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February 27, 1996: The day 'The Great One' came to town

24 years ago Thursday, hockey's greatest player was traded to the Blues. 1996 didn't end in a championship, but it did help Wayne Gretzky fall in love with St. Louis

ST. LOUIS — Wayne Gretzky might have only played 31 total games (including playoffs) for the St. Louis Blues, but it really does seem like he won about three of his Stanley Cup's here.

Gretzky is as beloved among the Blues fan base as anyone, and 24 years ago on Thursday, he officially became a Blue.

On February 27, 1996, the Blues sent Craig Johnson, Patrice Tardif, Roman Vopat, a 1997 first-round draft pick and a 1996 fifth-round draft pick to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for hockey's all-time leading scorer.

5 On Your Side sports director Frank Cusumano was sent out to LA to cover the press conference, and remembers the day like it was yesterday.

"We're interviewing him live on the newscast one-on-one and during the interview I'm trying to get words out and I just kept thinking 'I'm talking to Wayne Gretzky, I'm talking to Wayne Gretzky'," Cusumano said.

Wayne Gretzky is all smiles as he is mobbed by reporters prior to his news conference in Los Angeles, Feb. 27, 1996 where he announced that he has been traded to the St. Louis Blues. Gretzky said, “I am emotionally drained.” Gretzky, the hockey great who failed to win a Stanley Cup in Los Angeles, was traded to the St. Louis Blues ending weeks of rumors and speculation about his future. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

The pandemonium only increased from there as Gretzky headed to Vancouver to meet up with his new Blues teammates on the road.

Cusumano remembers there were nearly a thousand people waiting outside the practice rink in Vancouver just trying to get a peek at the superstar and it seemed like, "We were interviewing him like every 18 hours," Cusumano said.

Gretzky eventually came back to St. Louis with the team, and the fans were ready for him.

Credit: AP

Gretzky scored eight goals and tallied 13 assists in 18 regular-season games with the Blues in 1996, and had 16 points in 13 playoff games. The Blues eventually fell to the Red Wings in the conference semi-finals, and thus ended Gretzky's time in St. Louis.

'The Great One' is no doubt still revered in St. Louis, though. You'll see lots of "Gretzky 99" sweaters in the crowd at any given Blues game, and he gets some of the loudest ovations of anyone when he shows up at a game.

RELATED: Wayne Gretzky isn't shy about his love for St. Louis

Gretzky is also pretty fond of St. Louis himself, as he shared with us during an interview before the 2020 NHL All-Star Game in St. Louis.

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