I had just finished one the best interview experiences of my broadcasting career with Marty McSorley, when I looked down and noticed Bernie Nicholls waiting for his interview to start.
One of the last questions to Marty was “what was it like playing and watching #99 practice”?
McSorley’s answer spilled over into the main foyer of the rink, just outside the make shift studio.
My personal recognition and the only time I ever witnessed #99 play live was at the Moncton Coliseum in the early 80’s.
The Oilers had moved their farm team to the city and we were blessed by watching greatest during an exhibition game.
I might have been five or six years old, but I just remember watching one player at the end of the warm-up skating around the ice flipping the puck up and down on his stick and batting into the top shelf. Over and over again the skill, the craftsmanship, the sheer talent, at that tender age I knew that player was special.
In that split second, in front of two of #99’s former teammates I’m sharing the story, they intently listen and actively engage in the conversation.
I will never forget that five minutes, the young boy who grew up idolizing and imitating Wayne Gretzky for hours on end, shooting pucks and playing ball hockey in a dusty garage had the attention of two individuals who witnessed firsthand.
McSorley and Nicholls made eye contact and shared a smile, McSorley remembered one practice fondly while in LA.
A shooter tutor was placed in goal and at the end of practice during individual skills time, some of the boys were having a competition to see how many of them could pick the corners.
McSorley said “just then Wayne skated over, and asked if he could play, while everyone was shooting pucks on their forehand ringing shots of the posts and crossbars from the high slot, #99 used his backhand, it was no contest”.
Nicholls shared a wry smile and nodded in approval.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like to skate on the same ice with greatest for that many years.
The game of hockey has the ability to transcend and inevitably connect fans and players like no other sport. McSorley and Nicholls probably have a thousand stories, but in that moment in time they had the dignity and class to listen to mine.