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Gretzky Recalls Great Rivalry

by Staff Writer / New York Islanders

While fans collected Bryan Trottier bobbleheads as they entered the Nassau Coliseum on Sunday afternoon, Phoenix Head Coach Wayne Gretzky couldn’t help but reminisce about the memorable games he had against the Islanders in the 1980s. Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers lost four straight games to the Isles in their first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1983. The following year, however, the Oilers bounced back to claim their first Cup against the Islanders.

"Only a few short years earlier we were watching Trottier, Bossy, Billy Smith and Denis Potvin and the other great players they had on TV," Gretzky said before his Coyotes took on the Islanders on Sunday afternoon. "Then a few years later, we were playing against them in the finals. We were on a pretty good roll coming into the (1983) series and thinking we were invincible."
The loss in 1983 was a humbling experience for the up-start Oilers, who were young and confident. However, Gretzky credits that loss with teaching the Oilers what it takes to win. And in fact, the Oilers would ultimately win four of the next five Stanley Cups and five of the next seven.
"We walked by their locker room in the corridor and saw after they won they were too beat up to really enjoy it and savor the victory at that moment," said Gretzky. "We were able to walk out of their pretty much scot free. We had so much respect for the Islanders players and the Islanders teams that we learned immediately you have to take it to another level in order to win a Stanley Cup. And that’s what we did. We learned from it and often credit for the Islanders players and Islanders teams for teaching us exactly what it’s all about and how hard it is to win."
A number of those Islanders legends—including Bryan Trottier, Bob Nystrom and Ken Morrow—were in attendance on Sunday.
Wayne Gretzky
"When I think about Wayne Gretzky, I think about him setting up behind the net. That was his office back there," said Morrow. "And also the team that he played on. It wasn’t just Wayne Gretzky, they had a lot of really great players and a great offense. For a player like myself, my job was to keep them off the scoreboard as much as we could. It says a lot about the athletes that they had that they learned from some tough losses. That is what championship teams and championship players do.
These days, Gretzky earns his victories from behind the bench. His counterpart on Sunday—Islanders Head Coach Scott Gordon—got the better of Gretzky and the Coyotes. However, when the two crossed paths on the ice, it was—well—less than memorable for Gordon. The only time they met in a game was February 17, 1990—when Gretzky’s Los Angeles Kings took on goaltender Gordon and the Quebec Nordiques.

"He’s one of the best players that ever played the game," Gordon said. "You’re standing in your crease and looking over at a guy who amassed the amount of points that he’s amassed. There’s some wow factor to it."

Gordon recalled how he was personally responsible for Gretzky ending a rare scoring drought.

"He was in the midst of a scoring slump that they were talking about in the newsletter when I faced him. Two goals and three assists later, he was out of it," Gordon joked.

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