Wayne Gretzky didn’t need a great deal of prompting to talk about the Kings-Ducks game on Jan. 25 at Dodger Stadium. He had plenty to say about playing outdoors and the about the growth of hockey in Southern California since his trade to the Kings from the Edmonton Oilers more than 25 years ago. Here’s some of what he had to say at an event Monday to promote the first NHL game outdoors:
“I don’t skate very much any more. I’ll probably come down with a couple of my kids and a couple of my buddies and probably sneak in(to Dodger Stadium and skate once the rink is set up). I’d love to.
“My first year I was in L.A., we were living in the Valley and we used to go by this set of tennis courts. I remember we were stopped at a light and I said to my wife, ‘You know, back home, kids would be playing in-line hockey or ball hockey on these tennis courts.’ We didn’t think much of it and two years later, I went by the same tennis courts and there was a sign that said, ‘No ball hockey allowed.’ So, I remember thinking, ‘Wow, we’ve come a long way.’
“I think that was most important in growing the sport because then parents would want to watch their kids play. Then they’ll want to go to NHL games and then it’ll get going.
“I remember I played in the alumni game (when the Oilers and Montreal Canadiens played in the first Heritage Classic outdoor game in Edmonton in 2003). I thought, ‘People don’t really want to see me play. I’m slow and I’m getting older.’ It was late, around the time I retired, I said, ‘OK, if I’m going to do one of these games, at least I wouldn’t embarrass myself too much.’ What made the game so special was Mark (Messier) was still playing and he came and played in the game. The practice the day before was the most exciting part because it was 30 or 40 below. I think a lot of the media thought we were going to skate for 10 minutes and get off because it was cold. But we had a regular practice and we skated for almost an hour. We did all the same drills we did when we played. We all jumped in the same lines in the same pairings when we were on the team. Same seats on the bus. Some guys don’t say a whole lot. Some guys talk too much. It didn’t really change.”