LIKE many hockey fans of the past 30 or 40 years, my favuorite memory of the National Hockey League All Star Game came in 1983. That, of course, was the game where Wayne Gretzky stole the show, scoring 4 goals in the third period, establishing yet another NHL record while giving the Campbell Conference a win.
But I will always remember it differently than everyone else.
The game was played in Uniondale, New York, home of the defending Stanley Cup champions New York Islanders. We did not know it just then, but the Islanders and Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers were about to collide in the next couple of years.
Growing up in western Canada, I had plenty of chances to witness Gretzky’s greatness first hand. Yet, at least in my 8 year old interpretation, the brash Islanders were unimpressive. They were then the three time defending Stanley Cup champs, and Gretzky was a chump until he could beat them.
Maybe that’s why I viewed this night as such a great night. Here is Gretzky, my hero, going into the enemy’s building. He scores 4 goals in the final period of what was a close game after two periods, giving the Campbell Conference a convincing 9-3 win. Gretzky’s greatness was now undeniable, even to those damn New York Islanders.
And I missed it all.
My family was in Vancouver at the time. My brother was staying in BC Children’s Hospital, and my mom was staying there with him. My dad and I were staying at a hotel. It was my first trip to the big city.
I really wanted to watch the All Star Game. I may have seen earlier All Star Games, but I do not specifically remember. This one was special though, and I did not want to miss it.
When the game began we were in my brother’s hospital room. There were three other sick kids in their, all of them quite ill. I monopolized the only TV and I guess was making too much noise cheering on my heroes. My Dad decided to take me back to the hotel, grab some dinner, and we’d watch the game.
Well this was no easy task. We are from a small town in Northern BC, where at the time we may have had three, maybe four intersections with stop lights. Vancouver was a million times bigger. It was pretty easy to get lost there.
My Mom tried giving us the instructions back to the hotel. She was usually the navigator, but this time my Dad and I were on our own. I inherited the navigator role, something I think I did quite well. Except we turned north instead of south on whatever street we were supposed to turn down. I insisted I was right, and for some crazy reason my Dad believed me. We must have driven for a good 30 or maybe 45 minutes before realizing we were going the wrong way. We finally turned around, neither of us quite sure if we would ever find the hotel.
I did not mind. I had never seen such a big city. All the lights. All the cars. All the people. It was amazing. For a kid from a small rural town, this was like going to a whole new world.
We finally found the hotel. My dad got us dinner and we went to our room. Starving, I began devouring my burger. I had completely forgotten about the All Star Game until my Dad turned on the TV. The dying seconds of the third period were counting down, with the announcers raving about the performance Gretzky had just put on. I had missed it all!
Somehow I did not mind. It was one of the best nights of my young life, and for once it had nothing to do with Wayne Gretzky.