When talking about Wayne Gretzky and his early years in Edmonton, you just have to mention Dave Semenko as well. Although he didn’t have Gretzky’s talent, he was an important player for the Oilers, especially for Wayne Gretzky.
Semenko played with Edmonton before the NHL-WHA merger and actually scored the final goal in WHA history. After a trade with the North Stars, which also gave the Oilers a third-round pick, Semenko played with the Oilers in their first NHL season.
The Oilers just so happened to select Mark Messier, future Oilers superstar and Hockey Hall of Famer, with that third-round pick, so we can summarize it as a pretty good trade for the Oilers.
Semenko had only scored ten goals in 24 points in his last season in the WHA, but it wasn’t for the offensive attributes that the Oilers were so eager to acquire him. Semenko was a great enforcer, and the Oilers needed one to protect Wayne Gretzky.
Gretzky loved Semenko, and Semenko allowed Gretzky to be Gretzky on the ice without needing to worry about injuries or cheap shots. Semenko won two Stanley Cups with the Oilers in 1984 and 1985 but got traded to the Hartford Whalers in 1986.
The city of Edmonton, and the players in the Oilers during the early 80s, never stopped loving Semenko. And when he returned to Edmonton for his first game as a Whaler, something special happened.
”He came back for his first game, and as we’re playing the game, typical Oilers, we’re up 5-0 after halfway through the second period. There was black armbands all around the Coliseum with number 27 on them, because people loved him so much,” Wayne Gretzky said at the funeral of Semenko in 2017.
”Ge got a breakaway on Grant Fuhr halfway through the second period. And you would think we are all playing on the Hartford Whalers. Our whole bench stood up.
”And when he missed, our whole bench kind of threw our arms, and all of us were like, ’Oh my gosh, Fuhrsy, how could you do that?’”
When they returned to the locker room for second intermission, they asked Grant Fuhr why he had saved. And he had the most brilliant response.
”We get back to the locker room, and we’re all like, ’Grant, how could you not let him score?’ And he goes, ’Honestly, I opened my legs and he hit me in the pad.’”