Work in Sports
King of the ice
Gretzky officially welcomed into Hockey Hall of Fame
Posted: Tuesday November 23, 1999 09:15 AM
TORONTO (AP) -- Wayne Gretzky handled the ultimate tribute to his unparalleled hockey career -- induction in the Hall of Fame -- with the same boy-next-door humility that characterized his playing days.
In typical Gretzky fashion, The Great One tried to share the limelight with his two fellow inductees -- former referee Andy Van Hellemond and former referee-in-chief Scotty Morrison -- when they received their Hall of Fame blazers and rings at a ceremony Monday jammed with journalists.
Gretzky insisted that Morrison take the center seat at the interview table and called the honor of joining his co-inductees in the Hall "pretty special."
At the gala evening ceremony attended by family, friends and the National Hockey League hierarchy, Gretzky insisted the day belonged to Morrison and Van Hellemond as much it did to him.
But the loudest and longest cheers were for the player considered the best of all time, and Gretzky used his speech to thank all who made it possible.
"I felt so fortunate to be part of this game," he said. "I felt like a kid every day."
Such gestures have made Gretzky a national hero in Canada, honored and loved as the greatest to ever play the game.
When asked what made him the most dominant player of all time, Gretzky credited his teammates and a passion that drove him to always want more from himself.
"I felt like I'd never done enough. If I had three goals, I wanted five goals. If I had seven points, I wanted to get the eighth point."
Eight NHL teams play in southern U.S. cities formerly considered unsuitable for a winter game such as hockey, due in part to Gretzky's seven-plus years in Los Angeles and the popularity he helped spread.
In conjunction with Gretzky's induction, the Hall of Fame opened its largest single exhibit, a 2,300-square-foot collection of Gretzky memorabilia that includes the skates he wore in his final game on April 18, the net into which he scored his league-record 802nd goal and even his picture as a smiling youngster with idol Gordie Howe.
The Hall waived the normal three-year waiting period for the 10th time in honor of Gretzky and accredited 175 journalists for the ceremony.
Both Van Hellemond, who worked 19 straight Stanley Cup finals, and Morrison, credited with building the Hall of Fame into one of Canada's leading tourist attractions, joked they were now the answer to the trivia question of who was inducted with No. 99 in 1999.
Morrison acknowledged Gretzky's humble approach, telling how Gretzky rejected a plan to move the ceremony to a bigger venue because he wanted the same ceremony in the same place as those before him. That came as no surprise to one of the onlookers, Wayne's father, Walter.
"It's just nice to know that Wayne has turned out to be such a great individual," Walter Gretzky said. "His hockey achievements are one thing, but he's also a very fine person."
Thin and shifty with an unmatched ability to anticipate, Gretzky scored more goals (894) and had more assists (1,963) than anyone before him. His assists alone exceed the 1,850 total points of the No. 2 career scorer, Howe, who played past age 50.
When asked if the NHL should name a trophy for him, Gretzky deferred to his elders, as usual.
"Before anything needs to be done about Wayne Gretzky, we need to address people like Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr," he said. "I'm way down the totem pole on that one."
He called his first Stanley Cup win, with Edmonton in 1984, his greatest memory and losing in the finals as a Los Angeles King to Montreal in 1993 as the greatest regret. Traded to St. Louis in 1996, he signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers the next season, and his career ended on April 18 with a team that failed to make the playoffs.
Asked what his dream was now that his playing days were through, Gretzky gave a laugh and said: "That I can come back and play again, like I did when I was 20."