EDMONTON — If the media availability with the 1984 Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday was any indication, there will be plenty of great stories shared during the next three days.
1984 EDMONTON OILERS REUNION
The group that started the Oilers' dynasty is back together, 30 years after winning the franchise's first Stanley Cup championship.
"I never finished high school, so this is my first actual reunion," center Mark Messier said. "It's great to be here. I think the first thing that comes to my mind is what a great time we had back in the '80s and leading up to the Stanley Cup. We had a little bit of heartbreak until we finally won the championship in '84. And the collective group of people that are on the stage right now were all responsible for that Cup and many of the other ones."
Every member of the 1984 Cup-winning team was invited to the reunion, which was the brainchild of Wayne Gretzky. They will be honored at the Oilers' season-opener Thursday against the Calgary Flames, then will take center stage Friday at the sold-out reunion at Rexall Place.
Most of the team was on hand Wednesday, including the seven members of the Hockey Hall of Fame -- Gretzky, Messier, Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson and Glen Sather. Former owner Peter Pocklington was also in attendance and will participate in the reunion festivities.
"This was a little bit of a no-brainer, and it's amazing how some things don't change over the years; when Wayne asks for something we usually do it," Coffey said. "We were trained that way in the early '80s. Anytime you have your leader that is your hardest worker and he asks you to do something, you do it."
In 1984, the Oilers won their first of five Stanley Cup championships, defeating the New York Islanders in the Final. By beating the Islanders, the Oilers put an end to one dynasty and started another; they repeated in 1985 and won again in 1987, 1988 and 1990.
"We were kids back then, and Glen [Sather] used to always tell us this is something that we would take forever. 'This is history and the memory of winning a Stanley Cup is something you'll never forget,'" Gretzky recalled. "He was so right; it's a special group. We're just really proud of the fact that we're Edmonton Oilers and we had a chance to win the Stanley Cup and play in this city."
The Sather-coached Oilers were a young, talented group that went through four years of disappointment before winning in 1984, one year after they had been swept by the Islanders in the Final.
"It takes a lot of hard work," Sather said. "This team played, I think, 104 games the year that we won. Plus, we played 11 exhibition games in those days and we used to practice 40 or 45 minutes almost every day and we never had a charter. These guys put up with a lot, and they had to put up with me, which is not easy. But they're a great bunch of guys and I always said since the beginning that a great coach is made by great players. We just stand by the gate and open it and let them go. I used to say that to them all the time: 'Let's go, let's have some fun.'"
Sather was considered more than a coach by most of his players; he was also a father figure to many of them.
After winning five Stanley Cup championships with the Oilers, Sather moved on to become president and general manager of the New York Rangers.
"He was probably harder on us than our parents were," Gretzky said. "He pushed us, that was the first thing he did, and we had a respect level for him, because the very first phone call you ever made if something bad happened, or something wasn't right, if you called Glen, he was going to take care of it. He really became like a father to all of us, especially the younger guys who came here at 18, 19, 20. Then he had this ability to let us live. We had one rule when we were Edmonton Oilers and that was never to embarrass the team."
Sather is credited for helping the young Oilers navigate life away from the arena as well.
"He really encouraged everybody to diversify themselves and have other interests outside of hockey," Messier said. "He always wanted to take us to the museums in New York City, the Broadway shows. He was really a life teacher in that regard too. He understood that there was more to life than just playing hockey and wanted to cultivate us as people too. Because of it, the players really looked up and respected him in that regard."