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And Now for Something Wayne Gretzky


This morning I had the opportunity to participate in a question and answer session with Wayne Gretzky in the St. John’s Convention Centre. It was organized by Toronto-Dominion Bank and hosted by Frank McKenna, former Premier of New Brunswick/former Canadian ambassador to the US.

It’s a testament to Gretzky’s legacy that I, no hockey enthusiast, am proud to share a nationality with him and honoured to have shared a room with him today. Many who asked questions made hockey references that sailed over my head, but I found Gretzky’s answers accessible, and the stories he told about his career resonated with my own aspiration to become a published novelist. He said that practising his hockey skills every day never actually felt like practising–he enjoyed being on the ice and he enjoyed playing the game.

Even in the presence of greatness, however, I was unable to put from my mind the unrest that roils around the world. I was seated near a gentleman who works for a financial consulting firm, and before the talk I struck up a conversation with him.

Given his profession, I was interested in hearing his take on Occupy Wall Street, so I asked what he thought of the local protests at Harbourside Park. He said, “Didn’t they only get five or six people down there?”

I told him it’s my impression that the protests peaked at 150 people.

He replied that he thinks the protesters are wrong to target only financial institutions–that there are countless individual investors haphazardly investing in the stock market, and that their activities are causing just as many shockwaves in the market, if not more.

The Q&A session began, and our conversation was cut short. Frank McKenna asked Gretzky the first question, about fighting in hockey.

“You’re asking someone who never fought,” Gretzky said with a small grin, and the crowd chuckled. He went on to say he doesn’t feel he’s in a position to answer–that the presence of fighting in hockey will ultimately be determined by the most talented players in hockey, who have the most influence with coaches and fans.

One such promising player is Nova Scotia native Sidney Crosby, who some think has the potential to become the next Gretzky. Nine months ago Crosby suffered brain injury from checks he received during two consecutive games. His recovery has been promising, but he still hasn’t returned to the ice.

Judging by Gretzky’s abstinence from fighting, I’m inclined to think he doesn’t support it. Nevertheless, I think hockey and fighting are virtually inseparable at this point. I think that part of hockey’s appeal is the gladiatorial aspect: fans love to watch players duke it out. It’s a moneymaker, so it’s here to stay.

After the question about fighting, the conversation was concerned mostly with less serious topics: Gretzky’s childhood, his hockey triumphs, advice he had to give for young hockey players (several of whom were in attendance). One boy asked if Gretzky ever had a coach who benched him for scoring too many goals. Gretzky paused, and said, “No. That never happened.” The crowd chuckled.

I raised my hand to ask a question, and soon a TD representative brought me a mic. When my turn came, I said, “It’s often said that in troubled times, people turn to entertainment for comfort–books, movies, professional sports. Do you see the current financial crisis as a hindrance to the NHL, or do you think it’s a boon?”

Gretzky’s expression grew serious. He said that difficult times are never a plus, but if people can find solace in watching hockey, he sees that as a positive thing.

His answer–thoughtful and measured–didn’t surprise me. I hadn’t expected a cynical analysis of recent NHL profits. But for me, the world outside–outside that room, outside Canada, outside the NHL–was creeping back in. And the sort of cold, profit-driven calculations my question entailed are central to our global crisis. So I asked it.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Wayne Gretzky talk about his impressive career, but after steeping in Occupy Wall Street news and activities for a couple weeks, I couldn’t understand why the questions were concerned only with his experiences in the NHL. What about Gretzky’s current activities? His philanthropy? His thoughts on the crisis currently shaking the foundations of our society?

Toward the end of the Q&A session, Gretzky said that during his time playing hockey, he lived for the “pressure situations”–for instance, Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.

Lately, I’ve been getting the feeling that the human race is currently playing its Game 7.

In fact, I think we might be entering overtime.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. John Erickson permalink
    10/18/2011 9:13 PM

    Most of the problem is that, with someone so iconic to a particular field (hockey – no pun intended), you’re going to get an audience full of geeks of that field. Few people would think to ask Einstein his views on the Designated Hitter rule, as an example. (I know that statement is ALL screwed up – I am a sports-phobe, except for motorsports). I always enjoyed folk like you at the various sci-fi conventions I ran and/or attended, as your off-topic questions make such “dog and pony shows” more interesting.
    Though even a completely intolerable wise-acre as myself would avoid asking ANYONE except a physicist their views on string theory…….

    • 10/20/2011 10:39 PM

      Ha ha, nice non-pun.

      I was tempted to ask a question completely unrelated to hockey–like his views on the Occupy movement, or something. But I figured the question would seem slightly less out-of-left-field if I tied it to the sport in some way.

  2. 10/19/2011 1:03 AM

    I too, am steeped in all things #OWS. Last night I noticed 4 of the 10 trending topics on twitter had something to do with sports. It doesn’t make sense to me – people would rather escape reality than confront it. Why isn’t #OWS a trending topic?

    Good for you for asking the question. It feels good to be true to yourself in front of a large group, it is good to have a voice.

    All in all, I think Gretzky is a great guy. We all love him here in Edmonton! We have roads named after him, statues of him. I just wish that a great guy like him, who so many people respect, could say something in support of this movement. Game 7 indeed.

    • 10/20/2011 10:42 PM

      I think he’s a great guy as well. I can’t think of one black eye on his career. He’s an exceptionally talented hockey player who rose to fame without every fighting. Extremely honourable.

      As for OWS’ visibility, it’s a bit frustrating. I guess it’s a matter of individual interests, but it seems to meet that reinvigorating our democracy is in everyone’s interest!

  3. 10/19/2011 9:40 AM

    Cheer … congratulation on getting to ask a question – and a good one at that.

    In terms of fighting, both your point and his point are spot on. Yes, the leading players can make a difference if they choose to … but yes, the gladiator aspect does have a financial aspect.

    I appreciate his response to your question because I think that everyone has something that brings them peace – something that takes them away from their current situation. For much of the world it is soccer or another sporting endeavor of choice. To others it is religion or reading or a movie .. and the list can go on.

    • 10/20/2011 10:46 PM

      I wholeheartedly agree. I don’t object to escapism–I certainly have my own distractions that I guiltlessly indulge in. I guess I was trying to make the point that it’s important not to become immersed in a particular field to the detriment of everything else. Being an enthusiast is fine, blinding one’s self to what’s going on with society is dangerous, I think. After all, all hobbies rely on a functioning civilization.

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