Canadian Government Is Urged To Halt Gretzky Deal

Posted: August 10, 1988

Within hours of the stunning announcement that hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky had been traded by the Edmonton Oilers, a member of the Canadian Parliament urged government intervention to prevent the loss of "a national symbol."

"The Edmonton Oilers without Wayne Gretzky is like apple pie without ice cream, like winter without snow, like the Wheel of Fortune without Vanna White - it's quite simply unthinkable," Nelson Riis, a member of Parliament from British Columbia, said last night.

"I figure the federal government could purchase Gretzky's contract and then resell him to a Canadian team," Riis said. "The bottom line is that we have to keep Wayne in Canada, where Canadians can see their greatest hockey player ever on a regular basis."

During an emotional news conference at Edmonton, Gretzky confirmed that he had sought the trade in order to live and work in the same city as his new wife, actress Janet Jones.

The office of Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney had no comment on the trade, which sent shockwaves across Canada and throughout the National Hockey League.

"I'm surprised," Gretzky's mother, Phyllis, said as she watched the nationally televised news conference in the family's Brantford, Ontario, home. ''I never thought he would leave Edmonton. I never thought Peter (Pocklington, owner of the Oilers) would do that, but you never know.

"It would be scary to be out there. I'm glad I'm not in Edmonton," she added.

Indeed, tempers flared in the city where the Oilers have won four NHL championships in five years.

The team's 21 phone lines were jammed throughout the day by callers protesting the trade, many of them threatening to cancel season-ticket subscriptions.

"I think that Wayne Gretzky made the Edmonton Oilers and if they're going to trade him we should boycott the hockey team," Larry Eskelson, an Oilers fan, said.

Edmonton mayor Laurence Decore said he was shocked.

"It's like taking all the bridges away and saying, 'Edmonton, this is what you're going to look like,' " said Decore, who called Gretzky Edmonton's greatest ambassador.

NHL officials expressed similar shock.

"It was a shocker," said Bob Plager, director of player personnel for the St. Louis Blues. "To me, it's the biggest trade of all time."

While Oilers fans were upset, Kings fans were understandably thrilled at the prospect of welcoming Gretzky to Southern California.

"There has been little joy with the Kings," said Elliott Porter, a longtime fan of the NHL club that has gone 20 years without ever winning so much as a division title. "The only joy in watching the Kings was, if you appreciate good hockey, going to see other teams, like the Oilers, come in to play them.

"It really makes me happy that the Kings got Gretzky. I didn't think it was possible. It shows that the owner (Bruce McNall) is serious about bringing a winner to Los Angeles and I think that's great."

A Kings spokesman said the team was flooded with calls from fans asking for season tickets.

"We've received an awful lot of calls," said spokesman Ron Muniz. "As for exact numbers, I couldn't tell you, but there have been a few hundred. We're referring most of the calls to sales people. It will take a few days to catch up."

"It's, uh, pretty, uh, very, very blockbustering - if that's a word," Kings forward Jimmy Fox said. "It's got to be one of the biggest trades ever, and the first thing you think is 'holy-moly."'

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