Edmonton Oilers: Wayne Gretzky Discusses Changing Team

Oct 23, 2016; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Winnipeg Jets former captain Dale Hawerchuk and Edmonton Oilers former captain Wayne Gretzky do the puck drop with current captains Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) and Winnipeg Jets right wing Blake Wheeler (26) prior to the first period at the 2016 Heritage Classic ice hockey game at Investors Group Field. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 23, 2016; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Winnipeg Jets former captain Dale Hawerchuk and Edmonton Oilers former captain Wayne Gretzky do the puck drop with current captains Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) and Winnipeg Jets right wing Blake Wheeler (26) prior to the first period at the 2016 Heritage Classic ice hockey game at Investors Group Field. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports /
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Just like in the 1980s, the Edmonton Oilers legends treated fans to a high-scoring contest on Saturday afternoon in the 2016 Heritage Classic Alumni Game.

Unfortunately, the Oilers’ alumni came out on the losing end in their game against the Winnipeg Jets’ alumni, dropping a 6-5 decision.

For just the second time since he retired from the NHL in 1999, Wayne Gretzky played in an alumni game. The other was, of course, the original Heritage Classic alumni game in 2003 at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.

Gretzky was held without a point in the game, but it didn’t matter. As a lifelong Gretzky fans and one of the 31,317 fans in attendance at at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg for the alumni game, I can say it was an honour and a privilege to see the greatest hockey player who ever lived lace up his skates in a game for possibly the final time.

Gretzky was on The Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 in Edmonton yesterday to discuss the Heritage Classic, raising money for local charities, his new book 99: Stories of the Game and the future of the Oilers hockey club.

“We had a great weekend in Winnipeg,” Gretzky told Gregor. “It probably turned out to be a bigger and better event than anyone anticipated, and the sort of icing on the cake was the big win last night. When you can win a game outdoors in a visiting city, it’s a pretty special win.”

Gretzky basically lived at outdoors rinks growing up. His father, Walter Gretzky, famously built a rink in the family’s backyard when Wayne was six-years-old, and it was there that he developed the skills that would make him a hockey prodigy. Gretzky played an exhibition NHL game outdoors in 1991 as a member of the Los Angeles Kings against the New York Rangers at Caesars Palace, but wishes he would have had the chance to play in a game like the Heritage Classic during his career.

“First of all, it’s a lot of fun. And the energy level and the excitement. And not to compare it to the Grey Cup or the Super Bowl, but it’s kind of like that where people fly in from all over (Canada) and even the United States, because people want to experience not only the game, but the alumni game and everything that goes with it.

“So it becomes an event more than just a hockey game. And, you know, back we played (the NHL) just didn’t do something like this and thankfully the Oilers’ organization, as you guys know, was the first franchise to do a heritage game and an outdoor game. The people of Edmonton weathered that 40 below temperature and filled the arena for a long cold day.”

More from Oil On Whyte

With Gretzky as the on-ice leader, the Oilers won four Stanley Cups during his time in Edmonton. Today, however, Gretzky mentions that the Oilers legends’ biggest contributions to the community is felt off the ice.

“When [the Oilers alumni] get together it is really is a lot of fun. We tell great stories about the memories we had as teammates. We were best of friends, and consequently, we went on to some tremendous wins, but now we’re part of helping raise money for charities and people who are less fortunate.”

His new book 99: Stories of the Game celebrates the 99 years of the NHL and shares many interesting stories that Gretzky has learned over the years that many hockey fans wouldn’t know.

“This really isn’t a book about Wayne Gretzky, yet obviously with the great teams I played on and the great players I played with, the Canada Cups and the Olympic Games and all of that, obviously that has to be partly in the book. But the book is really more a celebration of the game itself.

“When I was a kid, like other kids, you dream about playing in the NHL, you dream about putting the same jersey on that Maurice Richard wore, or that Gordie Howe wore. And what was really interesting for me, being a kid and idolizing all these guys was that when I got to know them they were no different than I was. They had those same dreams, except their dreams were a little bit different because there was only a six team league and they didn’t watch Hockey Night in Canada on TV per se, they listened to it on radio.

“I wanted to pass on to kids that it’s good to have dreams and it’s good to have goals  because listen not everyone gets to make the National Hockey League. But if you do get to make it, it’s a privilege and an honour and it’s the greatest game in the world.”

Now, back in an official role with the Oilers’ organization for the first time since 1988, Gretzky is encouraged by the Oilers quick start to the season and hopes to see the Connor McDavid lead the Oilers to more glory days in the near future.

“It’s great to see the Oilers off to a nice start and the fans of Edmonton deserve it, and the players deserve it, so does that organization. It’s great to be around when everyone is on a nice high.”