Gretzky nearly set to practice again Full-contact work 2-3 weeks away

December 17, 1992|By Lisa Dillman | Lisa Dillman,Los Angeles Times

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- Wayne Gretzky has progressed so quickly on his rehabilitation schedule that the Los Angeles Kings hope he can resume full-contact practice within the next two to three weeks.

If Gretzky doesn't suffer any setbacks, he could be back in the lineup in six to eight weeks, according to Kings coach Barry Melrose. Gretzky has been out of action since he suffered a herniated thoracic disk during training camp in September.

"We're very optimistic," Melrose said yesterday. "Late January or early February. That's what we're hoping for."

Gretzky, who skated for 30 to 40 minutes yesterday at the Kings' practice facility in Culver City, Calif., said, "The last month has been frustrating. I've been pain-free, so I feel like I can play. But I can't yet."

Gretzky and Tomas Sandstrom, who is sidelined because of a broken left forearm, skated under the direction of Kings assistant coach Cap Raeder before practice. Sandstrom could be back in the lineup for Tuesday's game at home against the Vancouver Canucks, Melrose said.

Out since Nov. 21, Sandstrom wasn't as optimistic, saying his prognosis hinged on a visit to the doctor on Monday for another X-ray.

"As you can see, he [Gretzky] is working very hard out there," Melrose said. "You have to work hard to keep up with Tomas Sandstrom."

How will Gretzky's return affect the Kings' new-found unity?

"If Wayne was selfish, it would be a problem," Melrose said. "But Wayne's not like that. The kids are dying to play with him. They don't even know what to say to him because they haven't been around him. He's not a bad person, so it's not going to be a problem."

Despite the seriousness of Gretzky's injury, he can see the possible benefits to his career in the long run, especially since he is so close to returning. His love of hockey has been rekindled.

"No question, people had all kinds of angles on this," Gretzky said. "People said, 'Don't worry, you've accomplished a lot -- four Stanley Cups.' In the back of your mind, you think, 'Good point.'

"But as time went on, I missed it more and more. You learn how much fun it is and how much I enjoy the game.

"It may have been something I needed. I put so many years in since I was 17. So many pressure situations. Maybe it was a way to give me a break for a few months and slow me down and throw me back into the lion's den."

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