I had a feeling the day was going to be a 'Great One' at breakfast on Thursday morning as I talked hockey with Wayne Gretzky. Not only me but my Sportsnet work pals Drew Remenda and Kevin Quinn. We were at the Westin Hotel having breakfast with our boss Scott Moore. After discussing the team, the Western Conference, his nephew - who plays in the KHL - and a little golf chatter about Dustin Johnson, Wayne excused himself and went back to his table. We all kind of looked at each other and went, "We just talked to Wayne Gretzky." Sounds childish but it reminds me of when I was a kid watching Wayne and company. A precursor of a day and night not to be forgotten anytime soon.
From there it was off to the rink, but it wasn't your normal morning skate. With the Oilers logo set out on the seats fashioned together with the appropriately coloured t-shirts. Hard not to notice there was something different about this season opener to be played at Rogers Place. You could almost call it Rogers Palace. It looks so beautiful, but Place works just fine for the new jewel of downtown Edmonton. Morning skates for the Oilers and Flames. The Battle of Alberta may not be what it once was but with Connor McDavid leading the charge from the North, and Team North America teammate Johnny Gaudreau handling that role in the South, this rivalry feels renewed.
Long before game time there was some other business to take care of, like the unveiling of the Wayne Gretzky Statue, an Oilers Hall of Fame room and a surprise. The statue, which was originally built in 1989, looked great. The Hall of Fame room, with jerseys, Stanley Cups and memorabilia from the past looking classy and well thought out. As if there wasn't enough going on, that 'surprise' left me standing like a statue after another unveiling took place: Wayne Gretzky announced as a vice chairman of the OEG. Like so many of his passes it came out of nowhere and Gretzky was back in the game and with the Oilers.
Speaking of games, how about we get to that since, when the day started, it was about the start of a new season. What a start it was as Patrick Maroon became the answer to the trivia question of who scored the first goal at Rogers Place? The first of an 11-goal night, showing Wayne, Mark, Glenn, Paul, Jari and Grant that for one night the '80s could be replicated. Back then number 99 led the way, now it's number 97. A performance befitting the young captain wanting to take over a team, a franchise and move them forward. The stage was set for something special. Connor McDavid understood that then grabbed the game about as fast as Milan Lucic grabbed Deryk Engelland after he overhandled the new captain.
It really is a date - October 12, 2016 - that will go down in the history of the Edmonton Oilers. There was a lot happening and it all went well. From an old star to a new one, and a world class home to boot. Only one day and night but it was a 'Great One'.