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Mike Downey

Gretzky Helps Turn L.A. Into Ice Land

April 16, 1989|Mike Downey

Well, was that a great game or what? Did this one finally certify hockey as a Major Sport here or what? Couldn't you splice this one into a trilogy with Earvin and friends, and Orel and friends, and call it Los Angeles Stories ? Didn't this one illuminate the red light above your heart?

All hail King Wayne. Thank you and bless you, dear Edmonton, for letting Wayne Gretzky through customs. He and the Kings did a 6-3 number on the Stanley Cup-defending Oilers Saturday night, winning the series, advancing in the Smythe Division playoffs, and teaching all of us that where Gretzky goes, greatness follows.

It was hockey night in California, and it seldom gets any better than this, even north of the border. There was a quorum at the Forum. The joint was jumping like a Laker game. It had everything but King Girls in skimpy costumes. It was Bruce (the Boss) McNall's birthday party, and his boys played pin the tail on the Oilers.

Every puck that flew over the glass had a chance to carom off the skull of a member of the Screen Actors Guild. Watching from rinkside were Sylvester Stallone, Jack Nicholson, Kathleen Turner, Donald Sutherland, a cast of thousands. And not a face in the crowd, famous or otherwise, dared go home early, because this one was good to the last faceoff dropped.

They will be talking about this one for a long, long time--or at least for a couple of days, until the Calgary Flames invite everybody up to their Olympic lair for a visit and we're back in the Saddledome again. By then, maybe some of the excitement will have ebbed, but then again, maybe not. These guys should be more than just Kings for a Day.

Oh, the memories this game supplied us:

Number 99 Himself, first shift of the night, first shot of the game, pulling the trigger on his old teammate, Grant Fuhr, and opening the scoring, 52 seconds into the fray. Just as he did in Game 5, Wayne Gretzky put some of that special Gretz grease on the puck that enabled it to leak through the goalie's pads.

Next came another goal by the Amazing Kontos, sleight-of-hand artist, his eighth of the series, his record-breaking sixth playoff power-play score, and all we can think to ask is: Where have they been hiding this person? Chris, boy, the Oilers should have checked your stick to see if it was corked.

And how about that long-suffering, stiff-upper-lip soul, Dave Taylor, digging, digging, digging away in the corner, freeing the puck, escaping the clutches of bad old Steve Smith, feeding the puck to Bernie Nicholls for a beautiful goal? Score one for the Old King Regime. Somewhere, at his daughter's wedding, most likely, Dr. Jerry Buss was smiling.

You want more? We got more.

How about that John Tonelli shot that clanked off an iron bar inside the net and was not allowed as a goal? It didn't count, but as memorable moments go, that was a good one.

How about Nicholls, during a two-man advantage, barging into the crease, stumbling over Fuhr like Chevy Chase off a stepladder, somehow sweeping the game-winning goal into the net?

How about Dale DeGray, doing his bit for the cause, giving the Kings a 5-3 edge that finally, finally , nearly 55 minutes into the combat, gave the Kings that breathing room they had been searching for from the very first minute?

And then, the best for last.

Number 99, national hero of another nation, a statue of whom is being erected outside Edmonton's arena, scored short-handed into an empty net, personally putting his old employers on the unemployment line. All hail King Wayne.

There were great moments galore Saturday, and although we have never been known to gush this way, please understand if we cannot help but express our complete admiration for a team that was down, 3 games to 1, to the New York Yankees of hockey, the sports dynasty of the 1980s, and never once waved the white flag.

Hooray for Hockeywood.

Smith, the strapping Edmonton defenseman, had hoped to do a script rewrite. After the Kings surprised the Oilers in Game 6, changing the complexion of the series completely, Smith studied the situation and said before Game 7: "Maybe we can write our own Hollywood ending to this series."

Didn't work out that way.

No matter what happens now, even if the Kings can't handle Calgary, we have seen the light, and it it is red. Hockey has come to Southern California, and it is here to stay. We hear they also play some basketball and baseball here, but today we cannot seem to confirm it.

All hail, King Wayne.

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