SUN Hockey Pool

An Oiler forever

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:50 AM ET

Nine teams have a stake in the magnificent career of Hall of Fame defenceman Paul Coffey.

Coffey, after all, graced the silks of Edmonton, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Detroit, Hartford, Philadelphia, Chicago, Carolina and Boston before his induction into the Hall in November 2004 with 1,409 games, 1,531 points, three Norris Trophies and four Stanley Cups in the books.

That said, Coffey, the best ever to play his position outside Bobby Orr, was an Edmonton Oiler first. And, while Coffey played just 532 games and only seven of his 21 seasons here, he'll always be an Oiler.

TALENTED KIDS

It's here he copped the Norris twice and hoisted three of his Stanley Cups. It's here, as part of a collection of unproven, naive and wonderfully talented kids named Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Grant Fuhr and Kevin Lowe -- the likes of which we'll never see again -- where he took his first NHL strides. After that, Coffey, as was his habit on so many of his silky and sometimes ill-timed rushes up ice, simply glided into hockey's hallowed hall.

One thing's for sure, Coffey will be an Oiler Oct. 18 when his No. 7 jersey is raised to the rafters of Rexall Place alongside Gretzky's No. 99, Kurri's No. 17, Fuhr's No. 31 and Al Hamilton's No. 3.

Another one, home again.

"Anybody who plays here feels like they're an Oiler forever," Coffey said. "I can remember coming in with Pittsburgh after I got traded and, at 10:30 or 11:30 in the morning, walking down the back hall, going into the dressing room and feeling very comfortable.

"There was no, 'Get out of here. You don't play here anymore.' It was always a very nice atmosphere."

Anybody who considers the "Once an Oiler, always an Oiler" philosophy corny or trite doesn't get it. You only had to attend the announcement of Coffey's jersey retirement yesterday to understand.

When Coffey walked into the room, he was greeted with open arms by radio play-by-play man Rod Phillips. The Skipper called every game Coffey played as an Oiler.

There was Charlie Huddy at the back of the room, content to be out of the spotlight while Coffey took centre stage, just like old times.

After almost everybody left, Coffey was chatting with longtime beat man Jim Matheson, who wrote about No. 7 from his first game as an Oiler to his last, when a cellphone rang. It was Gretzky, who'll be behind the bench with the Phoenix Coyotes Oct. 18.

"Having Wayne in town will be exciting enough," Coffey said. "It's going to be a great night. I really don't know what to say. It's quite an honour.

"I didn't spend a whole lot of time here, but I had the seven best years of my career in this city and having an attachment here 20-some odd years later is pretty special to me."

The ties that bind old Oilers to Edmonton and eventually bring them back are many. They are real. Phillips, eloquent and emotional the night Gretzky's linen was lifted, says it best.

"Paul came when he was 18 years old. He was just a baby," Phillips said. "Wayne and Mark were 19. Jari came the same year. Then Grant came. If you grow up together, the guys you do it with become family.

"You had that and three Stanley Cups for Paul here. There were some great times. They were all so young and so very close. You can see it today. They are still best friends. Gretz, Mess, Kevin, all those guys.

"They were like that when they were kids. They're like that in their 40s and they'll be the same in their 60s. It'll be that way the rest of their lives. They are Oilers forever."

Gretzky stayed cool on his big night here. So did Kurri, who took a pass from the Great One and pumped the twine again for the old times.

FUHR WAS TOAST

Fuhr? He was toast the moment the spotlight hit him and he took off his mask to expose tears running down his face.

As for Coffey, we'll see.

"I went on and was still able to play some good hockey," Coffey said of his trade to Pittsburgh after the 1986-87 season. "But, Edmonton was always where my heart was.

"The thing that probably stands out for me was just being drafted by the Oilers in 1980. I remember walking into the dressing room and seeing my name on the back of a sweater, No. 7, sitting there in a stall. I didn't even ask for a number. You kind of get what you get."

Now, that number goes up.

Another one, home again.


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