TORONTO – As he received yet another award honouring his career, Wayne Gretzky said he had no regrets about leaving hockey.
No, he isn't returning to the sport he conquered – not now, anyway. Instead, Gretzky was content to say he did all he could for the sport during his career.
He recounted his last game as a 10-year-old when his team was beat 8-1 that capped a season he scored 400 goals.
“On the car ride home my dad asked me if I was OK and I said, 'Yeah, I'm fine.' And he said, 'Well, you ruined your whole year ... people are going to come and watch you play. You have to play hard every night,”' said Gretzky.
After that, Gretzky said he tried to play hard whether he was in an exhibition game or in the Stanley Cup final.
“I had a lot of bad games like every other player, because you can't play well every single night. But I know I tried hard every game.”
The Great One was one of five people to receive the inaugural Order of Hockey In Canada on Monday for being an individual who made a significant impact on the sport in the country.
Gretzky was joined by Cassie Campbell-Pascall, who captained Canada's women's team to a pair of Olympic gold medals.
Campbell-Pascall said the award showed “a tremendous amount of legitimacy and respect for our sport of female hockey.”
Gord Renwick, who helped establish what is now known as Hockey Canada and spent two decades as a board member with the International Ice Hockey Federation, was also honoured.
Hockey legends Jean Béliveau and Gordie Howe were also given the award, although neither was present.
Gretzky, Campbell-Pascall and Renwick were surrounded on stage by members of Canada's under-18 women's team and the senior women's team. Both teams were awarded rings for capturing gold at the world championships.
Future classes will include just three people honoured annually for the award, which is voted on by a 12-member selection committee.
“For us to be the first ones, it's a great honour,” said Gretzky. “Everyone's tickled to be here and be part of this. This is a wonderful night for all of us.”
Gretzky retired from the NHL in 1999 after a long career that included four Stanley Cups and later an Olympic gold medal as executive director of Canada's men's team at the 2002 Winter Games.
But he was still thrilled to share his latest award with Béliveau and Howe, two of his childhood heroes.
Gretzky said he was home Sunday visiting his father when he found one of the few pictures he has of meeting Béliveau.
“So I brought it up to show my son and I think my dad thought somebody was stealing it. He immediately took it back downstairs and put it back,” said Gretzky.
As for Howe, the player who Gretzky said is still his idol made an early impression when he was 17 and the Edmonton Oilers were playing the New England Whalers.
Gretzky remembered Whalers coach Harry Neale being asked by a trainer about what to do about a pair of skates.
“(Neale) said, ‘Those are Gordie's skates. If I don't hide them, he won't take a day off.’ And I remember thinking at 17 years old, wow, he's 48 years old and he's still the same player and the same person he was.”
Gretzky's playing days are over, and, following his tenure as head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, he said a return to hockey “isn't in the cards.”
But that doesn't mean it won't happen in the future.
“Everything I have in my life is because of hockey and everything I have in my life is because of the National Hockey League,” he said. “Simply as that. It's the greatest game in the world.”