Tuesday, October 18, 2005

No Beer league hockey for Coffey

The word is out, Paul Coffey really is through. They made it official on Tuesday night in Edmonton as the Oilers celebrated the golden years of their franchise by retiring Paul Coffey's number 7 sweater. Coffey held court in Edmonton on Tuesday, looking back at a great career when he was in Oiler blue and sharing moments with old friends. He doesn't get on the ice much any more, with little time to play rec hockey in his home of Toronto, he really has hung up his blades. But he had them sharpened for one more skate.

Coffey took an end to end rush for old times sake, fired a Charlie Huddy pass into the net and then stood back and basked in the adulation of the Oiler faithful. Coffey's sweater joins some of the other Oiler greats in the rafters of the rink that used to be the Coliseum, Gretzky, Kurri, Fuhr and Hamilton all have had their sweaters retired and now number seven is placed forever out of reach of a new arrival.

The celebration of Coffey's exploits included a celebration at City Hall, trumpets and confetti at the rink and a noisy throng determined to offer up one more cheer for a team favorite.

Coffey knew what the crowd wanted to hear when he said "It's great to be an Oiler!" To the approval of his fans he proclaimed that "he will always consider himself an Oiler and Edmonton his home".

It wasn't always so though, in the dark years after the great Oiler dynasty a nasty contract dispute in 1987 between Coffey and Peter Pocklington played itself out daily in the Edmonton and national media. Coffey would refuse to report to camp, Pocklington would declare him to be a coward afraid to fight for a puck. It was the beginning of the end and a foreshadowing moment of troubled times to come in Edmonton.

Since then of course history recorded the collapse of a team that caught the nation's fancy, Coffey went on to other exploits in other cities, as did many other of the dynasty team. But for hockey fans and obviously Oiler fans there really was only one place for Coffey, Gretzky, Kurri, Fuhr et al, it was Edmonton.

Tuesday night everyone got their wish, for one last time.

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