Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Gretzky Fantasy Camp - Day 1

Gretzky Fantasy Camp - Day 1 - "You'll Never Forget Your First"

Every year in Las Vegas, Wayne Gretzky has his "Fantasy Camp." I've been talking about going to this for years. Last year, as a gift to myself for my 30th birthday, I decided that I was going to stop talking about it and finally go. I registered, but due to an untimely illness I had to postpone the event until this year.

Yesterday, after years of anticipation, the day finally arrived. My dad and I arrived in Las Vegas to attend the camp. The basic idea of the camp is to give regular people the chance to live the dream of playing in the NHL. They make 4 teams of players and form a tournament and you play for the Gretzky Cup. Wayne plays on your team for 1 game. It's not just Wayne though, he brings a bunch of his buddies too. This year he brought: Brett Hull, Jeremy Roenick, Denis Savard, Rick Tocchet, Curtis Joseph, Brian Leetch, Marty McSorley, Russ Courtnall, Geoff Courtnall, Grant Furh, Bobby Hull, Guy Carbonneau and Eddie Mio. 

When we arrived at the Bellagio, we checked into our room and then went to register for the camp. We were greeted by some super friendly people who made us feel very welcomed. It was clear right from the start that Wayne has the right people working for him. 

We were guided into a room that was any hockey players dream come true. It was full of brand new professional hockey gear that was waiting for us. This was also the first Gretzky sighting (more on that later). We were told to only bring our skates and anything we would wear under our gear as they would provide everything else for us. They weren't kidding. 

Sticks (these are killer top notch pro sticks)
They gave us pro quality gloves, pants, helmet, stick, socks, was insane. This year the campers are dressing up as the Chicago Blackhawks, so all the gear is in their colours. After being here for only a few minutes it was pretty clear how the week was going to unfold. From the way the staff treated us, to the quality of the gear and other swag that we received, it was obvious that this is a first class event with no expense spared.

My stick

Sparky's 1984 Cup Ring. He told me he wears that one
"Cause you'll never forget your first."
That night, there was an opening reception wine tasting event. Gretzky owns a vineyard in the Niagra region called 99 Estates. It's pretty good wine too. This was when we got to meet all the other campers and NHL'ers for the first time. Most of the campers are Canadian. We met people from every province (except PEI). I think I'm the only Nova Scotian. We met a few Americans as well. We had some great chats with some of the people on Gretzky's staff. They are mostly younger people who are very friendly and outgoing. We also got to chat to all of the NHL'ers. We talked at length with Curtis Joseph and Guy Carbonneau. Both these guys were are cool as they come. All of the pro's were so friendly and surprisingly candid. They were telling us stories and talking about other hockey players in a way that I would have never expected. I can't say enough about how cool it was to hear these stories from these guys. It was the highlight of the night for me. Some of the stories were so candid that I wouldn't dare write them on this blog. 

I've met many NHL players before in the past, but never in this kind of atmosphere. Yes, they are exceptional athletes who are very well paid, but at the end of the day they are just regular guys who like the same things everyone else does. 

This guy was hand rolling cigars for anyone who wanted one
A quick story about Wayne. After Wayne officially welcomed everyone to the camp I found myself outside with a small group of people and him chatting. He was answering all kinds of hockey questions we were asking him. One of the guys who was about 35 or so, was just meeting Wayne for the first time and he started to cry. The group consisted of me, dad, this guy and his friends.  His friends wanted him to get his picture with Wayne but the guy said he wouldn't until he stopped crying. Wayne was happy to pose for pictures with everyone, and kept inviting the guy to get a picture with him. Eventually a few minutes later Wayne just walked over to the guy and put his arm around him and they both smiled for the camera. It was really cool to see Wayne handle that situation. He made the guy feel totally relaxed. 

I first met Wayne when I was 14. I literally couldn't speak a word. I had 2 hockey cards for him to sign. I just handed them to him, he signed them and gave them back. My uncle took a picture of us and that was it. This time around, it was different. I knew I was going to meet him here, and shaking his hand for the first time I found myself a little star struck, but after a few minutes of chatting, it went away. He (and all the NHL'ers here) have a way of making everyone feel relaxed and welcomed. Just another sign that I'm in store for a truly amazing week.

At the end of the night I felt like if the event ended right then and there, I could go home 110% satisfied, and I hadn't even stepped on the ice yet. I spent the last part of the night having a great chat with a new friend named Brad (who turns out I know his cousins very well). Brad has been to the camp many times and told me "You just wait, this is just the tip of the iceberg." I told him I'd take his word for it. I can't wait. Bring it on. 
Me and Curtis Joseph, super cool guy
Me with Sparky and Joey Moss. Wayne brings in the old Oilers training and medical staff and they look after our EVERY need. They really make us feel like NHL players.
Me with Walter. A really funny guy. Tons of one liners.
Me with Guy Carbonneau. Really nice guy.
Dad with Grant Fuhr.
Dad watching the water fountain show at the Bellagio

CuJo and Grant Fuhr
Dad, Wayne and Me. We are kind of laughing in the pic because of something Wayne said just before the pic was taken. You'll have to ask me in person if you want to know what it is.

1 comment:

  1. Hey just found out about the whole fantasy camp thing. Really cool! Like your blog too, I'll be checking in often!


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