SUN Hockey Pool

Blue-line bravado

SCOTT ZERR -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

Kevin Lowe scored the very first goal in the history of the Edmonton Oilers, but when Paul Coffey came along, Lowe knew his time as the offensive catalyst from the back end was up.

"I quickly became a defensive specialist," laughed Lowe as he recalled his playing days with Coffey, who will see his No. 7 lifted into the Rexall Place rafters tonight prior to the battle between the Oilers and Phoenix Coyotes. "We actually played a little bit together his first couple of years, but it was a failed experiment."

Coffey did find the right partner, though, in Charlie Huddy, who was often left to mind the store when Coffey breezed up the ice.

"With a guy with that kind of ability, you're not going to try and harness him back," said Huddy. "I had the best seat in the house - the way he could skate and the way he could create things out there.

'WASN'T ALL THAT BAD'

"He got knocked for his defensive game but getting right down to it, it wasn't all that bad. The other end made up for it and it was very rare that he ever got caught deep in the other end."

Craig MacTavish, too, had a premium ticket for the Coffey Show.

"You knew as a forward not to stand still in the middle of the ice or you were going to get a cold," reminisced MacTavish. "Nobody could turn the opposition's dump-in into a breakout like Paul. It was exciting. He brought a lot of people out of their seats in this building over the years."

Lowe ranked Coffey as probably the best skater to ever lace up blades in the NHL, or at least on par with the likes of Guy Lafleur and Bobby Orr.

The career highlight reel is a lengthy one, but one of Coffey's greatest moments was an end-to-end rush during the 1985-86 season against Vancouver that was topped off by his 47th goal of the year. A play in the 1984 Canada Cup semifinals is another standout.

"It looked it could be over," remembered Lowe of a Russian 2-on-1 in overtime. "He slid down, blocked the pass and then got up and made the pass up ice (which led to the winning goal by Mike Bossy). Gretz did a lot of things that you sat on the bench and were amazed by. I don't know if I can say the same for Mess or Jari - they were just great players. But Coff, certain achievements in certain games were Gretzky-like."

From time to time Pete Peeters, now the Oilers' goalie coach, was a victim of the Coffey-led attack.

"Whenever you were playing the Oilers, they had so much firepower you couldn't just key on one guy. They'd eat you up for breakfast," said the former Bruins and Flyers netminder. "He could look you off on a pass and rifle in a shot on net. And even to this day, his speed is unparalleled."

NEVER BEEN AN EQUAL

In fact, there pretty much has never been an equal. Doug Harvey led to Bobby Orr who led to Paul Coffey. It's been pale comparisons since.

"Scott Niedermayer can skate but not with that same flair or the same offensive capabilities. Bret Hedican had a similar skating ability but was obviously not that type of player," figured Chris Pronger.

"It was unbelievable watching him play with the Oilers - being the lead man on a rush and then being the first guy back. A little swoop and three strides and he's already caught the guy carrying the puck."


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