Where all the fun was

Paul Coffey poses with his family in his old stall -- left to right, Stephanie Coffey, who sits...

Paul Coffey poses with his family in his old stall -- left to right, Stephanie Coffey, who sits with two-year-old son Christian, along with Christian's brother, seven-year-old Blake, Paul, the proud papa, and 10-year-old daughter Savannah. The Oilers will retire Coffey's jersey tomorrow night at Rexall Place before a game against Wayne Gretzky's Phoenix Coyotes. (Edmonton Sun/Walter Tychnowicz)

SCOTT ZERR -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:58 AM ET

Back where it all began.

Paul Coffey on the ice, a few strides slower than he once was, but not looking the least bit out of place as he cruised around Rexall Place yesterday. He's been gone for some time, the glory days about 20 years removed, yet Coffey was home.

"There's always been and always will be nothing but great memories here in Edmonton. It's where I started and where all the fun was," said Coffey, who will see his No. 7 retired and raised to the rafters tomorrow night, joining those of former teammates Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri and Grant Fuhr.

Those three, particularly Fuhr, shed tears as they watched their numbers go up across the roof from the six Stanley Cup banners. Coffey, the most stoic of the four, will try to hold his emotions in check, as difficult as it may be.

"Never know. Who knows what it's going to bring?" he said.

"Whether there is or isn't (tears), it's going to be a very proud moment for me and my family.

"I'm a big believer in spontaneous stuff and I don't want to lose sight of the fact that it's a nice moment for myself, but there still is a hockey game to play."

BEHIND THE BENCH

True enough, as Gretzky will be behind the bench when his Phoenix Coyotes pay a visit. Seeing Gretzky, blue-line partner Charlie Huddy and longtime friend Dave Hunter made it smooth for Coffey, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last year.

"I think we were a very special bunch," said the three-time Norris Trophy winner and 14-time all-star.

"We liked to go hard, on and off the ice, and we had a coach that allowed us to express our personalities on and off the ice. We had a dress code, but you could still be loud if you wanted to. We had some characters in there.

"Glen (Sather) deserves a lot of credit for letting us develop as hockey players and let us know that it was all right to be flamboyant. You never wanted to embarrass your opponent, but we still had that killer instinct."

IN BAD TIMES ...

Coffey and Sather had their moments. They won three Cups together in good times and could hardly stand each other in bad. There was a method to the madness, though, which in hindsight now draws Coffey's appreciation -- even those rare, but "legendary", bag skates that followed a performance that didn't live up to expectations.

"The reason I became the player I became, all of us for that matter, was because Glen expected a lot," explained the NHL's leading playoff scorer among defencemen.

"He was really ahead of his time on what buttons to push. He knew we could do it and sometimes -- he might even admit to it or maybe he won't -- he pushed a little too hard, but for the most part he did a fabulous job.

"He got every bit he could out of us. He figured if we were that good, he'd get every ounce of sweat out of us, and everybody played us and enjoyed themselves. I think that's why we were successful."

That success led to Edmonton being branded as the City of Champions and created a sense of civic pride that still exists.

"As players we probably didn't appreciate it as much," said Coffey.

"We didn't know how good we were. We just knew we wanted to be good and that we wanted to win championships. We knew we wanted to put some kind of mark on the game as individuals. Look at our leader in Wayne and the things he did.

"The appreciation and the warmth goes as time goes by because you play on different teams and you're thinking more about the task at hand, but looking back it was where I had some of my fondest memories.

"It's where my closest friends still are and it's where we all grew, not only as players, but as people."


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