Friday, April 18, 2008

NHL: Nine Years Ago Today, "99 Tears"

Well, actually that famous or infamous headline on the Edmonton Sun's cover was back in the summer of 1988 when Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings. But it was nine years ago today that Wayne Gretzky retired from the game of hockey. He finished out the final three years of his illustrious career as a New York Ranger.

Gretzky and the Rangers would lose to the Pittsburgh Penguins on that Sunday afternoon in his final game. Jaromir Jagr got the game winner for those of you scoring at home. So much has changed since then in the N.H.L. and for the New York Rangers.

The Blueshirts with Gretzky and Mark Messier qualified for the playoffs in 1997, but didn't get a sniff of the post-season until the spring of 2006. Mr. Gretzky is now coaching the team he partially owns, the Phoenix Coyotes. I thought about Wayne Gretzky - pictured above wearing a Wrestlemania promotional shirt in hopes of drawing sports entertainment’s top event to Arizona in 2010 - during the Rangers-Devils game the other night.

I will never forget a goal he set up in a regular season game: Gretzky skated just to the right of New Jersey Devils’ goaltender Martin Brodeur and ricocheted the puck off of the base of the goal to Niklas Sundstrom who was set up in the slot. "Sunny" put the puck past a stunned Brodeur. It was brilliance! It was magical! It was beautiful, deft passing on display as only “The Great One” could dare to do.

Wayne, I thought you were a pretty boy when you were in L.A. and Edmonton, but I always admired your skills. You’re sorely missed.

Tonight is a big test for the Rangers. They’ve got the Devils on the ropes and need to finish them off. No need to fool around or give the Devs new life. Pittsburgh is resting comfortably at home thank you very much, after their sweep of Ottawa. Montreal got their series extended after being drilled by Boston last night. While Philly looks to be on the verge of advancing after going up 3-1 on Washington.

The Rangers need to knock the Devils out and get ready for the next round, because if it’s the Penguins, it’ll be a tough, tough series.

Out west Detroit is the most compelling series right now as they are tied up with Nashville 2-2.

Could the President's Trophy winner go out in the first round?


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