Wednesday, 30 November 2016

He Only Plays Outdoors Now

At the age of 55, you'd expect Wayne Gretzky to be settled into life as a retired hockey player. I'm sure he has other interests and passions that he'd like to pursue, but it seems he's trying to add one more record to the NHL record books this season. While no team has yet to lure him out of retirement, Wayne Gretzky appears to be looking to add the record of "most outdoor games played" to his illustrious career. He's already appeared in a few, including this season's Heritage Classic in Winnipeg, and he's signed up for a couple of more to put him in the running for this unofficial record!

As stated and shown in the picture above, Wayne donned the blue-and-orange as the Edmonton Oilers' alumni squared off against the Winnipeg Jets' alumni at Investors Group Field. For Wayne, his assessment of his game following the Saturday afternoon tilt was unexpected.

"I stink," Gretzky said, laughing. "I'm really bad."

While he certainly was having a little fun with reporters, seeing Wayne Gretzky on the ice again was magical. Yes, he looked a little older, but just seeing him skate up and down the ice was like sitting in the stands of the old Winnipeg Arena watching him decimate the Jets in the 1980s.

Gretzky also took part in another Heritage Classic alumni game when he wore the Oilers' colours in 2003 when the Oilers and Montreal Canadiens met in the first Heritage Classic in NHL history. That game saw Gretzky square off against Canadiens' legend Guy Lafleur at the middle of Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, and the hosts came away with a 2-0 victory.

This wasn't Wayne's first outdoor game as an NHLer, though. In 1991, the New York Rangers met the Los Angeles Kings at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. While it was somewhat unfathomable to think hockey could be played in the Nevada desert, the Rangers and Kings made a game of it as the Kings prevailed in the preseason contest by a 5-2 score.

Gretzky was also invited to the 2012 Winter Classic alumni game when the New York Rangers met the Philadelphia Flyers at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. Wayne opted out of this game, though, as he wanted to spend the holidays with his family as opposed to traveling across the country. It would have been neat to see Wayne Gretzky playing as part of the Rangers, but that was his choice not to play.

As mentioned above, Gretzky suited up for the Heritage Classic in Winnipeg, making that three outdoor appearances for The Great One. Now it appears he'll play two more games within a week of one another as he suits up in two different leagues!

On December 31, Wayne Gretzky will return to St. Louis - where he played all of 31 regular season and playoff games - as part of their alumni team as they take on the Chicago Blackhawks' alumni as part of the 2017 Winter Classic festivities at Busch Stadium. Wayne had a decent 18 games with the Blues as he put up eight goals and 13 assists in his 18 regular season games, and then added two goals and 14 assists in 13 playoff games in 1995-96. While I'm not too concerned with his inclusion on that roster as he played games for the Blues, the next game he will appear in is mostly promotional. Ok, ENTIRELY promotional.

On January 7, 2017, Wayne Gretzky will serve as one of the two captains of the Alumni-Celebrities teams being assembled for the AHL's Three-Way Chevrolet Condorstown Outdoor Classic presented by Mission Bank. In that AHL game, the Bakersfield Condors will host the Ontario Reign as the two AHL rivals look to light up the ice on a California night. Gretzky's alumni-celebrity team will square off against another alumni-celebrity team that will be captained by Luc Robitaille.

By my count, that's five outdoor games for the NHL's all-time leading scorer. Is there anyone within two games of Gretzky at this point? I'm talking alumni or active players as well. I'm not sure anyone is close right now.

I'm happy that Wayne Gretzky is coming back to the NHL. He was a big part of this game during his playing career, and he was missed by fans after the debacle in Phoenix that involved him. Much like Dave Keon in Toronto, his absence was noticeable when it came to big events, so getting him back into some of these great events for fans is good for everyone. And while it might be weird seeing him in a Condors uniform, his work promoting hockey in California is entirely why Bakersfield and Ontario have teams.

Wayne Gretzky is good for hockey.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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