Wayne Gretzky entered hockey's Hall of Fame with the same boy-next-door humility that characterized his playing days.
In typical Gretzky fashion, The Great One tried to share the limelight with his two fellow inductees former referee Andy Van Hellemond and former referee-in-chief Scotty Morrison when they received their Hall of Fame blazers and rings at a ceremony Monday jammed with journalists.
Gretzky insisted that Morrison take the center seat at the interview table and called the honor of joining his co-inductees in the Hall "pretty special."
Wayne Gretzky was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday.
Later, at a gala attended by family, friends and the National Hockey League hierarchy, Gretzky insisted the day belonged to Morrison and Van Hellemond as much it did to him.
But the loudest and longest cheers were for the player considered the best of all time, and Gretzky used his speech to thank all who made it possible.
"I felt so fortunate to be part of this game," he said. "I felt like a kid every day."
Such gestures have made Gretzky a national hero in Canada, honored and loved as the greatest to ever play the game.
When asked what made him the most dominant player of all time, Gretzky credited his teammates and a passion that drove him to always want more from himself.
"I felt like I'd never done enough. If I had three goals, I wanted five goals. If I had seven points, I wanted to get the eighth point," he said. "I kept going every night, played 80 games every year as hard as I could, whether it was Oct. 1 or April 1.
"Maybe that's why I was able to have the records that I did eventually get," said the holder of 61 NHL records whose trademark No. 99 was retired after his final game.
|Wayne Gretzky and wife Janet share a laugh during Hockey Hall of Fame induction gala.|
He longs for the camaraderie and competition left behind by retirement, but said his decision to stop playing is final.
"Nothing can replace hockey," he said. "I wish could still play and I miss it tremendously because it's a great game.
"But I said this before: I was going to retire one time, one time officially and I'm officially retired. I probably miss the game more than the game misses Wayne Gretzky."
His legacy is evident, on and off the ice. The NHL now features increasing numbers of swift-skating, highly skilled European players who prospered under the flowing, puck-control style played by Gretzky and his Edmonton Oiler teams of the 1980s that won four championships in five seasons.
Eight NHL teams play in southern U.S. cities formerly considered unsuitable for a winter game such as hockey, due in part to Gretzky's seven-plus years in Los Angeles and the popularity he helped spread.
In conjunction with Gretzky's induction, the Hall of Fame opened its largest single exhibit, a 2,300-square-foot collection of Gretzky memorabilia that includes the skates he wore in his final game on April 18, the net into which he scored his league-record 802nd goal and even his picture as a smiling youngster with idol Gordie Howe.
The Hall waived the normal three-year waiting period for the 10th time in honor of Gretzky and accredited 175 journalists for the ceremony.
Both Van Hellemond, who worked 19 straight Stanley Cup finals, and Morrison, credited with building the Hall of Fame into one of Canada's leading tourist attractions, joked they were now the answer to the trivia question of who was inducted with No. 99 in 1999.
Morrison acknowledged Gretzky's humble approach, telling how Gretzky rejected a plan to move the ceremony to a bigger venue because he wanted the same ceremony in the same place as those before him. That came as no surprise to one of the onlookers, Wayne's father, Walter.
"It's just nice to know that Wayne has turned out to be such a great individual," Walter Gretzky said. "His hockey achievements are one thing, but he's also a very fine person."
Thin and shifty with an unmatched ability to anticipate, Gretzky scored more goals (894) and had more assists (1,963) than anyone before him. His assists alone exceed the 1,850 total points of the No. 2 career scorer, Howe, who played past age 50.
When asked if the NHL should name a trophy for him, Gretzky deferred to his elders, as usual.
"Before anything needs to be done about Wayne Gretzky, we need to address people like Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr," he said. "I'm way down the totem pole on that one."
He called his first Stanley Cup win, with Edmonton in 1984, his greatest memory, and losing in the finals as a Los Angeles King to Montreal in 1993 as the greatest regret. Traded to St. Louis in 1996, he signed as a free-agent with the New York Rangers the next season, and his career ended on April 18 with a team that failed to make the playoffs.
Asked wat his dream was now that his playing days were through, Gretzky gave a laugh and said: "That I can come back and play again, like I did when I was 20."
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