YOU THINK YOU'VE HAD a rough week, what with the taxes and all. But things could be worse. You could be living in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. You could be living where winter is still lingering (36 degrees yesterday), where spring is at least another month off, where the oil market is still in its recessionary state, and, worse than all that put together, where hockey is already over for the season.
Edmonton is not in a good mood. If Bobby McFerrin showed up, they'd stone him. They're wondering where they can get a bulk rate on valium.The gravity of the situation is still setting in. It's only been since Sunday that the Edmonton Oilers were eliminated from the first round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs by none other than the Los Angeles Kings, who were led by none other than Wayne Gretzky, The Great One who got away.
As you'll perhaps recall, Gretzky, after leading Edmonton to four Stanley Cup titles in five years, was sold by Oilers Owner Peter Pocklington to the Kings last summer for $15 million. Pocklington thought it a brilliant strategic move at the time, figuring that he could bolster his bank account with the American dollars - equivalent to $18 million Canadian - and that even one with the skills of a Gretzky couldn't turn the always-pathetic Kings around in any kind of a time frame worth worrying about.
But wouldn't you know it. It only took Gretzky about six great months. And also wouldn't you know it, the Kings and Oilers met in the very first round of the playoffs. Gretzky knew his old teammates well enough to know that when they zigged, he should zag. He set up more goals than Dale Carnegie. In Sunday's decisive Game 7, he scored the first goal and the last goal. He didn't get mad or even, he got more than even.
Now, the people of Edmonton have to live with it. Or try to live with it. Moments after Sunday's game there were reports that Pocklington himself had jumped off the James MacDonald Bridge in downtown Edmonton. Closer inspection revealed that it wasn't actually Pocklington, but a dummy dressed up to look like the Oilers' owner.
"There's a large number of people here who think that would be the least he should do," said Rod Phillips, the Oilers' play-by-play announcer who is used to doing play-by-play until at least the end of May.
Pocklington, as you might guess, has not been seen in public since just before the third period of Sunday's game. He also owns the triple-A baseball team in Edmonton - the Trappers (no relation to Salt Lake) - but when they opened the season this week, he wasn't there. Apparently, he's going to let all this Gretzky furor die down. He is expected to emerge sometime early in the 21st century.
"Well, you know Canadians take their hockey quite seriously," said Phillips.
"It's really grim," added Mark Spector, a sports writer for the Edmonton Journal. "I mean, just about everybody in town has their radio set to 1260, that's the Oilers' station, eh? And so you turn on your car and you hear Calgary playing the Kings - and it hurts."
"Everyone was mad at Peter for selling Gretzky in the first place, but now this - losing to him in the playoffs. The spike has really been driven home, so to speak."
Taking the loss especially hard are the usual hangouts of hockey fans. For instance, at Bleachers Sports Grill & Lounge in downtown Edmonton, J.R. Lessard, the manager, said Wednesday that it's just not the same in front of the big-screen TV now that Gretzky's trying to win the Cup for somebody else's city.
"You've got a few French Canadians still cheering for Montreal," he said, "and that's about the size of it."
Lessard estimates that his establishment alone will net about $20,000 less this spring because of the early Oilers' exit from the playoffs. "The past five years," he said, "every night has been like Saturday night."
Now every night's like Monday night.
"But that's hockey," he added.
Meanwhile, at the Oilers' offices, they're trying to handle all the unaccustomed business of refunding money to those fans who bought playoff tickets all the way through the Stanley Cup finals.
As Tricia Kerr of the Oilers' P.R. office explained, "Mr. Pocklington is anxious to give the fans their money back as quickly as possible."
Just not in person, you understand.