SUN Hockey Pool

Always an Oiler

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:52 PM ET

There's no greater honour than getting into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Unless you're Paul Coffey.

Then there's one. And this is it.

This is bigger. This is better.

"I better be careful how I say this," No. 7 began at his special banner-raising press conference yesterday. And he was careful, saying what a huge honour it is to be a Hockey Hall of Famer. But ...

"This is another level," he levelled.

"A lot of players are in the Hall of Fame who don't have their jersey retired."

Coffey could have come right out and said that when you score 396 goals and 1,136 assists for 1,531 points in 1,409 regular-season games - stats that only one defenceman, Ray Bourque, managed to better - you know you're going into the Hall of Fame. But when you play with nine different teams, a banner raising is a different deal.

No. 7 never really settled on a second home when he left Edmonton after seven seasons.

"This always has felt like home," he said.

He didn't win five Stanley Cups here like some of the others. Or four like Wayne Gretzky. He left after three, the first player to pull the pin on Peter Pocklington's perfect, but underpaid, pack of players.

But this makes him an Oiler forever. And to Paul Coffey, that's the ultimate honour.

When Coffey arrived here, Don Metz showed him the video which was shown at a special function last night and that will be part of the proceedings tonight when Coffey's No. 7 goes up there with Gretzky's No. 99, Jari Kurri's No. 17 and Grant Fuhr's No. 31.

Coffey asked if it was possible to make some changes to Metz's video, which, in addition to a selection of his Oiler highlights, contained footage of him in all those other uniforms.

"I'm OK to keep the one from Pittsburgh, the one lifting the Stanley Cup with Mario Lemieux. But take out all the other stuff. I just want Oiler stuff," Coffey told Metz. "Once an Oiler, always an Oiler."

Metz said there was some emotion involved.

"It was really coming from the heart."

Metz had Coffey out on the ice for a rehearsal of tonight's event, which will be followed by a hockey game.

"Paul kept stopping and remembering specific spots on the ice where a special moment happened. It was like going around with a figure skater finding their marks."

Coffey said the video reminded him of a lot of things he'd managed to forget, too. "I can't believe how innocent we were and how young we looked. Especially Mess. He had the face of a young stallion."

Of all those highlight reel plays and moments, Coffey says the two most memorable came before he stepped on the famous Northlands Coliseum ice surface. "The most exciting were being drafted by the Oilers and then seeing my sweater hanging there the first time I entered the dressing room."

Coffey broke Bobby Orr's goal-scoring record here, won two of his three Norris Trophies here, scored 209 of his goals here, etc., but he says on a day like today, "I remember the team stuff."

Regrets? "I think we all wonder what would have happened if we'd kept this bunch together," he said. "Who knows?"

Two things he would change:

"I'd have liked to have had assists on the goal to tie and break Bobby Orr's record. The first one I was trying to pass to Jari but it went in off a skate.

"And the second was unassisted. I have that stick hanging on my office at work. I'd have liked to have had assists from those other guys on those two goals."

The bonds with the other members of that team remain to this day and probably will for the rest of his life.

"To have Wayne Gretzky part of this ...

"He was a big part of my career. Gretz in the building is icing on the cake."

Coffey is enjoying every minute of this.

"It's pretty overwhelming. Having my wife, my daughter and my two sons here is pretty special."

It'll be a lot more special when he experiences the emotion that all of the others have, when his banner goes up with the rest of the best of the most exciting and entertaining team ever to play the game.


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