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Oilers celebrate 30th anniversary of first Stanley Cup

by Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers turned back the clock Friday night, commemorating their first Stanley Cup championship.

The 1983-84 Oilers gathered at Rexall Place to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the first of the franchise's five Stanley Cup titles in a span of seven seasons.

More than 17,000 fans attended the reunion; proceeds from the event went to the University of Alberta Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton. Earlier in the day the 1984 team visited the hospital.

"We cared about one thing," NHL all-time leading scorer Wayne Gretzky said to open the night. "We cared about winning the Stanley Cup. We were just kids and we thought we knew everything. We didn't. But we knew how to play hockey."

The reunion was spearheaded by Gretzky and featured all seven members of the team who've been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr, Glenn Anderson and Glen Sather took turns discussing their days with the Oilers.

The evening began with Gretzky carrying in the Stanley Cup and passing it along to the other members of the team.

"This was a great place to play," Anderson said. "You fans made this place so special."

Former Oilers owner Peter Pocklington was also in attendance and received a warm ovation when he took his place on stage.

"I wasn't sure what was going to happen, as you can imagine," an emotional Pocklington said. "Before the Stanley Cups, I had the pleasure of talking to my team and told them a story how I remember [my wife] Eva and I were on a trip to Paris and we were driving past a field with a bunch of fellows working on big blocks of stone. I was interested in seeing what they were doing. Most of them said they were carving stone, but there was this one guy with bright eyes, said ‘I am building a cathedral.' I thought, 'This is what I want our team to do in this city, build a cathedral.' We ended up building five cathedrals.

"This kind of thing [reunion] just might just catch on in the field of sports. This is spectacular."

Center Kevin McClelland was the only member of the team unable to attend the reunion. McClelland is the coach of the Wichita Thunder, now of the ECHL, and was unable to make the trip to Edmonton. McClelland, who scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory against the New York Islanders in Game 1 of the 1984 final, did send a video message to his former teammates that was broadcast on the scoreboard.

Along with highlights of the 1984 playoff run, members of the team had an opportunity to share stories of the season that culminated in the Oilers' five-game victory against the Islanders in the Final.

"1984 was very special. I actually got to play a regular shift," enforcer Dave Semenko said. "After we beat Winnipeg, we went on to play Calgary and they put me on the left wing with Wayne and Jari and I managed to play the whole series with them, which was unheard of.

"They had the greatest hockey player in the world in the middle and one of the greatest right wingers on the other side, and me. It was quite an honor to play with them."

Defenseman Randy Gregg recalled a story in which an Oilers' jersey was tossed towards a laundry hamper in the dressing room and landed on the floor. Mark Messier made the player who tossed the jersey go and pick it up.

"Messier grabbed the guy by the scruff of the neck and said; ‘That Oilers crest never hits the floor,' " Gregg said. "Now when I see fans these days "accidentally" throwing their jerseys on the ice, I can't help but have a feeling that if that had happened 30 years ago somebody like Mark Messier would have picked it up and climbed back over the glass with it."

The event concluded with the seven Hall of Famers taking center stage.

Sather, now president and general manager of the New York Rangers, talked of the pressure on the Oilers to win the Cup in 1984, one year after they'd been swept by the Islanders in the Final.

"I think what we have to remember that all these guys came in as young players," Sather said. "There is a certain amount of pressure the media was putting on them constantly. I kept telling them to relax, have fun, play the game and enjoy yourselves."

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