'I was having trouble'

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

Paul Coffey always made it look easy.

Last night he couldn't.

Coffey wiped the first tear from his left eye when Kevin Lowe struggled with his emotions in introducing him as one of the greatest of the greats.

Coffey filled his cheeks with air when he tried to keep it together as the crowd chanted 'Coffey! Coffey! Coffey!' for almost half a minute.

When his No. 7 banner went up, it was everything Coffey could do not to start to weep like Grant Fuhr when No. 31 went to the roof at the last glory gang banner raising here.

Coffey wiped his eyes again and again. He massaged his face ,which featured a dozen different expressions as he tried to keep it together.

"I was having trouble," said Coffey when it was over and he examined his emotions.

"When the sweater was going up, there were a lot of things going through my mind."

He thought about "when I was playing hockey as a kid" and "about my team-mates" and "about the old Boston Garden looking up there and seeing Bobby Orr's banner and thinking that was never going to happen to me."

Even in the press conference he took a deep breath.

"Watching that banner go up was pretty heavy."

When Coffey first stepped to the microphone, he started to sniff.

"It's great to be back in Edmonton." he said. "All I can say is that it's great to be an Oiler."

It was everything you'd want it to be for him and more. And in the end, the ceremony ended with one last chance, at last, to make it look easy the way he always did.

Coffey stepped off the carpet, skated to one end, wheeled out from behind the net, took a pass from his old defence partner Charlie Huddy, who had to hustle across the carpet to make the play, and went end to end to score one last goal in an Oilers uniform.

It was the only thing easy about it as his number was raised to the rafters in the final memory-making evening of his career.

Coffey emerged from the fog to a standing ovation and slowly took a skate around the boards, his stick held high over his head in his right hand.

TAPPED PLEXIGLASS

He tapped the plexiglass with his stick to recognize familiar faces in the crowd. Like Gretzky after his trip around the ice in the back of a vehicle for his banner raising, Coffey said it was remarkable the faces he recognized in the crowd.

"I don't know who they all were but there were the same faces I've seen for years and years still sitting in those seats," he marvelled.

Coffey, a power-play consultant with the Coyotes, stopped at the Phoenix bench to shake hands with the assistant coaches.

He passed the Oilers' bench, shook most of the players' hands including Craig Simpson, the player he was traded for in the deal which ended his career here.

He hugged equipment man Lyle Kulchisky and made the full lap of the rink before returning to centre ice to be met by former team-mate and Oilers' GM Kevin Lowe.

"It's sure good to see you in an Oiler uniform again," said Lowe.

The Oilers who already had their uniform numbers retired and raised to the roof -- Al Hamilton, Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri and Grant Fuhr -- were paraded on to the ice.

Coffey said the crowd was so loud he couldn't hear anything, but he caught the drift of what Gretzky said.

"I think Gretzky said 'Don't cry.'

"I'd already got that speech from Hunts," he said of old room-mate Dave Hunter.

Gretzky went out of his way to stay out of the way, despite the storyline of his first game in Edmonton as a coach, to make sure the day belonged to Coffey. No. 99 has always had a special sense of stage and he knew this time, the stage wasn't his.

"This is a building where dreams come alive," said Lowe, who added that Coffey made them come alive in Technicolor for everyone.

"When Paul Coffey played with these guys they were considered to be the most talented group to ever play together -- the most exciting team to play in the league."

STARTED TO CHOKE UP

The GM started to choke up as he spoke. And that's when Coffey began to fight the emotions.

"I was drafted by the Oilers in 1980. That was one of the happiest days of my life. I always considered myself to be an Oiler and Edmonton to be my home," Coffey told the crowd.

He thanked Glen Sather, John Muckler, the training and equipment staff and received an ovation when he included locker room attendant Joey Moss.

"I spent seven years in Edmonton and enjoyed every minute of it."

When it was over, Coffey said he wanted Edmonton to know it was all sincere.

"I really meant it. This city is phenomenal."

Coffey said there is more history here than with a lot of teams from the Original Six.

And nobody, he said, knows how to raise a banner like the Edmonton Oilers.

"There is only one word for it all. Overwhelming."


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