It's a story I've told countless times, and each time I do it gets more profound. More meaningful. More…wonderful.
It happened in the early 1990's, in the middle of the hockey season. The Edmonton Oilers came off the ice after a practice at Northlands Coliseum. A few young adults with Down syndrome stood outside the Oilers dressing room and watched the players walk by. Sure, they smiled at them. But their eyes were fixed on a young man wearing a blue track suit, walking back and forth between the player's bench and the dressing room. He pushed a cart with a huge Gatorade bottle on it. He carried towels. Water bottles.
In between, he waved to the young people watching him, serving up his signature inquiry: "How are you today?"
Joey Moss: the young man living with Down syndrome who was working at a bottle depot in the early 1980s when his sister was dating a guy named Wayne. Last name, Gretzky. Wayne had an aunt with a minor mental disability. When he met Joey, and discovered his love of hockey, there was only one thing to do.
Get Joey a job as a dressing room assistant for the Oilers.
Through the years, Joey has become a bonafide celebrity throughout the National Hockey League - not because of his disability, but for what he contributes to his team, his community and his city.
That's what made Thursday night so extra wonderful - that word keeps popping up in this tale, doesn't it? - when Joey was included in singing O Canada.
Joey loves to sing. He proudly stands behind the Oilers bench at home games, hand on his heart, and sings O Canada. Television cameras have zoomed in on the shot countless times.
Wouldn't it be great, we all silently wondered, if Joey could be featured, spotlight and all, before an Oilers game?
That magic moment came Thursday night. Not just before any game, but a pivotal Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs opening round.
Joey was introduced to sing O'Canada with Robert Clark by Rogers Place PA announcer Scott C. Bourgeois.
Robert sang the first half from Ford Hall, surrounded by fans wearing bright orange Oilers apparel. Joey sang the second half from the Rogers Place stands, also surrounded by Oilers fans. He held the microphone in his left hand, standing in the aisle right beside his seat.
What a statement about being included. It wasn't a game to raise awareness of Down syndrome.
It was an Oilers game. Period.
Wayne Gretzky was in the house. He must have been beaming with pride to see and hear Joey sing.
And to the young parents out there with even younger children with disabilities - or, children going through other challenges - seeing Joey Thursday night can't help but give them hope…that, by golly, if Joey Moss can follow his passion and have countless people on his support team, the beacon of hope becomes brighter for everyone.
In the end, the Oilers skated to a thrilling 4-3 overtime win to take a 3-2 series lead.
But that wasn't the only victory at Rogers Place Thursday night. Not by a long shot.
Tait's Timely Tune