SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers + Coffey: One fine blend!

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 5:02 PM ET

Remember the day the Edmonton Oilers drafted Paul Douglas Coffey?

The Montreal Canadiens had the first pick and selected Doug Wickenheiser.

The Oilers picked sixth and took Coffey.

"Wayne Gretzky really likes him and whatever Wayne wants, he gets,'' laughed Glen Sather after making the pick.

"Gretz says Paul can skate faster sideways than he can skate forward.''

The Oilers also picked a kid from Finland by the name of Jari Kurri in the fourth round.

"Edmonton was my first choice,'' said Coffey that day at the draft.

"When Edmonton drafted me, it was a feeling of relief, not surprise. I met a lot of the guys and Edmonton sounds like a great place to play. It's a great sports town.''

It all comes back as we wait for Paul Coffey to come back to stand at centre ice Oct. 18 in front of Wayne Gretzky and the Phoenix Coyotes, to watch his No. 7 banner be raised to join Gretzky's No. 99, Kurri's No. 17, Grant Fuhr's No. 31 and Al Hamilton's No. 3 from the WHA.

In the Forum

I remember Paul Coffey in the dressing room of the Montreal Forum when the Oilers won Game 1 of their Stanley Cup best-of-three series against the Montreal Canadiens.

"What an honour!'' he raved.

"To beat the Montreal Canadiens in the Forum in a Stanley Cup playoff game. I can't think of a better word. What an honour!''

I remember him a few days later, after the Oilers swept that series and found themselves playing the defending Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders where, with four minutes remaining in Game 5 of the second-round series, he and a few teammates started singing 'Here We Go, Oilers. Here We Go,' on the bench.

"It just felt right to start singing,'' he explained. "We don't know how to be goodie-goodies yet. We're a young team. We don't know how to take it all in stride.''

Two years later, after having their progress interrupted by the Miracle On Manchester loss to the Los Angeles Kings in the playoffs, the Oilers returned to win their first-round series against the Winnipeg Jets, and Sather called Coffey the No. 1 reason why.

"The most satisfaction about this series is the way Paul Coffey played. Look at what he did,'' said the coach and general manager.

Gretzky seconded the motion.

"Paul was the biggest difference. He represented the difference in this team from last year to this year.''

I remember I'd frequently referred to No. 7 as Paul Cough-Up early in his career, and used the line that he was a regular pastry chef ... turnovers, turnovers, turnovers.

And I remember the next year he put all that in his past as he became a certified star with 40 goals and a 126-point season.

"People said things about me and they hurt,'' said Coffey. "But I deserved the criticism. I imagine I was pretty hard to live with in the dressing room. I'm sure I was just a jerk. The guys would joke, you know, and I'd take it the wrong way. It wasn't much fun. But I learned about character and mental toughness.''

I remember Coffey when the Oilers won their first Stanley Cup that spring.

"Last year we couldn't believe it. This year we can believe it,'' he said when the series started.

"You gotta believe!'' he said in the dressing room the night they put the Islanders away and carried the Cup. "That's the biggest barrier we had to overcome. I mean, it's tough to believe you can beat the four-time Stanley Cup champions. But now we believe. We believe!''

I remember Coffey showing up for the Canada Cup camp that August and the Oilers on the team sitting around with each other telling stories about how they celebrated their summer as Stanley Cup champions.

"The only thing wrong with it was that it was too damn short,'' said Coffey.

"I admit it. I spent the summer gloating. And the best part was sharing it with everybody in Edmonton. We kept taking the Cup out to different restaurants and bars. We got a fantastic response.

"People in Edmonton had seen the Stanley Cup from a distance on television when it was something the Montreal Canadiens used to win.

"To take it around sort of unannounced every night and to let thousands of people drink from it ... that was probably the biggest kick of all.''

How many people are there in Edmonton who Paul Coffey and his teammates passed the Stanley Cup to - and who took a sip that summer? How many will have that memory to celebrate the raising of his banner?

Lounging around

"I can't wait until that first game in Edmonton when they raise the banner in the Coliseum and we're presented with the rings,'' said Coffey that day, lounging around before the Team Canada camp.

First there would come one of the greatest thrills of his life.

I remember, maybe more than any single freeze frame from his career, him breaking up a two-on-one in overtime and heading up the ice to take the shot that would be heard around the hockey world, Mike Bossy tipping it to give Canada the win against the Soviet Union in the Canada Cup.

"Tonight is the best I've felt in my life,'' Coffey told me in the dressing room after making the play that would come to define him.

"I won a Stanley Cup, but there's no feeling like this.''

I remember the two incredible goals and three assists to go with them that Coffey produced in a 5-2 playoff win over the Winnipeg Jets that spring.

"I guess, both offensively and defensively, that was probably the best game I ever played,'' said Coffey after that one.

But I remember assistant coach Ted Green's post-game quote even better.

"I've never seen anyone play better including Himself,'' he said.

Himself, of course, was in reference to Bobby Orr, with whom Green played as a Boston Bruin.

"I guess that's the greatest compliment I ever received,'' said Coffey when I told him about Green's quote.


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