Chilibeck: The Gretzky deal changed everything

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Ken Chilibeck
7/10/2009 3:23:51 PM
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I was there the day Wayne Gretzky was traded to the LA Kings. I had been covering the Oilers for TSN starting back in 1984, and had witnessed first-hand their Stanley Cup victories with Gretzky leading the way. 

One reason the trade stands out more than other events I covered was the fact I was supposed to be heading out on holidays with my family on a camping trip to the mountains on August 9, 1988.

I had heard rumours off and on for the previous few weeks that "The Great One" might get dealt. Owner Peter Pocklington was having financial problems, but who in their right mind would trade away Wayne Gretzky?

He was an icon in Edmonton. He was everyone's favourite son and had gone out with a local girl, singer Vicki Moss. Everyone knew the Moss family. They were an Edmonton version of the Partridge Family, touring around the country-side in a big bus and singing at local events, shopping centres and fairs.

Then Gretzky met Janet Jones, a big-city girl from St. Louis. They got married in a ceremony in Edmonton that would rival most royal weddings. The media frenzy was incredible and I remember my cameraman, Don Metz, got the contract to televise the wedding. That could have been one of the first reality TV programs.

Everyone thought Wayne and Janet were going to settle down and live the rest of their lives in Edmonton. How wrong they were.

I got the call the night before the trade - and my vacation - from the TSN assignment desk telling me about a potential news conference. I remember telling them, "no way," but I started making some calls to other media outlets around town. The rumour got stronger and stronger and the next morning I got the call from the Oilers PR department telling me the news conference was happening.

So much for leaving to go camping. 

The conference was held at Molson House in downtown Edmonton. You would never be able to hold such an event there nowadays, but in 1988 there were only a few TV networks. Basically a couple of local stations, plus TSN and CBC. TSN had the full-meal deal there for the event - a satellite truck with a live feed. That was a rare occurrence back then.

Everyone who is a sports fan remembers Wayne breaking down and crying with the announcement. Things didn't end there as fans started petitions and people were threatened. It was a crazy time.

I mean, who in their right mind would trade Gretzky?

Peter Pocklington did, and where is he now? Last I heard, facing bankruptcy.

That event changed the NHL forever, proving no player was sacred, not even The Great One.

Ken Chilibeck is a 'TSN original' who covered the Edmonton sports scene from 1984 to 2004. A native of Viking, Alberta, Chilibeck covered some of the greatest stories in Canadian sports over two decades. Among the highlights he lists are all of the Edmonton Oilers' Stanley Cup victories, the 1988 Calgary Olympics and the five-straight Grey Cup run of the Edmonton Eskimos led by a young Warren Moon. Ken and his wife Lori now proudly run the Vagabond Lodge, a bed and breakfast resort located on Kicking Horse Mountain for outdoor enthusiasts.

Wayne Gretzky - Edmonton Oilers (Photo: Steve Babineau/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Steve Babineau/Getty Images)
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