Wayne Gretzky Returns To L.A. At Request Of NHL To Promote Dodger Stadium Game
Hockey HOFer Wayne Gretzky's appearance yesterday at a press conference promoting the Ducks-Kings Coors Light Stadium Series game "was significant beyond its basic promotional purposes, because it marked his return to the NHL family after deliberately stepping away for four years," according to Helene Elliott of the L.A. TIMES. Gretzky's "dispute with the league over money owed him" from the Coyotes' bankruptcy "was resolved last month." The doors to Dodger Stadium "should be held open wide for him." If not for his "record-setting feats with the Kings and his work in popularizing hockey in Southern California, the Kings would be a small blip on the radar and the Ducks and other NHL Sunbelt teams wouldn't exist." Kings President of Business Operations Luc Robitaille said, "We can't have this game without having Wayne. It's so important he's here." He added, "Wayne Gretzky is probably like our Babe Ruth and we need him around. He's the guy that had the most impact in this game. ... When he came to L.A., it changed the game in the United States forever." Gretzky said, "One of the things I used to always say is, it would be so cool to see our game played outdoors in L.A. at Dodger Stadium in 55-, 60-degree weather, people in shorts and T-shirts enjoying our great sport. So that dream is going to come true for a lot of people" (L.A. TIMES, 1/14).
GREAT EXPECTATIONS: The GLOBE & MAIL's Eric Duhatschek notes Gretzky attended the press conference "at the urging" of Robitaille, but also because "the NHL asked him to come in and help bang the publicity drums." Gretzky "hasn’t been seen in too many NHL arenas of late." Though he "would never characterize himself as estranged from the league, it is no coincidence fences are finally being mended now that the NHL has finally paid him what he was owed" as an unsecured creditor of the Coyotes. The league has "wanted to get its most iconic face more visible for some time now, and Monday was the perfect opportunity on two separate fronts" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/14). Gretzky said, "Everything I have in my life is because of the NHL, my friendships and the memories I have. It's just a wonderful sport. They called and asked if I would be a part of the day and help jump-start the game. I figured if I came down, I might be able to get on the ice in the next couple weeks." In California, Rich Hammond notes Gretzky's success in L.A. "not only bolstered the Kings, but inspired Disney and then-executive Michael Eisner to launch a bid for an NHL expansion team a couple years after Gretzky's arrival." Robitaille: "The Ducks wouldn't be in this league if it weren't for him. They should retire his jersey actually. It's the truth" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 1/14).
CALIFORNIA LOVE: The AP's Greg Beacham wrote the game "will be a landmark for hockey in the American Southwest, which has produced a handful of NHL players and dozens more prospects in the pipeline over the past quarter-century" (AP, 1/13). In L.A., Elliott Teaford writes it has been "a long trek from lightly attended games at the Forum before Gretzky's arrival in the summer of 1998, but Stanley Cup championship victories for the Ducks in 2007 and the Kings in 2012 certainly stoked the fires of young and old and led to the NHL placing an outdoor game in L.A." The league expects "all 55,000 seats to be filled at Dodger Stadium" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 1/14). Robitaille said that he called Dodgers President & CEO Stan Kasten "over the summer to test whether the Dodgers would be interested in hosting the game." Robitaille: "Stan said yes right away. He said it would be great fun. (Dodgers GM) Ned Colletti said if we have an alumni game, can I play? It's all been real easy. And it's been awesome for us and the game." Kasten said that the "prep work for the hockey game won't conflict with the ongoing renovation of Dodger Stadium" (MLB.com, 1/13).
SEASON OF CHANGE: In N.Y., Julian Garcia wrote it is time for the NHL to "make some low-tech but more dramatic changes -- such as shifting the schedule around -- that will help fans follow something even more important to the sport than that little frozen black disk: the games themselves." As "difficult as it is at times to keep track of where the puck is on the ice, it’s even harder to follow the sport when it’s continuously swallowed up by everything going on around it." The NHL has "a couple of really cool games coming up later this month when the Rangers play both the Devils and the Islanders at Yankee Stadium." But the problem is "how much attention will those games really get" when the Super Bowl "is happening just a few miles away only days later?" The NHL "does a bad job of giving itself its own window in which to play its most important games every year." The league opens its regular season "just as baseball’s playoffs are getting underway, only weeks before the NBA schedule begins and just as the NFL is kicking into high gear." The NHL season "should begin in the middle of summer -- in the days immediately following the NBA Finals -- and the league should crown its champion in the latest days of winter, sometime around the middle of March." Then the NHL would "have a chance to play its biggest games -- its semifinals and finals -- during a period of time that is now considered a dead zone for major sports" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/12).