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This article was published 21/10/2016 (1388 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Hands up if you still resent Wayne Gretzky just a little bit.
Congratulations, Winnipeg — you just blocked out the sun.
It’s worth revisiting this city’s uniquely tortured relationship with the city of Edmonton generally — and the Great One, in particular — as we all put on our happy faces this weekend for the Heritage Classic and take a walk down a memory lane that is, let’s face it, remembered a lot more fondly in Edmonton than it is in Winnipeg.
Five times between 1984 and 1990, the Edmonton Oilers won the Stanley Cup. And all five times, they eliminated the Jets in the playoffs en route to hoisting another Cup.
That’s a remarkable statistic, suggesting as it does that facing the Jets in the playoffs was as critical an ingredient to those Oilers championship runs as, say, Jari Kurri and Mark Messier.
We were the Washington Generals to their Harlem Globetrotters, with one critical and painful difference — we weren’t a willing foil.
And so yeah, it bred some hard feelings in this town, particularly towards the guy that stirred the Oilers drink. (Head dipstick? Seems a little harsh now. But only a little.)
We resented the way Gretzky would maddeningly hide behind the net.
We resented the way he’d hide behind Dave Semenko.
We resented his Hollywood wife.
But mostly, we resented — and still do — that he has at least one of our Stanley Cup rings.
You can take your pick. A lot of people will point to the spring of 1990 — two years after Gretzky had been traded to L.A. — as the one that got away, when the Jets seemed like they’d finally vanquish their longtime tormentors only to blow a 3-1 series lead in the opening round of the playoffs and pave the way for yet another Cup parade in Edmonton.
But for me, the Stanley Cup that got away in this town came in 1984-85, when a Jets team that broke an NHL record for most 30-goal scorers in a single season and had finished fourth overall in the regular-season standings had the misfortune of drawing the Oilers as their second-round playoff opponents. The defending champs had the first notch in their belts at that point.
The Jets got crushed in that series — four games to none. But while the series wasn’t close, it says here that season was as close as we’ve gotten to this day to a Stanley Cup in Winnipeg — our city’s "Rick Monday" moment.
That '84-'85 powerhouse was the best Jets 1.0 team; vastly superior to that 1989-90 lineup, I’d argue. And for all the young talent on the current Jets roster, I’d trade this year’s promise for that year’s crew in less time than it would take to rattle off the names of that club's six 30-goal scorers: Dale Hawerchuk — 53; Paul MacLean — 41; Laurie Boschman — 32; Brian Mullen — 32; Doug Smail — 31; Thomas Steen — 30.
You cannot help but wonder to this day how different the history of this city — and hockey history generally — might be if the Jets had faced any team other than the Oilers in the playoffs in the spring of 1985.
It’d be hard to imagine, for starters, that the Jets would have moved to Phoenix a decade later if they’d won a Cup in 1985. Teams don’t tend to relocate a decade after winning championships. But I digress, painfully.
And so it was a curious choice, I’d submit, when organizers decided to schedule Edmonton as Winnipeg’s Heritage Classic opponent, unless of course by "heritage" they meant this city’s rich tradition of losing sports teams. In which case... perfect.
There is a certain discomfiting symmetry to a pair of Edmonton hockey teams — a very talented old one on Saturday, a very talented young one on Sunday — taking the field at Investors Group Field this weekend, less than a year after the Edmonton Eskimos kicked snow in the face of every Blue Bombers fan in this town by winning a Grey Cup on that same field.
For an encore — and seeing as the ice is already out there — how about we drag Edmonton skip Randy Ferbey out of retirement Monday and have him drill Winnipeg’s Jeff Stoughton again? You know, just for old time’s sake.
For all the talk this week about the great Edmonton-Winnipeg sports rivalry, the cold, hard fact is that it’s been more lopsided than the deck of the Titanic on its way to the ocean floor.
In football, hockey and, most recently, in men's curling, Edmonton sports teams have eaten our lunch. Repeatedly.
The Eskimos dynasty of five straight Grey Cups in the late-'70s and early-'80s ended just in time for the Oilers' reign atop the NHL. After that, a succession of Brier titles that, with a Kevin Koe win last March, allowed Alberta to pass Manitoba in Canadian men’s curling championships. We'd been leading that race since the 1920s.
And even when Edmonton teams have struggled over the years — which has been a lot in more recent decades, especially in hockey — so, too, have ours.
When they were great, we weren’t quite good enough, with a few notable exceptions. And when they were lousy, so were we.
The hardest part to take in all this is that it’s Edmonton we’re talking about. If this was Vancouver or Toronto or Montreal owning this rivalry, we could rationalize it away by telling ourselves that they were bigger than us and richer than us and all the other excuses we as Winnipeggers pull out of the closet on a cold winter night to cover up our raging insecurity.
But Edmonton? They’re us — a provincial capital with a funny name of roughly the same size that everyone else in Canada also pokes fun at.
It’s like looking in a mirror — only your reflection has championship rings on every finger.
I’m not proud of this, but it’s true: A much younger version of myself, on more than a few tormented nights at the old Winnipeg Arena, wished that a Jets player would summon his inner Bobby Clarke and Valeri Kharlamov Gretzky’s ankle, once and for all.
What? I said I wasn’t proud of it.
I’m over that now. Mostly. Gretzky is a national treasure, after all. Just ask anyone — who lives outside the Perimeter Highway.
But if someone like, oh, I don’t know, Dave Ellett were to put a hip into Gretzky in full flight at IGF on Saturday and send both the Great One and that annoyingly crooked jersey of his flying somewhere into the upper deck, well, let’s just say that it would be overdue.
And a very, very long time coming in these parts.
Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.
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