 1993 and the relocation of the Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix in 1996.
The thought that the Kings would win the Stanley Cup back on August 8, 1988 was ridiculous. That all changed the next day. Five years later, the Kings lost in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Montreal Canadians.
Why was Gretzky called the “Great One”? Let me educate you.
When he retired in 1999, he was immediately inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The waiting period was waived. He played 20 seasons and is the all-time leading scorer in the history of the NHL.
By how much?
He scored 894 goals and handed out 1,963 assists for a total of 2,857 points. Mark Messier is the second-leading scorer in NHL history with 1,887 points.
Stop rubbing your eyes. You don’t need new glasses.
Yes, had Gretzky never scored a goal he would have still been the leading scorer in the history of the NHL just with his assists. Take your time to digest that.
He’s the only player to ever score 200 points in a single season. He did it four times. Of the 13 highest single season point totals, he has nine.
He won the Hart Memorial Trophy as MVP the first eight seasons he played in the NHL. He won the Art Ross Trophy for the scoring title the first seven years he played. And in the 1981-82 season he joined Maurice “Rocket” Richard and Mike Bossy as the only players to score 50 goals in 50 games. Richard and Bossy did it in 50 games.
Gretzky did it in 39. Again, digest.
The “Great One” dominated my thoughts as I watched the Kings complete a remarkable 16-4 run through the playoffs as an eighth seed. They beat the top three seeds out West. They then got to enjoy the greatest celebration in sports.
Winning Lord Stanley’s Cup matters more to hockey players than any other championship matters to any other player. The trophy is carried onto the ice by men wearing white gloves. A trophy engraved with the name of every player that’s ever been on a Cup winning team.
No player will ever touch the Cup unless his name’s on it or about to be put on it. The most amazing part of the Stanley Cup lore is that each winning player will get a day with the Cup over the summer. It gets taken to malls, schools and entire towns share in the joy.
The Commissioner hands the trophy to the winning captain and then it’s on.
He screams. He kisses the cup and then skates around with it.
What happens next is very carefully orchestrated. It goes to every player on the team, and it’s always the same.
A scream. A kiss. A skate.
The order is predetermined by seniority.
I had goose bumps watching the Kings with their playoff beards skate around with the Cup. Why don’t we watch more hockey?
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