Sports Hockey


Gretzky on NHL stars playing in Canadian markets: 'You’ve got to embrace it like Dougie did'

By Mike Zeisberger, Toronto Sun

TORONTO — In his role as the official ambassador for the NHL’s Centennial Season, Wayne Gretzky sat down for a one-on-one with Postmedia to discuss all things hockey. In the second of a four-part series entitled THE GREAT ONE & THE STATE OF THE GAME, Gretzky argues that there is no better place to play the sport than in a Canadian market, a privilege that should be embraced, not shunned.

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Even sheets of pelting rain could not dampen their spirits.

This past Sunday, hundreds of hockey fans gathered outside a Chapters in Barrie, Ont., braving the fickle — and, at times, soggy — fall weather changes, all for the cause of getting the chance to meet Wayne Gretzky and have the Great One sign his new book '99: Stories of the Game'.

Upon arriving at the venue, Gretzky admits he was “shocked” at the line of humanity that snaked its way outside the store.

“It just goes to show how much people love the game in Canada,” Gretzky said. “It looked like there were 1,400 people waiting there.”

For Gretzky, the hockey legend who grew up in Brantford, Ont. and solidified his star status with the Edmonton Oilers, the benefits of playing north of the border are priceless.

But not everyone covets playing in the fishbowl in a Canadian market.

During Postmedia’s six-part series entitled “No Canada”, published this spring, NHL GMs and agents confirmed that players more often than not have Canadian teams listed as part of their no-trade/no-movement clauses.

Because the sport is such a significant part of the country's cultural fabric, there is a penchant to shy away from the scrutiny that goes hand in hand with playing in places where one’s every move is in the public spotlight.

Last season, for example, Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf scored just three goals in the first four months of the season. Had Getzlaf been playing in Toronto or Edmonton, teammate Andrew Cogliano noted that “he wouldn’t have been able to leave his house” because of the criticism.

Fair enough. But in Gretzky’s estimation, such logic is flawed in that it simply is a case of looking at the glass half-empty instead of half-full.

Perhaps former Maple Leaf Doug Gilmour put the situation into perspective when he once noted: “If you treat the fans fairly and work your tail off in a Canadian market like Toronto, you’ll never have to buy another meal in that city.”

Gilmour was speaking in hypothetical terms. He’s still paid for his fair share of dinners in the Greater Toronto Area, although not without plenty of offers to pick up the tab.

His point: conduct yourself the right way, and there is no better place to be a pro hockey player than this country. And if you don’t believe that Hall of Famer, then take it from the one named Gretzky.

“As Dougie said, this is the greatest place to play — in Canada,” Gretzky explained. “If you just show effort, you’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel. People are going to embrace you forever.

“You’re right. It’s harder to play in places like Edmonton and Toronto and Montreal. But you’ve got to embrace it. And yeah, I know there’s a lot more coverage than there was in the 1960s and ‘70s and ‘80s. But (Jean) Beliveau, (Dave) Keon, (Mark) Messier, myself, we love playing in Canadian markets. You take on that responsibility and tackle it head on.

“People are sincere. Fans know each guy has an individual level of talent. They also know that every guy can work hard. There’s no limit what your work ethic can be.”

Gilmour is a prime example of Gretzky’s point. The way he is worshiped by Leafs fans, you would have thought he played the majority of his illustrious career in Toronto. Truth be told, he wore the blue-and-white for just five years.

“You’ve got to embrace it like Dougie did,” Gretzky said. “Look at the icons, so to speak, of the fans of Toronto. And I’ve spent a lot of time around Toronto over the years. The beloved guys are the hardest-working guys. Borje Salming. Wendel Clark. Tie Domi. Darryl Sittler. The thing they all had in common was that they worked hard.

“Yeah, they had some great nights and they had some great games. A guy like Dougie Gilmour, people knew they were the hardest-working guys out there. And that’s what embraced the loyalty of the fans more than anything.

“Sure, we all wish we were as talented as Bobby Orr or Jean Beliveau. But not everybody is. But you can work hard. And people in Canada, it’s generally a blue-collar country. That’s why my dad (Walter) is beloved in this country. They just want people, as they say, to put their work boots on and do whatever you do to the best of your ability.”

As for the fact that no teams from this country reached the NHL playoffs last spring — something that had not happened in 46 years — Gretzky feels Canadian markets are on the upswing, especially with the influx of young stars like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan in Calgary, Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine in Winnipeg, and Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner in Toronto.

“These kids are mature,” Gretzky said. “They are embracing playing in Canada.”

And in the opinion of the Great One, that’s reason for optimism here in the Great White North.


Work hard, treat fans right, and you’ll never have to shell out for another dinner.

That’s Hall of Famer Doug Gilmour’s theory when it comes to playing hockey in Toronto or any other Canadian market.

But, as Wayne Gretzky points out, it’s a mantra that doesn’t just hold true north of the border. Indeed, he uses the example of Mike Eruzione, whose winning goal for the USA versus the Soviets at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics was the foundation for the legendary Miracle on Ice.

“I always tell Mike Eruzione that he scored one goal in his life — one goal — and he’s America’s guest,” Gretzky chuckled. “He’s never paid for a meal since.

“I’m not sure it will ever get to that extent here (in Canada) but Mike’s had some fun.”