The greatest job in the city

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"It was a good gig."

The best, really, if you're in the broadcast industry and you're working for a local station that covers the local hockey team.

And then that hockey team turns into the best one in the best league in the world.

In the days before the all-sports networks, the Edmonton-based independent station ITV became the home of the Oilers.

These days, Tim Spelliscy is the general manager of what is now Global Edmonton. Back then, he was the host of the ITV hockey broadcasts.

"I came here in the fall of '79," said Spelliscy. "They secured that contract the year before, with the support of Dr. Allard."

Dr. Charles Allard, a surgeon turned entrepreneur, was founder of the station and co-founder of the original Oilers in the World Hockey Association.

"They certainly had tremendous foresight."

Spelliscy had hopped on board a rocket ship. With No. 99 on the ice, the future of the Oilers looked bright. Bright turned supernova.

"Initially you had no idea how good these guys were going to be," Spelliscy said.

The team had become a member of the NHL after the WHA folded and GM Glen Sather surrounded the prodigy with veterans, meanwhile drafting the infamous crop that would form the dynasty around Walter Gretzky's kid.

"Back then (for the Oilers) it was kind of like it has been in recent years. I remember the team having to win a lot of games in the last month just to make the playoffs. Once they got all the way to finals against the Islanders - although they lost to the Islanders that first time - you knew then they were going to be back. Probably a lot of times. All of a sudden you could see, when you were going into all these cities across North America, the excitement generated around the team. Especially when you went into Toronto, a large media group would follow the team around. And even in the American cities like New York, Boston and Chicago."

It's no exaggerated cliche to say that the Oilers put the city on the map. Spelliscy found himself being an ambassador.

"The city's name was on the team. All of a sudden people started to figure out where Edmonton was.

"The reporters in the other cities, they'd never heard of Edmonton before, so there was a lot of questions.

"It was a city that likely wasn't even in their vocabulary before the hockey team came around."

Gretzky, being Ontario born, created a big buzz in the land of the Maple Leafs even before the dynasty.

"In Toronto, I remember on the buses coming in from the airport there was a sign welcoming 'No. 99' to Toronto. This was two or three years into his career.

"It was crazy getting on and off the bus sometimes, especially in Toronto. It seemed a little nuttier there."

But it wasn't all hard work for Spelliscy.

"It was always fun to be at the rink in Edmonton," he said. "As the the years went on, because the team was so popular, the telecasts were popular. So it made a lot of sense to do a lot of games on the road and at home. So we'd expand our schedule.

"Of course, back then, I was young, in my early or mid 20s. It was always nice to be on the road. You had fun, met some interesting people and took in some great hockey games."

DAVID.CAMERON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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