Joey Moss brought laughter and levity to the Edmonton Oilers, says Wayne Gretzky
'He had an impact on our lives,' Gretzky said of his longtime friend and Oilers locker room attendant
Joey Moss was the heart of the Edmonton Oilers for generations, says his longtime friend Wayne Gretzky.
Moss, the beloved Oilers locker room attendant, died this week at the age of 57. Over this decades with the team, he also became a local celebrity, a disability rights activist, and an essential source of friendship and emotional support for the NHL players.
"In professional hockey, winning is everything. And you're on top of the mountain when you win. And when you lose, you're in the bottom of the valley," Gretzky told As It Happens host Carol Off.
"I think when people who came in that locker room just looked at him, [they] understood that life is not that tough right now, and we have this young man here that's telling us that everything is going to be OK. That goes a long way."
That comfort and levity Moss so generously heaped upon the players kept the team going in tough times, says former Oilers captain Andrew Ference.
"Joey's special power always was just kind of bringing everybody back to a different perspective of, yeah, you lost last night, but he was able to put a smile on your face the next morning. He was always there for you," Ference told Off.
"Once in a while he'd break out singing La Bamba or something to pick up the boys and give them a good laugh. His banter was unmatched, you know, if he wanted to get you [with] a good one-liner or something like that."
Ference remembers he would sometimes tease Moss about the "two or three breakfasts" the attendant would have delivered to the locker room to munch on while he washed uniforms and prepped hockey equipment.
"He'd just kind of give you the once over and ask you if you'd combed your hair with pork chop that morning or something," Ference said. "There is no comeback. You know, what can I do? You can't come back to that."
Heartbreaking to hear about Joey Moss passing away. He is the soul of the <a href="https://twitter.com/EdmontonOilers?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@EdmontonOilers</a>. I’ll remember him singing the anthem w/pride, getting fired up about wrestling and always asking if I combed my hair with a pork chop. 💔 My deepest condolences to the Moss family. <a href="https://t.co/Ssa0ZBcoSn">pic.twitter.com/Ssa0ZBcoSn</a>—@Ferknuckle
Moss, who had Down syndrome, got his start with the Oilers thanks to a friendship he formed with Gretzky in the '80s.
Gretzky had grown up with an aunt who had Down syndrome, and took an immediate shine to Moss. At the time, Moss had just finished school and was working at a bottle depot — but his real love was hockey.
"I felt like his love and passion for hockey would be a bonus and a plus to the Edmonton Oilers. And [general manager] Glen Sather was kind enough to allow him to start working in the locker room," Gretzky said.
Moss started with the Oilers during the 1984-85 season, and Gretzky and Moss went on to live together for several years while the Great One played for Edmonton.
It didn't take long for Moss to capture the hearts of other players, as well as people all over the city.
"People have sent me a lot of texts and faxes and phone calls over the last 24 hours about how much of a nice life [Moss] had because of the Oilers. But on the other side of it, he had an impact on our lives," Gretzky said.
"[Former Oilers player] Paul Coffey and I used to sit around and tease about it, that we're going to be long gone from Edmonton and Joey's still going to be here, is going to be a huge fixture in the city and the organization. And that's exactly what happened."
WATCH | Friends and colleagues share memories of Joey Moss:
Ference remembers the first time he met Moss as one of the highlights of his career. When he was a kid growing up in Edmonton, he knew of Moss as "Wayne's buddy."
"It's one of those 'Welcome to the NHL' moments, is the first time that you've probably got to see Joey Moss in Edmonton," he said. "And for a lot of guys, including myself, it was a big moment to meet a legend like him."
Moss's celebrity spread outward and members of opposing teams wanted to meet Moss, Ference said. Hockey fans would recognize him on the street and ask for a selfie or an autograph. He regularly appeared at fundraisers for Down syndrome organizations.
"There's been a lot of superstars that have come through here. He is by far, by far the most beloved Edmontonian. And that's not an exaggeration," Ference said.
"Any celebrity or any fame that he encountered was more deserving than probably anybody else that ever has received the same."
LISTEN | News of Moss's death 'tore my heart out' Andrew Ference says:
Moss was perhaps best known among fans for his jubilant, no-holds-barred renditions of O Canada at Oilers games. Ference said it was reflective of his zest for life and complete lack of self-consciousness.
"The guy sang his heart out, right?" he said.
"You think of what we can all learn from from Joey Moss. You know, belt it out. Sing like you mean it. You know, if there's a dance floor, get out there and dance. He was the first guy out there pulling off all the best moves and just really living life the right way."
According to Gretzky, his legacy will live on.
"He will be missed dearly, but he won't be forgotten," he said. "He was just a tremendous young man."
Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC Edmonton. Interviews with Wayne Gretzky and Andrew Ference produced by Katie Geleff.