It was a great night for the greatest hockey player ever.
That it happened in the town in which he became The Great One was, well, great."He played so well coming home, just a great game," Luc Robitaille said Tuesday after Wayne Gretzky's goal and two assists led the Campbell Conference to a 9-5 victory over the Wales Conference in the NHL All-Star Game. "This guy does it every time under pressure."
Robitaille is now Gretzky's teammate with the Los Angeles Kings, who acquired the league's second-leading all-time scorer in an offseason trade with the Edmonton Oilers.
For Gretzky, it was an emotional homecoming.
The normally quiet Northlands Coliseum crowd only came to its feet when Gretzky was introduced, when Gretzky's name was announced after he scored or assisted on goals and after he was selected the game's Most Valuable Player.
"I had (nine) great years here," Gretzky said. "The people here have always been first class to me. It was a thrill to be back here.
"I've never denied that I miss Edmonton. I've never denied that I miss my teammates. How can you not miss four (Stanley Cup) championships in five years? How can you not miss growing up together? Yeah, I missed it a lot."
Gretzky's value to the Kings transcends his incredible skills on the ice. He makes everybody around him play better, as was the case again Tuesday when the Campbell snapped a four-game losing streak.
Detroit's Steve Yzerman, whose goal with 2:39 left in the second period broke a 3-3 tie and gave the Campbell the lead for good, wasn't even on the ice with Gretzky. But he said The Great One inspired him.
"He's done so many things, he's dominated his own sport like nobody else ever has," said Yzerman, whose goal was followed 14 seconds later by Gary Leeman's score. "There's only one Babe Ruth. And there's only one Wayne Gretzky."
Gretzky's return lit a fire under former Edmonton teammates who hadn't had much success in All-Star competition.
Jari Kurri, scoreless in four previous outings, took Gretzky's pretty pass and scored 1:07 into the game, much to the delight of the sellout crowd of 17,503.
Mark Messier, who became Edmonton's captain after Gretzky left, got his first goal in six All-Star Games. Goalie Grant Fuhr was part of a winning All-Star team for the first time in six tries. Coach Glen Sather and defensemen Kevin Lowe had been winless in four.
Even Jimmy Carson, who went to Edmonton in the Gretzky trade, had a goal and an assist.