Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gretzky Is an Exorcist for Evil Spirits at Kiel

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gretzky Is an Exorcist for Evil Spirits at Kiel

Article excerpt

Those who saw it never will forget it, this vision of Wayne Gretzky, wearing the No. 99, standing at attention on the blue line, being formally introduced to the home crowd for the first time.

The Blues lineup was announced to the house, one by one, saving the guest of honor for last. Then, at 7:37 p.m., it was Gretzky's turn. Hey, it was OUR turn, too. All of St. Louis paused to take a deep breath and exhale.

The noise. . . .

The applause. . . .

The affection. . . .

Coming down to him from every corner of the arena. A powerful, poignant welcome. "It gave me goose bumps," Blues winger Shayne Corson said.

The ovation lasted about 99 seconds. Then organist Tom Docter began playing "Meet Me in St. Louis." Gretzky rocked gently on his skates. Clearly touched, he smiled, then bit his lip. It was his party, and he could cry if he wanted to.

"I was thrilled to be here," an exhausted Gretzky said later. "It was a great honor to be out there. I was tingling. I think I'm more happy to be here than the fans are to have me."

Look around, Wayne; you're not in Los Angeles. Here, the people will give you their hearts, and Gretzky felt that when a Blues-record crowd of 20,725 reached out to embrace him.

Really, this was one of the most wonderful, memorable moments in St. Louis sports history. Gretzky in The Note. Frame that picture in your mind. This was big. This may have been the most exciting night - ever - for this sincere but struggling franchise. One man is here to try and change that, and the town is up to his level.

What choice is there?

"In our sport," Corson said, "understand that Gretzky is god."

And on Tuesday, the king of ex-Kings reported to work in the rink at 14th and Clark, and transformed Kiel Center. The boring atmosphere: gone. The snarling at coach Mike Keenan: forgotten. The hostility that had infected this new building: vanished.

"Tonight, it was almost like the Blues were back playing in the old Arena," Corson said.

With Gretzky standing there, gazing into the rafters, about to play the Florida Panthers, it was as if the contaminated, perfumed air inside Kiel Center had been sucked out and released into the ozone. …

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