The shock came Thursday night, when I accidentally ran into the press conference while flipping channels — Gretzky was going to retire.
I couldn’t help but think to myself: "Wow." That was about all I could think of — this was a man who had been a name brand since I was seven years old. I remember reading my Owl Magazine in 1979, reading about some young hotshot about to enter the NHL, to play for some team in Edmonton.
Two decades later, he left the NHL, taking his number with him — 99. Some say he was the greatest player who ever lived, some say he was the greatest player who will ever live. I say that when all’s said and done, Wayne Gretzky is The Great One.
I watched the official announcement on Friday at work (we have TVs all over the hallways, which are regularly tuned to TSN or SportsNet — used to be ESPN, but we don’t like them anymore). We discussed amongst ourselves just what this announcement really meant to the world, and to each other.
When Gretzky entered the league, it was a popular sport — mostly in Canada, and to a lesser degree, the States. Suddenly, this kid started tearing things apart. In a few short years, he brought the Oilers, previously thought of as some hick start-up, to victory in the Stanley Cup. Gretzky had made his mark — only he wouldn’t stop there.
He kept going, and making marks wherever he stepped. The name Gretzky is synonymous with hockey ... or perhaps, is hockey synonymous with Gretzky? Either way, both are changed for life. And Gretzky’s marks will probably never fade. The league is more likely to fade before The Great One’s legend.
He is a legend, you know. His name is spoken in hushed tones when he enters a room. Kids (especially those playing hockey) are left wide-eyed and wide-mouthed should they ever see him in public. And with his seemingly doubtful return to hockey (or so says his father), his feats will be exaggerated, his skill embellished, and perhaps even his name dropped, until we know only of "The Great One".
In the meantime, the NHL is in trouble. Like when the NBA lost Jordon, the NHL is without the best ambassador it had for decades. There is no-one to pick up the torch. Sure, Jagr and Kariya have both been listed as the two most likely to become the "next" Great One, but they can never come close to being like Gretzky.
Gretzky had presence. He had humility. He had patience. And above all else, he played for a team ... not for himself. There is no-one playing hockey with those qualities. Perhaps in a few years, Gretzky may start coaching — maybe then he’ll train someone properly. But until then, the NHL will remain boxing on ice, with no-one to show what skill can do for the game.
Saturday provided us relief from hockey, so that Allison and I could prepare ourselves for a later period in our lives. We babysitted (babysat? — aye, there’s the rub) for our friend, Kelly. And I mean baby — six months old.
This we did as a favour, not because we really wanted to babysit — we had a lot of other things we needed to do that day. But in the end, it served as good practice for me. (Although, thankfully, I didn’t have to change any diapers!)
Gemma and mother appeared at about 1pm. After some quick instructions and presentation of Gemma’s things, Kelly quickly ducked out the door, and left her pride and joy in our capable hands.
Okay, in Allison’s capable hands. Mine aren’t quite so capable.
As was demonstrated when I decided it was time for Gemma’s lunch. You’d figure that somewhere along the line, instinct would lead you to want to eat. Through all my psychology courses, they told us about how repeated action leads to learning — you eat a few times, you’d think you’d remember how to eat. But no: "That spoon is a foreign object, and you gotta be kidding me if you think I’m gonna eat any of that Pablum, pal!"
I got more of the Pablum on her face than in her mouth.
After a little while, Gemma suddenly figured out I was giving her food. Suddenly, she couldn’t get enough. I was fighting for control of the spoon, holding the plate in place, and desperately trying to shovel as much Pablum and liquified squash as Gemma’d take. Then Allison took over for a while. After a few minutes, Gemma stopped eating.
That afternoon, we realised why parents relish nap time — babies pass out, and stay that way for a few hours. We really noticed this when Gemma got up — she wasn’t too pleased about it.
Kelly arrived just after 5:30 to remove Gemma from the premises, along with Allison’s old computer (having agreed to buy it).
We were exhausted, and weren’t too keen on cleaning up so we could make dinner. So we went out to a nearby restaurant called (are you ready for this?) the "Seafood Shack".
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking — sounds really classy, doesn’t it?
We didn’t know what we were getting into, but with an Entertainment Book coupon (allowing for a 2 for 1 special), we thought it was worth a try. We were quite pleasantly surprised: The decor was decent (furnished in late IKEA), the service was outstanding (except for how long it took to get the bill), and the food was ... well, if you come to visit, we’ll take you there and let you judge for yourself.
Allison dined on blackened Louisiana catfish on linguini, and having sampled a few pieces, I can safely say that it was very tasty. I opted for the Seafood Risotto. This was a wonderful melange of clams and mussels (both in the shell), with scallops, shrimp, and a thick, flavourful tomato sauce. The presentation of both dishes was exquisite.
Sunday brought the day that most Canadians wish didn’t have to come — Wayne Gretzky’s last game. And for the blasphemy of all blasphemies, we didn’t watch the game. We had a good reason, though — we had to do all the errands we couldn’t do the day before (on account of having a baby temporarily disrupt our lives). But fear not — we did watch until the first commercial in the first period.
And for the record, I would like to state that I accurately predicted the NHL’s decision to unilaterally retire the number ’99’ from all teams. It actually brought a tear to my eye.
Gretzky is gone, and hockey will never be the same. I have found that I do want children, but not for a few years. I will now eat a lot more seafood than I would normally admit to. Maybe next time, I’ll be the one to change the diaper.