To Phoenix with love!

MICHELLE MARK -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

So long, Georges. Thanks for the memories.

Oiler fans came out in droves yesterday to say goodbye to beloved brawler Georges Laraque.

As a thank you to his fans for their support before he leaves to join the Phoenix Coyotes, Laraque pledged to meet every person who showed up, sign autographs and pose for photos with them in front of the Bounce FM offices at 10212 Jasper Ave.

"I want to make sure everyone is happy and there's no way I'll cut the line short," Laraque said between visits, vowing to stay put yesterday until he personally greeted every fan.

"I'M HERE FOR EVERYBODY."

In turn, the 29-year-old right winger, who became an unrestricted free agent on July 1, said he was overwhelmed by the hundreds of fans who came out to see him at the event.

"It's a bit emotional," he said.

"It's hard because I realize it's the last time we'll all be able to meet like this."

Sisters Edna Lee, 25, and Karen Lee, 22, were up at 6 a.m. making a farewell card for Laraque and waited in line for more than two hours to give it to him.

"He connects with his fans and taking the time to do this shows what a great guy he is," said Karen.

"He's an all-round nice guy on and off the ice and we're going to miss him."

Laraque accepted donations of a minimum $1 for each autograph, with proceeds going to the Stollery Children's Hospital.

Eric Zuniga, 8, anxiously waited to meet with Laraque and said he wanted to get two autographs - one for him and one for his five-year-old brother Adam.

"He has the best fights!" said Eric.

His mom Leila added: "It's so sad that he's leaving. I can't think of another Oiler who would do all this for his fans. We're going to miss him."

As fans patiently lined up around the block, others drove by honking and waving, shouting "We love you, Georges!" and "Good luck, Georges!"

Laraque, a Montreal native who arrived in Edmonton in 1997 as a rookie, played in 15 of the Oilers 24 games during the recent playoffs, scoring a goal and adding an assist.

He later signed a two-year, $2.4-million contract with the Phoenix Coyotes after receiving a call from Wayne Gretzky.

Coincidentally, Laraque's first NHL goal was scored against the Coyotes in January 1997.

Laraque has become synonymous with not only hockey but with helping those in need and could often be seen visiting local hospitals to cheer up sick adults and kids.

On ice, he gained a reputation as a feared heavyweight and defender of his team.


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