The Great One doesn’t get out to MTL too often.
The last time I saw him was during the 2004 World Cup, I was sitting up in the Molson Ex Zone of the Bell Centre while the Canadian team took on the USA. To the left of me an increasingly loud crowd roar was beginning to infiltrate my ear space. There were only 4 or 5 minutes left in the game and the Canadian team was up several goals and just waiting for it to end. I grew curious to what this roar was about. A fight in the crowd? Drunk guys dancing around? As I pondered and the noise grew louder I noticed a figure slowly walking through the arena’s high rise walkway that accesses the press boxes and hangs just about eye level to those nosebleed seats I was in. The noise became deafening and people around me stood up to their feet, the figure was getting closer and waving back at the crowd and then I realized, it was Wayne Gretzky.
The Great One himself! Just about 10 yards in front of us. I never in my life have seen a response like that to a man simply walking by a crowd of people. The whole section erupted with applause and noise, with each stride he took in the opposite direction the upper deck crowd did the wave rising to their feet until he vanished out of sight. Gretzky was smiling and waving back the fans the whole time, what a feeling it must be.
That was the closest I’ve ever been to Wayne Gretzky and needless to say, I don’t mind sitting in those cheap seats one bit.
Tonight Gretzky returns to the Bell Centre with his Phoenix Coyotes who are surprising a lot of folks with their game. I have to say when I think about it, I can’t be that surprised. After seeing the reaction Gretzky gets just walking by hockey fans, imagine his presence in the dressing room and behind the bench. Imagine being a young player surrounded by that hockey energy that follows Gretzky wherever he goes, 300 feet in the air included.
I’ll be at the game tonight, although in some better seats this time, I won’t be as close as the last. As for the game itself, it’s a wash up. The Canadiens are probably the most inconsistent team in the NHL at the moment. Phoenix is coming in with a winning streak and it’ll depend what team shows up tonight. Much of the Coyotes success is due to the play of none other than Curtis Joseph who many wrote off as being done for. CUJO is getting a lot of attention and is in the group of 6 goalies being considered for the Olympic team.
Another goalie in that group is home town boy Jo Jo Theodore. His play this year has been un-Olympic but If he picks any night to steal a game and show up, tonight might be the best one as Wayne Gretzky will be 90 feet away from him the whole time.