“I’ll meet you right by the Wayne Gretzky statue.”
One has to wonder how many times those words have been spoken by Oilers fans meeting someone at an Oilers game. Millions, perhaps?
Because ever since the statue came to Edmonton 27 years ago this month, it has been a compass for the building known as the Northlands Coliseum, Skyreach Centre and finally Rexall Place.
The larger-than-life statue of former Oilers captain Wayne Gretzky has stood on the north side of the arena for decades. It has been a muster point for many — and, countless people have had their picture snapped in front of it.
In fact, when Wayne was in Edmonton in April for the last Oilers home game at Rexall Place, he entered the building and walked right by his statue, causing even more pictures to be taken.
But on Thursday, the Gretzky statue is going south to a new home.
Crews will be moving the statue downtown, outside of Rogers Place, the new home of the Oilers where more memories will undoubtedly be made.
From its start in Edmonton, the statue has had a profound meaning.
I was at the Coliseum when the statue was first introduced to Oilers fans almost 27 years ago. Wayne, who was traded to the Los Angeles Kings a year earlier, returned to Edmonton August 25, 1989, with his wife Janet and brand new daughter Paulina.
A huge crowd turned out for the unveiling of the statue of Wayne holding the Stanley Cup high over his head, representing the four championships he won as an Oiler.
After the presentation at the east end of the Coliseum, I spotted Wayne’s father Walter in a small room where the Gretzky family had gathered before and after the ceremony.
Mr. Gretzky sat in a red folding chair holding a black cup of coffee in his hand and shaking his head.
“I just don’t know what to say,” said Walter, father of Wayne.
“This is overwhelming.
“It’s so kind what the people of Edmonton have done for Wayne and our family.”
|Photo by Getty Images. |
Perhaps, though, the statue is a fitting way to say thank you for all the extraordinary hockey memories Wayne gave Edmonton fans when he was wearing an Oilers jersey. It also, indeed, celebrates Wayne’s accomplishments in hockey.
Time does skate on.
It is hard to believe it has been 28 years since Wayne wore the No. 99 jersey with the Oilers. But his contribution to the Oilers has always been a sturdy foundation — and always will be.
His statue will stand out of Rogers Place and will continue to be one of the most recognized landmarks in the Edmonton area.
Moving into Rogers Place is an exciting time for the Oilers. But, like any new facility, getting to know it for the first time can be challenging.
But Oilers fans might be comforted knowing they can meet by the Wayne Gretzky statue before a game.
Some things never change, do they?
(If you have any memories of the Wayne Gretzky statue, please email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org)