25 years ago “The Trade” was completed. Wayne Gretzky at the height of his hockey career was moved from Edmonton Oilers to Los Angeles Kings. Canadian national hero was playing in Canada no more. He found out of this decision a few hours after winning Stanley Cup in 1988 from his father, who was aware of negotiations for last several months. Oiler owner’s financial situation was dire and he just needed money.
This move, seen a sacrilege in Canada, initiated hockey boom in California. More and more kids and their parents were becoming interested in skating. Ice rinks were built in old warehouses, but still were few and far between. The simpler alternative was street hockey, all you needed was pair of rollerblades and a driveway.
This was the way we started. My younger son Chris, a very good athlete, started craze playing with his friends on our street. When other boys were not available, he dressed up his younger twin sisters. Megan was a skater and Jenny a goalie wearing an old baseball catcher’s equipment. Girls had to compete with boys on newly formed roller hockey teams. From there transition to ice hockey was only natural.
The best way to learn was from Canadians. They are born with skates already on. One summer we found out about a hockey camp in Vancouver and Chris and I decided to go. We boarded a Canadian Airlines flight for a father and son trip to this hockey city. After being seated I spotted a familiar face in front of us. I whispered to Chris “Look who is there!”. He looked, his eyes became even bigger “Wayne Gretzky!”. I said “Go and talk to him”. He pushed his shoulder in front in expression of disagreement and separation from me, his face frowned “Can’t do that”. He was right, it was not a proper way to do that. So when attendant was passing down the isle I gave her my business card and asked to give it to Mr Gretzky and see if we can introduce ourselves. “Please tell him,that we are flying to Vancouver for a hockey camp and he is Chris’ hero.” I said. This was nothing new, since he was an idol for many young boys playing hockey especially in California and especially after The Trade. She came back shortly, that Mr Gretzky will be happy to meet you shortly after dinner. She also remarked, that he is always very gracious and never refuses these kind of requests.
Chris couldn’t sit still. But when the time came, he didn’t want to leave his seat. On the way to front of plane he was following me two steps behind. When we came to his row I introduced myself and my son. I told him where we were flying and why. He asked Chris, which position was he playing. Chris said “Center”. “Oh, me too” Gretzky said, as if we didn’t know already. “Where do you live?” he asked again. “In Camarillo” Chris answered. “So we are neighbors’. At that time he was living in Sherwood CC, not far away from us. Then he asked for Chris’ name. He gave him and said “I am Polish”. Well he is only half Polish, but at that point it didn’t matter. “You know,” Gretzky said, “my father is Polish too”. The ice was broken. My son was encouraged to talk more and more. I asked ,if I can take picture of both of them. There is Chris standing next to the best hockey player ever, who is in an isle seat. Then Gretzky reached to his suitcase and pulled out a photo of himself, playing in Rangers’ jersey with famous, now retired, “99” on it. Signed and gave it to my son. “To Chris, good luck, your friend Wayne Gretzky”. The rest of our trip was but a footnote.
When we came home, Mother made us a collage : my picture of both hockey players, Gretzky’s autographed picture and two stubs of our plane tickets.