Birth of the last great Dynasty

Wayne Gretzky, centre, hoists the Stanley Cup with a little help from teammates Paul Coffey, left,...

Wayne Gretzky, centre, hoists the Stanley Cup with a little help from teammates Paul Coffey, left, and Dave Lumley. (Sun Media file)

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:13 PM ET

It was fourteen years after the fact, when the old war horse on defence retired, after a 19-year career which included six Stanley Cups.

Somebody asked what was his greatest thrill.

"May 19, 1984," responded Kevin Lowe.

And then the tears came. In a flood. He looked at his wife Karen - the double bronze medal-winning downhill skier from the 1988 Olympic Winter Games - while his brother Ken, the trainer, brought him a bottle of water before he was able to go on.

"When Dave Lumley scored the empty-net goal ...," Lowe said, his voice breaking. "It was pretty unbelievable. When the puck went in the net - that moment will forever be in my mind."

That's now 25 years ago.

Kevin Lowe just turned 50.

Jari Kurri turns 49 the day before the anniversary.

Grant Fuhr and Kevin McClelland are 46. Paul Coffey is 47. Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson are 48.

Charlie Huddy and Andy Moog are 49. Ken Linseman and Pat Conacher are 50.

Dave Semenko and Dave Hunter are 51. Don Jackson is 52. Randy Gregg is 53. Dave Lumley and Pat Hughes are 54. Lee Fogolin is 55. Jaroslav Pouzar is 57. And Willy Lidstrom is 58.

Most of them were barely old enough to grow playoff beards back then. And now they're celebrating the silver anniversary of winning the big silver trophy.

Funny what you remember about May 19, 1984.

I remember driving home from the Coliseum that night and getting pulled over by the cops in a checkstop. When I rolled the window down, the police officer was knocked back by the reek of champagne.

I hadn't had a sip.

I was headed home to change clothes and drive back to the NHL's post-series party.

Owner Peter Pocklington, with whom my popularity was not particularly high at that precise point, had taken the trouble to write my name on a bottle of champagne then proceeding to see that I wear the entire bottle.

Pocklington - who would later have his father Basil's name engraved on the Stanley Cup only to have it XXXXXed out by the NHL - then proceeded to provide a quote to the drenched scribe.

"This is the most incredible high I've ever had in my life," said the owner, who will be celebrating Tuesday's silver anniversary under house arrest in California on million dollar bail provided by coach Glen Sather prior to going to trial on tax fraud.

"When I said we'd win the Stanley Cup in five years the day we got into the league, I said it because I was a naive fool. But that's what I believed. And then that's what we all believed," said Pocklington.

To see Gretzky carry the Stanley Cup around the ice in front of a gone-mad Coliseum crowd after only five years of the team being in the NHL following the WHA merger was one thing. But to see what the Oilers had done to a dynasty in their first step toward becoming the league's last dynasty, was something else again.

It wasn't that long before that the NHL was a million miles away for Edmonton, the voice of Foster Hewitt on radio and then TV with the game coming on midway in the second period.

The closest it came was when the Detroit Red Wings held training camp in Edmonton and you could watch Gordie Howe and Terry Sawchuk play their Edmonton Flyers farm club.

Then one day Bill Hunter and pals invented the WHA and Howe was playing in games here. Then Gretzky showed up and then one night in Chicago, Gretzky, Messier, Fogolin, Hunter, Lumley and Semenko were playing their first game in Chicago Stadium.

And now it's 25 years ago since they won their first Cup?

So much has happened since. But those five years before they won that Cup, were hardly uneventful either.

There was Gretzky, first and foremost, breaking all those records, including scoring 50 goals in 39 games, the team making the playoffs that first year, losing out to the Philadelphia Flyers who virtually lined up to testify about the fabulous future in front of these kids.

SINGING ON THE BENCH

There was sweeping the Montreal Canadiens the next year and singing on the bench in their second round series in Long Island against the Stanley Cup-winning Islanders.

There was the weak-kneed wimp Miracle On Manchester setback, blowing a 5-0 lead and the series against the Los Angeles Kings the following year.

And there was getting to the 1983 final, and losing to the Islanders in a four-game sweep, a lesson which taught them how to win - Gretzky later recalled walking by the Islanders room and noticing that they were exhausted and wounded while the Oilers felt fine.

Fogolin transferred the captaincy to Gretzky in the fall of the 1983-84 season and when they started the playoffs, Sather not only had John Muckler and Ted Green as assistant coaches but, in a moment forgotten by many, he added the temporarily unemployed Roger 'Captain Video' Neilson to work the film room for the playoffs.

The Oilers easily disposed of the Winnipeg Jets in the first round but were pushed to Game 7 during a fabulous playoff series against the Calgary Flames with Gretzky declaring: "There's going to be a rivalry now for sure."

After sweeping the Minnesota North Stars in the third round, the Oilers had earned a rematch with the Islanders in the Stanley Cup final.

It was the Islanders' 'Drive For Five' vs. the Oilers' 'Run For One.' Or Billy vs. 'The Kid,' named for goalie Billy Smith vs. Gretzky.

Fuhr was great, stopping 34 shots and McClelland scored the goal to win 1-0 in Game 1 on the Island.

While the Oilers lost 6-1 in Game 2, the series involved the 2-3-2 World Series format that year so the Oilers headed home for three.

Led by Messier with two goals, the Oilers won Game 3 by a 7-2 count.

"I've never heard a crowd like this in Edmonton for a constant 60 minutes," said Messier of the inspiration.

It was 7-2 again in Game 3 with Fuhr out with a shoulder injury and Andy Moog in the rest of the way.

The Oilers won Game 5 by a score of 5-2.

During the three games in Edmonton, the Oilers outscored the Islanders 19-6. The defending champions had not only been nudged off the throne, they'd been blown away and the sign on the dressing room wall said it all: "The Drive For Five Is No Longer Alive because the Thirst For First shall be quenched tonight."

In that dressing room when it was over were more people than a dressing room can hold. It was an insane scene of family, friends, politicians and the nation's sports media.

And everybody was drenched. Those who weren't were taken care of by Gregg, who went around the room looking for candidates, shouting 'You're too dry!'

MESS WAS A MESS

Messier was crying.

Not only had he won the Stanley Cup but he was such a force they gave him the Conn Smythe Trophy too.

"Messier's goal in Game 3 turned us into the team we had to be," said Coffey.

"The Calgary series made all the difference," said Lowe. "Right there. That was the time and place. That's where we grew up. That's where we acquired the mental toughness to win the Stanley Cup."

Sather mentioned the World Hockey Association.

"I'm proud to have been in that league. People like Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson showed us a lot about creative hockey. It started there."

Edmonton went crazy. The oil capital of Canada became the hockey capital of Canada. A crowd of between 100,000 and 200,000 (Police told Mayor Laurence Decore it was the latter) attended the biggest single parade ever held in Edmonton.

And thanks to the Oilers and a bet between mayors, 36 Long Island Ducks were moving to Edmonton's Storyland Valley Zoo.

In the column I wrote while dripping with champagne that night was the following paragraph:

"Edmonton had tasted winning before but never like this. The Grey Cups were great. But uh-uh. No way. Not even close. That was the greatest single sports experience the unbelievably fortunate sports city - Canada's City of Champions - has ever seen."

Soon there would be signs on the outskirts of town declaring Edmonton the City of Champions.

After all that's happened in Edmonton over the years, it's hard to top what we witnessed that night on May, 19th, 1984.

TERRY.JONES@SUNMEDIA.CA


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