Wayne Gretzky: Out of hockey but still swinging a big stick

TORONTO – Laying waste to a living room with a hockey stick for a commercial to promote his new video game brought back memories for Wayne Gretzky.

The Great One remembers doing it for real as a kid.

The commercial shows Gretzky, wearing a vintage Oilers jersey, watching hockey on TV and trashing an elegantly decorated room as he takes shots and even throws a shoulder check. A disapproving housemaid grabs the stick away from him, hands him the hockey mini-stick accessory for his Nintendo Wii game and pushes son Tristan into the picture.

Father and son are soon gaming—safely.

“I remember when I was kid, being in my living room and having a small stick and a puck and breaking mirrors and hitting the TV and my grandmother chasing me around the house, being six or seven years old,” Gretzky recalled with a laugh Thursday.

The 49-year-old Hall of Famer was entertaining the media at his Toronto restaurant to promote the video game, looking crisp and slim in an elegant suit but also a tad tired after an evening visit with wife Janet to the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York.

“NHL Slapshot,” EA Sports’ first NHL game for the Wii, offers gamers a chance to follow the Great One “from peewee to pro” in a new career mode.

But the game’s major attraction is its pint-sized accessory stick. The two Wii remotes fit into the stick, and gamers can work up a sweat taking shots or checking opponents using the stick.

While Gretzky has been involved with video games before, he acknowledges he is not exactly the world’s best gamer. But he likes the stick controller “which makes it a unique game, different than any normal video game.”

The Wii game is developed by EA Canada in Burnaby, B.C., which is celebrating its 20th year of hockey games with “NHL Slapshot” and “NHL 11,” available (without the stick) for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

Gretzky, whose five kids range in age from seven to 21, says there are no time limits to TV watching or video gaming in his household. The family theme is “moderation in life.”

“You can’t do 10 hours of schoolwork a day and you can’t do 10 hours of video (gaming) and you just can’t play football all day long,” he said.

“Our kids are pretty active, whether it’s my seven-year-old (Emma) who takes dance class like most seven-year-olds. She plays tennis here and there. And going to school. So we don’t really have to put any restrictions or guidelines on. Every now and then, they get up and enjoy playing video games.”

Despite his hockey pedigree, Gretzky says his kids usually turned to other sports when it came to video games. But he says the Wii hockey stick has won them over.

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“You get to play,” he said.

“There’s so many people I meet—obviously mostly in the (U.S) Southwest—who say ‘I love the game of hockey, but I can’t skate. I can’t play because I can’t skate.’ And that becomes an obstacle or a problem.

“Now my 10-year-old (Tristan), he has skated once in his life and yet he’s a great athlete. He plays field lacrosse, soccer, baseball, basketball, golf. . . . He really doesn’t know Wayne Gretzky as the athlete because I retired about the time he was born. This is an opportunity that’s kind of fun for me, to be a little bit braggy with him when we actually play (the game) and see what I actually did, when it shows things. Because he really doesn’t have the grasp of who I was as the athlete compared to what my two oldest boys and my oldest daughter understood because they grew up with me (playing).”

His kids don’t give him a hard time about hockey war stories, but Gretzky says there is a friendly Canada-U.S. dynamic.

“Because I’m always such a proud Canadian, there’s a lot of Team Canada jabbering going on, more than what I did as an individual which kind of makes the household kind of fun.”

Despite that cross-border rivalry, the Vancouver Olympics went smoothly when it came to hockey, he said.

“I think my kids were happy either way. They’re American. If the Americans won, they would obviously have been excited. But they also understood how much I wanted Canada to win, how much Canadians wanted Canada to win and the importance of the gold medal to Canadians and what it meant to us as a country.”

While Gretzky promotes his hockey video game, the former Phoenix Coyotes coach is currently a free agent of sorts in the game, watching the NHL gear up for another season from the sidelines.

He clearly misses it, but says he is enjoying life.

Asked which player he’d like to be in his video game, Gretzky replies: “I wish I was 30 and Wayne Gretzky and I could go back and play in the NHL.

“It’s the greatest game in the world and everything I have in my life is because of hockey,” he continued. “You know, everything happens for a reason in life and right now my cards are not for me to be in the game. I’m loving what I’m doing, I’m enjoying my life, I watch the game, I’m a huge fan.

“I think that our game gets better, gets more exciting every year. Our sport is growing in popularity worldwide. The kids, the athletes themselves are bigger and better than they’ve ever been.

“Maybe one day down the road, we’ll see what happens. But right now, I’m just enjoying myself.”