Humbly, Gretzky enshrined in Hall

He downplays his impact, ponders life after NHL

November 23, 1999|By BOSTON GLOBE

TORONTO -- Looking trim, fit, and rested, Wayne Gretzky blushingly accepted hockey's greatest honor here yesterday, pulling on the Hockey Hall of Fame's dark blue blazer and slipping one more sparkling ring of distinction onto his finger.

"I'm not sure of my next dream," said the 38-year-old icon, who grew up in Brantford, Ontario, merely an hour's drive from the august, mahogany-paneled hall.

"I spent 26 years of my life dreaming that I'd be a part of -- and then staying in -- the National Hockey League. I want to be clear-minded about [what's next], and right now I'm not exactly sure what that will be."

More than 30 years after playing in his first game, Gretzky, who was inducted along with Ian "Scotty" Morrisson (builder) and referee Andy vanHellemond, appeared comfortable and content during the ceremony before some 200 media members.

The Gretzky trademark humility, as telltale as his No. 99 and his perfectly executed passes, remained predictably intact.

For instance, Gretzky on:

How he changed the game: "I don't think any one person is going to be bigger than the game. I don't think any one person can drastically make changes in the game. It's a great game, and it will continue to flourish."

Whether he'd like to see a trophy named in his honor: "One of the special aspects of the league is its collection of trophies, like the Stanley Cup, the Art Ross Trophy, the Hart Trophy. It's something our league has that a lot of other leagues don't have. I played in the '80s and '90s. I think before anything is done for Wayne Gretzky, something has to be done for players like Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr. I'm way down the totem pole in that regard."

In other words, if anyone showed up expecting Gretzky once and for all to exhort a well-deserved, "Yahoo! Check this out, man, I did it!" then they haven't been paying attention for the past two decades.

Gretzky was appropriately glassy-eyed when he stood to pull on the Hall's blue jacket. More telling, his face turned a deep red. There are those who can fake a tear or two, but even those who have won as many Oscars as Gretzky has won Stanleys (four) cannot on cue turn the hue of that line that runs across the middle of the ice.

The Great One was clearly touched.

"I used to come to the Hall of Fame when it was at Exhibition Place," he recalled. "I used to come for hours and look at the old pictures -- I loved to look at those, along with the old sweaters and old sticks.

"The Hall of Fame didn't have interactive exhibits then. You came to the Hall and you read, you looked, you absorbed, and, yeah, you dreamed of being in the NHL. But I don't think any of us thought we were good enough to be in the Hall of Fame."

Above the Gretzky display, a wonderful videotape plays over and over, spiced by remarks from Gretzky and his father. For the record, the backyard rink in Brantford wasn't put up for the purpose of turning Wayne into a hockey wonder. It was, said Walter, simply a response to standing around cold rinks while his son played.

"That way, I could stay in the house and keep warm," said Walter. "It was self-preservation, and that's the honest truth."

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