Fans Cheer Gretzky Early, Then Root Edmonton to 8-6 Victory
The 17,503 fans who packed into the Northlands Coliseum Wednesday night cheered and paid homage when their old favorite, Wayne Gretzky, skated onto the ice in the black uniform of the Kings, and they cheered when their Oilers not only killed a 5-minute penalty late in the game but scored a short-handed goal in an 8-6 victory.
It was as if they were saying: The Great One is gone; long live the Oilers.
These fans are loyal to their legendary star, but they do like to win hockey games. They do like those Stanley Cup banners hanging from the rafters.
But it wasn’t easy for Gretzky to skate against the guys he had skated with to win those banners.
“It was a tough night for everyone,” Gretzky said when the game that he had dreaded for so long was finally over. “I’m sure it was tough on them, too. But I know how that room (locker room) operates. I appreciated the applause, but in some sense, it probably got those guys started.”
When Gretzky took the ice with the Kings to skate a couple of minutes of easy warm-up laps before the game, the standing ovation was chilling. Gretzky did nothing to encourage the crowd, which stood and cheered for a solid 3 minutes, until he left the ice and took a seat on the bench. Then, drowning out the public address announcer who was trying to get the game underway, they took up the chant of “Gretz-ky, Gretz-ky, Gretz-ky” and didn’t stop until the Star Spangled Banner was well under way.
Who knows how long the ovation might have lasted if the program had been held up for a few minutes? But as Gretzky’s father, Walter, had predicted the day before, the Oiler administrators moved things right along.
Once the hockey game started, the fans got their allegiance straight.
Well, they did boo when Oiler Mark Messier, an old friend of Gretzky’s, knocked Gretzky to the ice. But that was a rare moment.
The Oilers took the early lead and stayed in control, giving the crowd not much opportunity to do any more cheering for Gretzky.
Gretzky didn’t even score a goal, although he did have 2 assists.
He was nervous, he admitted. “I was non-existent on the first couple of power plays,” Gretzky said.
And the real upset was that even with Gretzky on the ice, the Kings failed to score on a 5-minute power play that defenseman Steve Duchesne had earned for them by taking a high stick to the left eye with 7 minutes 45 seconds left in the game and the Kings down by just 7-6. With Glenn Anderson in the penalty box for all that time, the Kings had their chance to tie it up.
Not only did the Oilers kill the penalty, they scored the short-handed goal when Jari Kurri, Craig MacTavish and Reed Larson skated at King goalie Glenn Healy on a 3-on-2 breakaway, and Larson finished off the passing series with a shot into the right corner of the net.
Messier said: “To be honest, it didn’t really look good for us when they got that 5-minute power play. They had just scored that nice goal (on a beautiful pass from Bernie Nicholls to Luc Robitaille, who made it 7-6), and with Gretzky and all those other guys, I thought they would score.
“But we buckled down, got some great saves from Grant Fuhr, got that surprise goal shorthanded, and that really seemed to take the steam out of them.” The game was as much as over at that point.
Besides losing this first of eight games to the Oilers, the Kings also lost the lead in the Smythe Division to Calgary, which beat Minnesota to move into first place with a 4-1-1 record while the Kings dropped to 4-3 with their third straight loss.
Marty McSorly, who was traded to Los Angeles along with Gretzky and who had to deal with the same emotional dilemma without the standing ovations, zeroed in on the Kings’ problem when he said that the way to beat a team like the Oilers is not to engage in a shootout. “We’re giving up too much,” McSorley said. “I’m not saying that about any one guy or group of guys. It’s 20 men out there.”
Healy, who was back in goal after Rollie Melanson took the 11-4 loss at Calgary two nights earlier, said much the same thing.
As in every game this season, the Kings gave up the first goal. Anderson put the Oilers ahead, 1-0, just 3:25 into the game, taking a pass from former King Jimmy Carson and flipping it past Healy.
McSorley tied it at 4:56, putting in a short shot on a pass from Mike Allison.
Craig Simpson put the Oilers back on top at 14:47, and Normand Lacombe gave the Oilers a 3-1 lead when he fired a shot over Healy’s outstretched glove.
Messier scored the first of his 2 goals on a short-handed goal at 3:40 of the second period, ignoring defenseman Doug Crossman and slipping the puck past Healy.
Duchesne made it 4-2 with a short-handed goal at 6:13, taking a pass from Nicholls and flipping the puck into the back of the net.
The Oilers went up by 3 again on a slapshot from the blue line by Chris Joseph, before Nicholls scored the first of his 2 goals from the left point at 12:46.
Messier and Steve Smith skated in on Healy, coming down the right side, passing the puck back and forth around King defenseman Tom Laidlaw until Messier slapped it past Healy to put the Oilers up by 3 points once again.
But the Kings closed within 2 goals, again, on 2 quick passes and a quick shot--Gretzky passing cross-ice to Dave Taylor, on the left side, and Taylor passing to Nicholls, right in front of the net, for a short shot that beat Grant Fuhr at 16:22.
In the final seconds of the period, Gretzky took his second shot on goal, a shot that went wide.
Greg Adams opened the third period scoring by drawing Healy out of the net and flipping the puck in behind him to give the Oilers a 7-4 lead. And Paul Fenton closed it up again with a follow-up shot after Allison had brought Fuhr to his knees.
That was just 2:11 into the third period, and the Oilers held the 2-goal advantage until Robitaille’s power-play goal put the Kings within striking distance at 9:37.
Gretzky made no apologies for not scoring. He said, simply: “I had a couple of opportunities to score, but Grant made a couple of good saves. I got beat by the best goalie in the world.”
He reminded all that it was just one game, and one game that he was glad was over. There will be lots more games that won’t have the hype, the hoopla and the emotions to get in the way.
“Once we get to L.A., it will be a little different story,” Gretzky said. “I think next Tuesday (when Edmonton plays at the Forum), it will be a little calmer. I don’t know if it’s something that will end overnight. It might be something that goes on for a while.”
The Oilers’ game against the Kings Wednesday night was sold out on Oct. 3, just 3 hours after the tickets went on sale. Scalpers were getting as much as $300 for a pair of tickets to see Wayne Gretzky’s return. . . . Oiler owner Peter Pocklington, a man who has taken a lot of heat around here since trading Gretzky away, made it known that he would have no comment for the media on the homecoming game. But CBC did show a quick shot of Pocklington talking with King owner Bruce McNall during the first period. . . . The Kings will play their next game at the Forum Saturday night against the Minnesota North Stars.