It's hard to believe, but its now been 19 years since Wayne Gretzky was traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles.
I remember the day well. I refused to listen to the radio when I first heard it. Still lost in an age of innocence, trading the greatest player in the game was impossible, at least I thought. Everyone thought that.
The Oilers had just won their fourth Cup in five years and Gretzky was 27, coming off a year where he put up 40 goals and 149 points in 64 regular season games and 12 goals, 43 points in 19 playoff games. The local radio must have been playing a terrible prank.
After listening to the news reports several times over it finally dawned on me that this was indeed true. Then came the teary eyed press conference followed by the Kings jersey unveiling that cemented a whole new reality in the completely shaken hockey world.
Wayne Gretzky had been traded.
It was probably the biggest trade in the history of sports, or certainly tied with the Babe Ruth transaction. The impact of the move was beyond what anyone could imagine, and is still unfolding.
The NHL went Hollywood and has since gone through immense expansion in US sun belt zones. For a while hockey was even cool in the US, something the rest of the western world already knew though they now craved it even more.
Though Canadians love to accuse these virgin US markets of not being able to support the NHL, in reality grassroots hockey in these parts is now starting to blossom. More kids in American, notably in California and other sunny climes, picked up the game, and now some are starting to make a run at their own NHL dreams.
In Canada, the ramifications were also immense. We all lost a little something when they took Gretzky out of the Canadian priaires. In many ways #99 exemplified the Canadian image: Hard-working and talented yet humble and determined. He wasn’t just a hockey player, he was a national treasure.
For many Canadians, the date of August 9th, 1988 marks the date Canada started losing control of hockey, although in reality it was more of an awakening to a long time reality than a beginning. Hockey quickly became a big business, and the American dollar and entertainment marketplace called the shots. Gretzky was taken. Soon the Stanley Cup would be hoisted in unthinkable cities like Raleigh, Tampa Bay, Dallas and Anaheim. Though it always seemed America remained disinterested in Canada's game, the game was sold out irreversibly starting on the day Canadians learned who Bruce McNall was.
For me personally, the trade helped cement me as a great hockey fan. The trade set up a season full of intrigue every time the Kings played the Oilers. Gretzky and his new team returned to Edmonton on October 20, 1988, and the Great One scored on his first shift. Later that spring, Gretzky and the Kings eliminated the Oilers from the playoffs. On October 15, 1989, Gretzky made his most heroic return visit of all. In front of cheering fans at Northlands Coliseum, he broke Gordie Howe’s NHL all-time points record by scoring his 1,850th and 1,851st point.
Some great memories, in deed. In some ways my awakening allowed me to cherish Gretzky's Hollywood days more so than my younger days when the Oilers were kings. A whole new hockey landscape was created for me. I don't just mean in the old Smythe Division where the Oilers and Kings faced off regularly. I mean it was a complete awakening for me to realize that hockey was a business, and hockey players are businessmen. My innocence may have been lost, and Canada's greatest hero may have flew south, but my love for Canada's game only grew stronger.
Read Wayne Gretzky career biography - Also See: Gretzky vs. Lemieux