Winter Olympics 2002 Winter Olympics 2002


Great One goes off

Gretzky critical of rough play by Czech defensemen

Posted: Monday February 18, 2002 10:44 PM

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah -- Wayne Gretzky came to the front of the press interview room shortly after Canada and Czech Republic tied 3-3 Monday night and made the biggest play anyone has made for Team Canada in these Olympics. He started talking about Czech Republic defensemen Roman Hamrlik.

"He should be suspended for the rest of the tournament," said Gretzky, Team Canada’s general manager. "If one of our guys did what he did we’d be called hooligans. One of them does it it’s OK."

With that, Gretzky took the heat off his team and put in on himself. He gave all the headline writers up North who recycle the Woe Canada headlines something else to fit.

He was also right. Roman Hamrlik is a name that sounds like an amateur wrestling move. He had a lousy game against Canada which may have led to some frustration, which may explain why, with six seconds left in the game, he levied a brutal and highly illegal hammer lick on Theo Fleury, cross-checking him to the ice. Fleury crashed face down, and was very slow getting up.

Gretzky was also rightly incensed that Czech defenseman Martin Skoula had speared Fleury a few moments before the crosscheck.

Sure, a few minutes later Fleury was happily shaking hands with everyone on the post-game receiving line. But Skoula’s was a devilish dig and Hamrlik’s crosscheck a dangerous blow that is indeed worthy of suspension.

Gretzky wasn’t done. He sat in that pressroom with his lips pursed and expressions that volleyed between disgust and sarcasm and he spoke with a purpose. "No one wants us to win, except the guys in our room and our loyal fans," he said without humor.

Over the next 10 minutes Gretzky kept up like this. He claimed the high road for his players and said that, "We don’t detest other teams the way they detest us."

He called the reports that some Team Canada players are chafing under head coach Pat Quinn, "American propaganda."

He used the expression "that’s a crock of bull" a couple of times.

This was the Great One going out of his way to make news. He knows that when he speaks, people listen. He also knows that much of the world resents Canada because Canada is the favorite and their players have a swagger about them. He knows there are a lot of people, including hordes of self-defeating Canadians, waiting and half-expecting them to fail.

What Gretzky did was rally hard behind his boys. "We deserved a tie tonight at the worst," he said. "We out-skated them and we outplayed them."

Canada did play its best game against the Czechs, but so far in this tournament they are 1-1-1 with the only win a narrow 3-2 escape against the lowly-regarded Germans. Canada’s players have had to deflect a lot of negativity. Now Gretzky wants all the digging questions and all of the spotlight on him for the next two days. That way Canada can go into Wednesday’s semifinal against Finland with a few less distractions around them.

Near the end of his address, Gretzky returned to the Hamrlik play. He gave one of those mean-spirited smiles you don’t see him give too often. In the NHL, Hamrlik is an Islanders defenseman and Fleury is a Ranger forward. Gretzky was fairly licking his chops when he said. "The thing is there’s payback. I wouldn’t want to be in that Rangers-Islanders game next week."

With that Gretzky was done. He had made another headline.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Kostya Kennedy is in Utah covering the Olympics for the magazine and Check back regularly for more behind-the-scenes reports from Salt Lake City.

Related information
SI's Kennedy: Importance of final-round impressions
Czech Republic ties Canada 3-3 to take 2nd in Group C's Darren Eliot: Canada shows it still has hope
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