Saturday, February 11, 2012

Gretzky Fantasy Camp - Day 4

Gretzky Fantasy Camp - Day 4 - "I'll take Gretz"

This will go down as my greatest blog post ever, and a story that I will tell until the day that I die.

Today was the big day. We only had one game and it was the one we got to play with Wayne. I was excited all day about it. I stayed out late and had lots of fun last night with the other campers, but I crashed earlier than most because I didn't want to be hurting on the day I got to play hockey with Wayne Gretzky. 

The bus didn't leave until 1:45pm so we spent some time walking around the Bellagio. We went to check out the pool area and ran into some other campers and Mike Keenan. Dad and I talked to Mike for about 45 minutes. He is a really fascinating guy. It was so cool hearing his story. He played some university level hockey, and said he was pretty good, but not good enough to make it, so he became a high school teacher. He taught high school for years and loved it. At that time, he started coaching lacrosse and then I think he said he coached a women's swim team. He then moved on to hockey. It's a long story, but basically some opportunities came up and he was successful early on in each stage of his career. He won Memorial Cups, Calder Cups, and basically came through the ranks like players do. When he went to the NHL he made it to the finals in his first year. He told us his pay only increased by $5000 from coaching position at the University of Toronto to the Philadelphia Flyers. His story was really inspiring. He was also the nicest guy.  

Onto the game. I was one of the last guys on our team getting on the ice. When I stepped on, I looked around and there was Wayne skating around warming up. It was pretty cool to see, but not as cool as what was about to happen. Coach Cap Raedar (former assistant coach with Tampa Bay) yelled to me "Chiasson, your line is starting." I stayed on the ice after warm-up knowing that I was starting at left wing. I skated to centre ice and lined up. Gretzky then skates to centre to take the face off. I was in the starting line up with Wayne Gretzky! I said to the ref, "I've never been so %^&*ing jacked to play a game of hockey in my life." 

Surprisingly, I wasn't nervous playing with The Great One. I thought I would be, but I really wasn't. I was excited, but once the puck dropped, everyone was into the game. Even coming off the ice and sitting next to him on the bench felt really normal. That might sound crazy, but it's true. It felt that way all week with all the pros.
This is a blurry pic that one of the trainers on the bench took with his iPhone for me.
I played on his line for about the first 5 or 6 minutes. They shuffle the lines around so everyone gets a chance to play with him. About 5 minutes into the game, our team drew a penalty. The infraction wasn't on me so I skated towards the bench, but Gretzky says to me "You take the penalty shot." I should mention that the other teams goalie is Grant Fuhr. Wayne said, "Shoot low on him, his knees are shot." I picked up the puck and cut in from the left side and tried to bury it in bottom left hand corner. I didn't shoot it low enough. I shot it about 6 inches off the ice and he saved it with his pad. As I skated by the other team's bench, Jeremy Roenick was ribbing me for missing the shot. It was pretty funny.
Grant Fuhr and Me

JR and Me
Gretzky was moving around lines so it messed up our regular rotations. Coach Cap kept saying, "Know who you are taking off the ice." Our line was the next one up, so we looked at each other and one winger said "I'll take #77." The other winger said, "I'll take #14." I said "I'll take Gretz." After I said it, I looked to the guys and said, "Wow, there's something you don't say everyday."

The game was a pretty tight, back and forth game. I think we were tied 3-3 after the first period (there are two 25 minute periods). In the second period Wayne played defence. It was a little easier to get everyone ice time with Wayne playing defence. With about a minute and a half left, we were down by two goals. Coach Cap put a line together of me and two other guys for the last shift. We get out on the ice and then, IT happened. I picked the puck up around the red line with some good speed. Gretzky was slightly a head of me but wasn't moving as fast so I carried the puck across the blue line into the attacking zone. Gretzky followed me and I dropped the puck to him and bolted towards the net. Wayne dishes the puck to our left winger and he put it home. I had just assisted on a goal with Wayne Gretzky.  Unreal. No words to describe it. A minute later, the PA announcer said, "Team White goal scored by #93 Kevin Basler, assisted by #99 Wayne Gretzky, and #26 Adam Chiasson, Time of the goal, 19:52." I felt like some director should come out and say "SCENE."

The professional photographer got some amazing shots of all this. I won't get them for a few weeks. When I saw the photos he took, I literally froze out of excitement. Ill definitely post them when they arrive.

As cool as it was that I just lived a fantasy, the competitive side of all us kicked right back in. We were now down by a goal with 8 seconds left to go, so Cap called a time-out and we skated to the bench to come up with a plan. He kept our line out, and put Gretzky, Russ and Geoff Courtnall out to try and tie it up. Just before they dropped the puck, Gretzky says, "Put 15 seconds on the clock." The other team wasn't too pleased, but hey, he's Wayne Gretzky and the time keeper wasn't going to question him.

We got the puck in deep and had one chance, but the other team cleared the puck and scored an empty netter. We lost 7-5.

What a game. In all the excitement of the game, I left out that the pros on the other team were Brett Hull, Brian Leetch and Jeremy Roenick.
Brett Hull, Me and Brian Leetch
Wayne and Joey Moss
There were no official events planned in the evening. It's a night off for campers to do whatever they wanted. Some people went to see shows, others went for dinner, and others just hung out. The hospitality sweet was open for campers to stop in if they wanted. Dad and I didn't have anything planned so we went up to the suite and hung out with some other campers. Wayne was there and we struck up a conversation with him. He chatted to us for about 10 minutes. We talked about the camp and different hockey players. What really blew me away was how good of a memory he has. I mean it is ridiculous. The guy remembers hockey stats and information like no one else on earth. I said to him "Denis Savard is having more fun here than the campers." He laughed and said "You know what, I played against Denis when we were 12 years old." He said the name of the tournament and the city in Quebec it was in. He remembered it all like it happened yesterday. "We won the game 4-3. Denis had 3 goals and I had 3. The only reason we won is because we had a better goalie, Greg Stefan. He went on the play in the NHL." I immediately said to him "What number was Denis wearing?" Without missing a beat he said, "15." I said, "How the hell do you remember that?" He laughed and said "You know it's funny, my wife gets after me because I can remember hockey stuff from when I was 12, but i'll forget to pick up tomatoes on my way home."We asked him about different hockey players from Cape Breton and he knew all of them and had lots of stories about them. It was a really great chat with him and it was the icing on an already delicious cake. We talked for about 10 minutes. He totally made time for us and was engaged in the conversation. 

It might sound weird that talking with Gretzky for 10 minutes seemed cool and casual, but it really was. It was like talking to any other guy at the camp. He had a dinner reservation so he had to go, so he shook our hands and said goodbye. Dad and I grabbed another glass of wine and looked at each other and said, "That was pretty frigging cool."

Pretty frigging cool indeed.

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