Sunday, June 24, 2012

Gretzky Camp - Summary (5 months later)

It's not everyday you are in the starting line up with The Great One.

I'll start this post with a quote that I came across recently. 

"You know all those things you've talked about doing? You should go and do them."

It's been 5 months since I returned from the Wayne Gretzky Fantasy Camp in Las Vegas. While my girlfriend tells me that I am still, "On cloud 99," I'll confess that I've come down off quite a high. I probably only talk about the experience 6 days a week now instead of 7.

I had talked about attending this camp for at least 5 years before I actually decided to go. A funny thing happened today that reopened the floodgates of memories of how awesome the experience really was. I finally ordered the photos from the official photographer, but I also got an email from my mom. It was a weird coincidence that I got this email on the same day that the pictures came.

Every Canadian kid who was born in the 80's wanted to be Wayne Gretzky. There were many great hockey players, but there was something different about him. He was on a whole different level and transcended the game. Every kid who ever held a hockey stick dreamed of being Wayne Gretzky and scoring the game winning goal in overtime of Game 7.

Growing up, we were the quintessential Canadian family, complete with the backyard rink in the winter time that all the neighbourhood kids skated on. I scored thousands of goals on that backyard rink as Wayne Gretzky.

My mom recently came across a drawing that I did in school when I was 7 years old. She scanned it and emailed it to me. When I saw it, I couldn't stop laughing. It made me realize that this experience wasn't something I wanted to do for 5 years, it was a lifelong dream.

I spelled Gretzky right, but Wayne wrong.

The goal of the camp is to give regular guys a chance to live the dream of what it is like to play in the NHL. On the very last day of the camp, we took our hockey gear from the rink back to the hotel with us. As we walked through the Bellagio dressed in the clothes from the camp carrying hockey bags over our shoulders, my dad overheard a conversation by two ladies. "I wonder what team they are? They look like professionals!"

To the average person we actually looked like professional hockey players. Mission accomplished.

Me celebrating after scoring a goal.

I've been asked a lot of different questions from people about the camp, but the three most common questions were: What were the players like? Would you go back to the camp next year? What was Wayne like? 

What were the players like?

To summarize, the players are normal people. Granted, they are wealthy athletes who live very different lifestyles than 99.99% of the rest of the world, but at the end of the day they are human beings who have families and friends, as well as highs and lows in their own lives like the rest of the world does.

All of the pros seemed to have a few things in common. They were all very approachable and friendly. They liked meeting new people, and loved to talk (debate) about hockey. I don't think it's an accident that the pros who come to the camp fit this mould. Everyone associated with the camp was like that - from the people who worked for Wayne and ran the camp, to the photographer. They treated the campers like royalty and made us feel part of the team. They were also extremely candid with us and didn't appear to have any kind of guard up.

Denis Savard might be the happiest guy I ever met in my life. I never seen him not smiling the whole week.

No one in the world likes meeting people as much as Walter Gretzky does. Most men half his age would love to have half of his energy. I'm confident in saying that he probably signs just as many autographs as Wayne does.

Bobby Hull is hilarious and one of the best story tellers I ever met.
Dad and Bobby Hull
Brett Hull is a great guy who loves to have a good time, and is a pretty good singer too.

Guy Carbonneau is a true gentleman.

Maybe as a coach Mike Keenan deserved the name "Iron Mike," but certainly not as a person. He was as nice of a guy as they come. He's the kind of guy who you'd love to go have a beer with. There were so many highlights from the week, but hearing his stories about the '87 Canada Cup are right up there amongst the best.

Brian Leetch is one of the nicest, most laid back guys you will ever meet.

While walking through the casino to catch the bus to the rink I noticed Jeremy Roenick playing roulette. I walked over to the table and saw that it had just hit number 27. I looked him at him and said "I bet you just won didn't you?" He smiled and winked at me and said "I like that number." JR is cool.

Jeremy Roenick sticking up for his goalie while I went after a loose puck.

Curtis Joseph was really funny and engaging.

Shaking hands with CuJo after the game.
On the flight home, Dad asked me, "If you had to pick one guy who was the nicest of them all, who would it be?" I told him, "That's really tough, you could put all the names in a hat and just pick one, but Marty McSorley's name should be in there twice." Marty is the kind of guy that all the guys there want to hang out with. I showed him a picture of me and him when I was 14. He was floored. He got a real kick out of it. 

He also knows his hockey really well. I wouldn't be surprised to see him coaching someday. He's very funny, but honest and sincere. When he shook my hand and looked me right in the eye and said, "It was a real pleasure meeting you this week," I really felt like he meant it. On the last night at the closing banquet when everyone was signing autographs, next to Wayne, the line up for Marty was the longest.

Playing against Wayne was fun too. During the game, sometimes you forget that you are playing against him, but every now and again you see him on the ice and realize how cool it is to be skating with #99. That's me with the puck, and to the left of Wayne is the actor, Alan Thicke.
Would I go back to the camp?

I decided to keep a daily blog of the camp while I was there so my family and friends could follow along with me. The blog turned out to be beneficial for another reason. It reassured me that the camp actually did happen and that the whole thing wasn't one big crazy dream. For months after returning, I would read through the blog entries every night and re-live the experience.

Part of me thinks that the camp was so much fun and such a surreal experience that I should just leave it at that - a once in a lifetime event that I will talk about until I die. I think that way for about 3 seconds and then I snap back to my oldself and think, "I would beg, borrow and steal to get back there." Gretzky knows how to throw one hell of a party. Everything about it was first class. I would go back in a heartbeat.

Hanging out with the pros was awesome, but I also met lots of great people from all over Canada and the US that I still keep in touch with. This was a great added bonus to the experience.
This is my favourite picture from the whole week. I tell everyone that when I die and they put your picture in the newspaper with your obituary, this is the picture that they'll put of me. I wish I could remember what he said to me. It was taken right before me and him set up Kevin (left) for a goal. I'd like to think he said something like this, "OK, you pick up the puck at centre ice, skate it in across the blue line and drop it me. I'll pass it off to Kevin and he'll put it home." Which is exactly what happened.
This was taken after we scored the goal. I love this picture. It captured how genuinely excited all 3 of us were. It made the score 6-5 and brought us within one goal with 8 seconds left. We had a chance. 

What is Wayne Gretzky like? 

I could answer this question a thousand different ways. I could say he was nice, friendly, funny, a great story teller, etc... The guy has an incredible memory. I'm not kidding, it's insane... but instead I'll answer that question with a story. Of all the stories I've told about this trip, this is the one I've told the most.

Most of the campers left the day after the closing banquet, but a few had stayed an extra day or two. Mostly just to enjoy a few more days of fantasy before escaping back to reality. Dad had never been to Vegas before so I got to be his tour guide for a few days. A bunch of campers decided to meet at the pool the next day to sit in the sun and relax a little bit. There was about 5 of us. When we got there around mid-afternoon, one of the guys said, "I ran into Wayne this morning, he said he might stop down to say hi." Sure enough around 3:30pm, Wayne shows up. He pulled up a chair and hung out with us for a bit. About 20 minutes later, someone from the Bellagio pool shows up and says "I'm really sorry guys, but the pool area closes in 10 minutes. We'll have to get you guys to start packing up." We all stand up and get ready to leave and then Wayne says "Listen guys, I'm meeting some buddies inside for a beer at 4:30pm. If you guys want to come join us, you are more than welcome to."

Wayne Gretzky had invited us to hang out with him and his buddies. It's not everyday that happens.

Dad and I had planned to rent a car and drive around and see some sights. He said to me, "What do you want to do?" I looked him like he had 10 heads. I said, "If Wayne Gretzky asks you to go for a beer, you go for a (bleeping) beer."

So we hung out with Wayne and his friends. He shared a lot of funny hockey stories, and commented on a few that were in the press at the time. There was one story about him and Rick Tocchet that was quite funny. While playing against each other in the cup finals in 1987, Tocchet got him in the corner during the first game. He gave Wayne a bit of a shot and said, "Get used to that Gretzky, I'm gonna ride you like that for 7 games." Wayne skated away and turned back and said to him, "I don't know about you, but I'm only planning on playing 4 games."

When I told this story to a friend he said, "Well you can cross that off your bucket list." I told him, "That was never on my bucket list. Your bucket list is supposed to be things that you can do before you die. I never thought in a million years that Wayne Gretzky would invite me to hang out with him so it was never on my bucket list."

It was a great end to the camp. When we left the part of the hotel where we had gathered I was walking next to Wayne and he said to me, "So what did you think of the camp?" I told him, "It was everything I thought it would be and then some. It surpassed any expectation I had coming here." He smiled, shook my hand and said, "I'm really glad you enjoyed it. Thanks a lot for coming. Safe travels back home."

He didn't have to come down to the pool and say hi to us. He didn't have to stay there for a bit, and he certainly didn't have to invite us to join him and some of his buddies. But he did.

So what was Wayne Gretzky like? He was everything I thought he would be like.

I'll end this post with a quote. 

"10 years from now, you will regret the things you didn't do more than the things you did do."

This experience isn't everyone's dream. Maybe your thing is to travel to Australia, or to backpack your way through Europe. Maybe it's to see an NHL game in person. It could be something really big, or something small. My advice to you is that whatever it is - do it. You won't regret it. The satisfaction you'll feel from achieving something you've thought about for your whole life is one of the greatest feelings you will ever experience.

We had a few hours to kill before our flight home, so the last thing we did was drive out to the Hoover Dam. I had been there before but Dad never had so I drove over to the Arizona side to show him a better view of Lake Mead. Just then it started to rain and when we got to one of the look offs, a double rainbow had formed. I took thousands of pictures during the week, but this is the very last picture I took on the trip. It was a classic case of being in the right place at the right time. That seemed to be the theme of the whole trip. It was a fitting end to a week I'll never forget.

If you have any questions about the camp, please feel to leave a comment below or email me. If I can answer them, I'll gladly do it.


  1. Just read your blog Adam...

    If word could describe the experience at the Wayne Gretzky Fantasy Camp, it would be your blog that does it best. You're right on!

    Thanks again to share with us your experience!

    1. Merci Jean Luc. J'espere de retourne et jouer sur ton equipe encore.

  2. Love reading your blogs. Having done business with the WGA group the past few years, it's nice to read that the campers have a similar experience with Wayne and his group.

    We smile each year when we start seeing the same names coming back to the camp, over and over and over again.

    Thanks for the blog!

  3. Adam,

    Thanks for sharing such great memories! I too share my experiences with anyone who will listen. It is one of the greatest experiences I've enjoyed in my life, as well.

    Jim Alati - Boise, Idaho

    1. Jim, were you there this year?

    2. Yes Adam, I skated on team Walter lost in the championship..... Maybe next time!

  4. Adam,

    I could have written this blog and it would have been about 90% the exact same! I attended the camp in 2005, camp IV and it was the best hockey experience....wait, best sports experience....wait, best experience period of my life! It was simply amazing and worth every penny and then some. What a time and what amazing memories. I am a huge Gretzky fan myself and am blessed enough to own the largest collection of his game used memorabilia and equipment in the world. Wayne has toured my collection and he was actually in my home town, Fort McMurray, AB in May as keynote guest at a dinner I organized and chaired. We had an amazing couple of nights with him up there, and the best part was the behind the scenes "have a beer and a chat" type times. He's a wonderful individual and a real ambassador for the game. McSorley was one of the other guests i had in attendance along with Trottier (good personal friend of mine), Semenko, Darren Langdon and Kelly Chase. Thanks for posting and email me anytime to chat "camp", "hockey" or "collecting". My email is my site under construction is and my twitter is @iamhockeyman99 Hope to chat with you soon. Shawn


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