2000 All-Star Game
ALSO ON SLAM!
Monday, February 7, 2000
One more Great all-star moment
Gretzky shows fans why game is special
TORONTO -- On an afternoon of Barenaked Ladies, dancing mascots and even a little pond hockey, leave it to The Great One to make yesterday's NHL all-star game a Great Show.
In a yearly spectacle that's become so homogenized, the pre-game show sizzled.
After Gretzky's retired No. 99 was raised to the rafters of the Air Canada Centre, an emotionally supercharged video presentation was used to open ABC's television broadcast.
And it showcased all that was right about hockey.
The video, filmed for nearly five hours Friday north of Toronto on an Uxbridge pond, showed Gretzky along with Mario Lemieux and Gordie Howe passing the torch to Jaromir Jagr, Eric Lindros, Paul Kariya and Pavel Bure.
Gretzky and his pond hockey buddies sat around and swapped hockey stories, yet another special moment to add to the legacy of The Great One.
CHANGING OF GUARD
"I don't think it was just a commercial," said Bure, the all-star game's MVP with three goals. "It was something bigger, the changing of generations."
The Blues' Joel Quenneville, an assistant coach with the World team, said it was a tremendous moment in time.
"I was almost shivering," he said. "Wow! I nearly had a tear going down my cheek."
Gretzky must have gotten a warm, fuzzy feeling filming the video. The next day, he joined several friends, including Darren Pang, Barry Melrose and his agent Mike Barnett, for a game of shinny on Maple Leaf Gardens ice. It was Gretzky's first time on skates since his retirement last April.
"We weren't very good," said Gretzky, with a laugh.
The Great One says the state of hockey is just fine. He doesn't like suggestions of the NHL moving toward a full-time 4-on-4 format, but says that's an idea that could be wisely used in our minor hockey systems.
"One of the great things we have about the game is its tradition," he said. "Five on five is the way it's meant to be played. I'm a traditionalist. I like the history of the game.
"One thing we seem to have lost that the Jean Beliveaus and Bobby Orrs and the Gordie Howes of the world had is the creativity and imagination.
"That creativity was basically founded by the fact that they would go to ponds and skate for six, seven, eight hours a day, choose up sides and have two nets and no goalies and away you go.
"If you take 10 kids now and rent the ice and say: 'We are going to play a scrimmage,' the first thing every kid would say is: `What position do you want me to play?'
"We need to get back to the basics of having fun. I think that would go a long way in getting a lot of the imagination back into our game.
"Maybe they should go to 4-on-4 hockey with kids, certain leagues, certain ages. We just have to find a way to get some creativity and imagination back to those kids who are nine, 10 and 11.
"Quite frankly, we don't have a lot of kids that are coming up at the ages 16, 17, 18 that have this imagination that guys like Beliveau and Orr had. There's too much trapping going on in peewee and bantam hockey and I believe that is one of the things that we seriously have to look at to help our game."
And after Gretzky slid behind the curtain, returning to his seat for the final period of the game, there was time to reflect on more of his comments, when he answered critics of the all-star format.
"If you're expecting to come to this game and see Gordie Howe going down his wing and blind side or knock somebody down, that's not going to happen in this day and age," he said. "You can't look at it as Game 7. It is a fun game. It is a game where guys can come and show off their skills."
Nothing more, nothing less.
Pond hockey. Gretzky style.
Maybe we're searching too hard to fix our game.