Wayne Gretzky is suiting up in the AHL for the first time in his career.
It was announced Tuesday that the Condorstown Outdoor Classic, the outdoor game which will feature the Bakersfield Condors hosting the Ontario Reign in sunny California on Jan. 7, will feature a celebrity-alumni outing the day prior, Jan. 6, with the game’s greatest star, Gretzky, facing off against a team headed up by fellow Hall of Famer, former teammate and current Kings president of business operations Luc Robitaille.
And while it may be called a celebrity-alumni game, the contest will be more of an alumni tilt featuring some Oilers greats against some Kings all-timers with a few notable names tossed into the mix.
"The success of the (California) NHL clubs has been very positive, but the (AHL) teams in cities like Bakersfield and Ontario have elevated the sport that much higher and made it even more popular," Gretzky said of the event. "It's great to see a city like Bakersfield with people who are excited about watching hockey and have gravitated to these players that one day will play in the (NHL).”
Robitaille said he hoped the game, which will be held at Bakersfield College's Memorial Stadium, could bring in a group of fans who previously had never seen or only taken in a game or two in their lives.
"They'll go see it (the Alumni Game and the Outdoor Classic) and it is a lot of fun to be part of it,” Robitaille said. “That's why we do this. To bring new people and give them an opportunity to enjoy the game that we love."
The game has more significance than simply being an alumni game, though. For Gretzky, there’s the distinct possibility this could be the final time he suits up in a game of this manner for a crowd of that size.
Back in October, at the Heritage Classic in Winnipeg, Gretzky said following the alumni game that it could very well be the final time he stepped on the ice in that capacity. Gretzky said he didn’t play anymore, not having a level of competition that satisfied or interested him, but said he loves the once a year he does get to play at his fantasy camp.
But less than a month after the outdoor game in Winnipeg, Gretzky had been confirmed for another outdoor game, this time suiting up with the St. Louis Blues as part of the alumni club that will take on the Chicago Blackhawks alumni ahead of the Winter Classic. And with the confirmation of him suiting up in Bakersfield, it seems there’s a real chance he could end up closing out his alumni game days in an AHL outing.
Though it would seem an odd way to go out, Gretzky has long been about giving back to the game. Helping get Californians excited about the AHL product would be a nice last hurrah, if that’s what the game ends up being.
Of course, there are other reasons why Gretzky might be calling it quits.
“It’s hard now when it’s just tough to tie up your laces,” Gretzky laughed following the Heritage Classic alumni game.
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