My Week With The Great One_______________________________________________________________________________
February 8th, 2012
Gretzky Fantasy Camp - Day 1 - "You'll Never Forget Your First"
Every year in Las Vegas, Wayne Gretzky has his "Fantasy Camp." I have 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 for the camp, 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 flew to 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 Fuhr, 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 extremely 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, etc...it 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.
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 as cool as they come. All of the pro's were very 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 some 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 that 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 do it 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
|Dad, Wayne and Me. We are kind of laughing because of something Wayne said just before the picture was taken. You will have to ask me in person if you want to know what it is.|
Gretzky Fantasy Camp - Day 2 - "Venus or Mars"
February 9, 2012
Today was our first day on the ice. It was a practice session for everyone in the camp. The main idea behind the practice was to get everyone on the ice so they can loosen up, and for the coaches and people at the camp to watch all the players and rank us, so they can try to make 4 balanced teams.
You walk into the dressing room and your gear is sitting there waiting for you. Crazyiness.
I sat with Mike Keenan on the bus to the rink. It was great talking to him, especially since he coached the Flames while I lived in Calgary. He was really nice and shared some great stories.
There are basically 3 levels of hockey players here, guys who are good, guys who alright and a few guys who haven't really played much hockey before. The practice was very well run by former NHL assistant coach Cap Raeder. It kind of felt like a NHL practice. He would call us to the side of the boards and draw out some drills on a white board. He made sure we were having fun and wasn't being too serious, but he also pushed us a little bit and taught us some stuff too. It was a great first ice session.
Joey Moss worked for the Oilers for a long time helping out in the dressing room.
The players loved having him around and I can see why. He's a really upbeat happy guy
who puts everyone around him in a good mood. I've never received so many high fives in my life.
Walter Gretzky is one of the coaches and was one of the guys evaluating us. They put the campers out in 2 groups. I was in the second group. Walter is a really funny guy who has tons of one liners. Afterwards, I asked him how our group looked. He said "You guys looked like a million dollars, the only problem is the money has all been spent!" Later that night we were in the elevator with him and he was rolling up his sleeves up. I said to him, "Walter it looks like you are getting ready for a fight." He held his fists up one at a time and said "I gotta decide if they are gonna go to Venus (left fist) or Mars (right fist)."
Trying to take some artsy pics
On the bus ride back from the rink, I sat with Mike Barnett, who used to be Gretzky's agent and was the GM in Phoenix. We had an awesome chat and he had lots of great stories about what it is like being a GM and how trading players work, contracts, and the business side of hockey etc... It was a really interesting conversation for any die hard hockey fan. He was really friendly and more than happy to talk to me.
Everyone here has been so friendly. From NHL'ers, to the training staff to the photographer. I really get the impression that this isn't an accident. It feels to me like Wayne surrounds himself with these kind of people. The have professional videographers and photographers taking pictures of everything. I had a great extended chat with Bruce the photographer about his career in sports photography and he gave me some pointers on my own camera. I struck up a conversation with the videographer and turns out we went to university together in Halifax.
A nice shot I got of the Bellagio fountains from the balcony of the suite
The evening event was the announcement of the hockey teams (this was streamed live online too). There are lots of videos/photos being posted daily on Gretzky.com. The event was in a suite on one of the higher levels of the Bellagio which gave us a great view of The Strip. I was placed on "Team A" which will be coached by Cap Raeder and Bobby Hull. The pros on our team are Denis Savard and Guy Carbonneau. Gretzky told me himself that if you could have one guy on your team at this camp you want it to be Denis Savard. I'm thinking of showing him my version of the spinorama. Every team gets 2 or 3 pros. Gretzky and CuJo are going to play with every team.
Dad with Denis Savard
The event was another wine and cheese kind of thing where we got to mingle with the players and campers. We talked with Denis Savard who seems like the happiest guy in the world. Very friendly and more than happy to pose for photos and chat. Dad and I had a nice conversation with Bobby Hull. He loved that we were from the East Coast. He told us some stories about fishing trips he's had there, and then told us some stories about playing against Gretzky when he was 17. He had a funny story about Wayne's mother coming up to him before the first time they ever played against each other. She said "Are you Mr. Hull? My son is Wayne Gretzky and I don't want him getting hurt out there tonight."
Dad and Bobby Hull
The room cleared out fairly early and by the end of it, there was about 5 of us guys and Marty McSorley. Marty is such an awesome guy. He talked hockey with us for about 45 minutes. Very friendly and incredibly knowledgeable. The stories he told us were amazing. It's really blowing my mind how candid the pros are being with us. It's like they don't have a filter on. We can ask them anything and they answer it. Marty struck me as the kind of guy who would be an awesome coach. His knowledge of the game is incredible, but they way he explains it is a gift that most people don't have. I told him, "I'm a musician, and I've also taught music. I know lots of incredible musicians who are amazing players, but they can't explain to you what they are doing. They are great players but not great teachers. You can explain things like a teacher."
Me, Marty McSorley and Dad
Dad and I met another father/son combo from Montreal. They were really nice guys and they are playing on my team. We chatted with them for a long time. The father only speaks a little bit of English, so I got to practice some of my French. It was nice. He told me I was speaking it just fine!
Now that we are placed on teams, I feel like I'll get to know the campers a lot better as we'll be spending a lot of time together in smaller groups. Meeting people from all over the world is a very cool part of this camp too. There are a lot of campers who come every year and it almost has a family feel to it. The campers come from all walks of life, some are dentists, some health care guys, some are in construction. Some are wealthy and come every year, but everyone has a few big things in common: we all love hockey, and we are all here to have a good time.
The tournament starts tomorrow. Each team plays 2 games. From the sounds of it, this is when the fun really begins. I can't imagine it being more fun than it already is. Stay tuned...
Gretzky Fantasy Camp - Day 3 - Injury Report
February 9th, 2012
Today was the first day of the tournament. I started the day in the medical room. That's right, they have a medical room here at the rink. It's not what you might be thinking. Last night, while reaching into my shaving kit to get my toothbrush, I accidentally grabbed my razor and took a pretty good chunk out of my finger. It was certainly more than a little cut and I couldn't get it to stop bleeding. I bought some band-aids, wrapped it up and headed to the event where they announce the teams and it was still bleeding. I showed it to the trainers. They re-wrapped it for me and told me to come find them in the morning. When I got to the rink I went to the medical room. I walked in the room to find guys getting massages and stretched out before the game. The room was equipped with everything the trainers would probably have in an NHL dressing room. The trainer, Ken Lowe rolled out some gauze, ointment, bandages etc... He taped me up and I was good to go. It definitely made me feel like a NHL player.
Trainer Ken getting me fixed up
Ken Lowe has been the Oilers medical trainer for almost 30 years. I had a great chat with him later that night. There are 25 players in the history of hockey who have won a Stanley Cup, Olympic Gold and a World Cup. There are only 3 trainers who have done it and he is one of them. Any of the pros here will tell you that trainers are every bit as vital to the team as the players themselves.
After leaving the medical room, I headed to the dressing room where I walked in to find my gear laid out for me and a jersey hanging up with my name on it. It is another nice touch that makes us all feel like pro players.
On to the hockey. We had two games today. The hockey is faster than I thought it would be. It's been a pleasant surprise but it's nothing that anyone who plays pick-up hockey couldn't handle. I was a little bit shocked at how serious the pros were taking it. They certainly weren't playing as hard as they could, but they were very much into the game, watching the play, yelling at refs, etc... It was awesome.
The rules regarding the pros is that they aren't allowed to score unless the team they are playing for is losing. If the game is tied or they are winning, the pros have to pass it off to a camper. The other rule is that there are no penalties. Instead of a penalty, they give the opposite team a penalty shot. I really like this rule.
The trainers will sharpen your skates after every game if you want.
When you walk into the rink, they have your laundry from the day before waiting for you
These are Gretzky's sticks
Dad and I before our first game
The two pros on our team are Denis Savard and Guy Carbonneau. Denis Savard has been having more fun here than the campers. He is such a happy, outgoing guy.
Me and Denis Savard
A quick note about Carbonneau, his stick is shorter than most pee-wee players sticks. I asked him about it and he told me that it is longer now than it has ever been.
The opposing team's pros were Russ and Geoff Courtnall and then for the 2nd period, they had Curtis Joseph in goal. The highlight for me came in the second period. I was skating around the redline and the puck popped up to me. I realized I had a few steps on their defenceman so I put my head down and skated as fast as I could so that I would have a full breakaway. I get in across the blue line and I look up to see Curtis Joseph crouching down waiting for me. Crazy! I charged in and decided to try and deke him. I faked the left and then went to my forehand and..........CuJo read it like a book. I'd like to say he stoned me but I never had a chance. It's so crazy to go in on a breakaway, in a game situation, against a former NHL goalie. He looked so huge. I knew I would never beat him with a shot, so I decided to try to deke him. In hindsight it was probably the wrong decision. More about CuJo in a bit.
We won the first game 4-3. I had 2 assists and played pretty good. We rotated our lines throughout the game and it just so happened that I was on the ice for the last minute of the game. The other team pulled their goalie and stacked their line with the pros. Like I said before, the pros get into it. It's all in good fun, but no one wants to lose. When their team was down by a goal with a minute to go they really stepped it up. It was insane. They are so good when they want to be. It made me realize how good you have to be to get to the big leagues. Take the best hockey player you have ever played with, he's not even remotely close to the level of these guys. Russ Courtnall shot a puck from the point with about 40 seconds left and I thought it was going to break our goalies stick it was so hard.
Bobby Hull showing me his Cup ring and the other ring celebrating the 50th anniversary of their win
Bobby Hull is one of our coaches. I could write a book of Bobby Hull quotes from the bench. He is one funny guy. Some of them (that I can put on this blog) are:
"It's a simple game that they make difficult." and "Boys, the net is 4 x 6. You gotta hit that son of a bitch!"
We spent a few minutes talking with Brett and Bobby before we got on the bus. Me and another player were talking to Brett about his stick. He talked about the curve that he used, and the lie, etc... He said, "I had a reputation as being super picky about my sticks, but next to your skates, your stick is the most important thing you got, so you're damn right I'm picky about it."
Bobby Hull, Dad, Brett Hull and Me
We had a little break, drank some fluids, and then it was time for the second game.
One of the highlights of the second game was having CuJo in our net. He came out for the warm up and I got to fire a bunch of pucks at him. I managed to sneak one by him through the five hole. I put my arms up in the air and yelled "I just scored on CuJo." He said to me "That's because I never dropped. Try it again." I went back in on him and this time he dropped to his knees and I never had a chance. I kept going in and taking shots and he would tell me certain things like, "I knew you were going to shoot high blocker by the way you were moving your feet." I thought to myself "How the hell do you know that?!?!?" It's amazing how good he is, and he is really rusty. I couldn't imagine him in top form. Most of these guys don't play hockey at all anymore. I asked all of them when the last time they played was, and the common answer seemed to be, "At this camp last year."
Me and Curtis Joseph. I said "You couldn't have let that breakaway go in???"
After the warm up, we were standing around and CuJo was telling us about how he sees things as a goalie. It was fascinating. He said, "The goalie dictates where the shooter is going to shoot. For example, say I have a 2 on 1 coming in on me and it's Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark. I wouldn't go challenge Dougie. He's a good passer, so I'd stay back in my net and try to get him to shoot it. I might keep my glove down to make him think that he has an opening there, and the second he releases the shot, my glove is going right back to that spot. That's how it all processes in my brain, and it happens in the blink of an eye. It's all percentages."
Unfortunately we lost the second game 6-5. It was a good close game that came down to the wire. One of the other highlights for me was similar to the first game. I was in the neutral zone and picked up the puck and skated into the attacking zone. I looked up and the only thing standing between me and the goalie was Marty McSorley. I knew as soon as I looked up that there was no way I was ever going to get around him. Imagine trying to go around a huge fridge with lateral movement. I slowed down a bit and waited until Marty got back as far as I thought he was going to give me and then I skated into him and got a shot off. The puck went off his stick and deflected out of play. He put his arm around me and laughingly I said to him, "I had to shoot, there is no way I going to get around you." He said "I always give people the shot, I'll let them do that, but if you try to go around me, I'm coming for you!" Marty is the coolest guy ever.
Marty McSorley and Me. We almost look the same height but it's just the way he is crouching. The guy is huge.
The hockey was great, but after playing 2 games in a day, the campers were ready to kick up our heels a bit. The camp had rented out the club Hyde for us in the Bellagio. This is a posh club that looks over the water fountains. It was a really nice event that made me feel like a high roller in Vegas. The buses don't leave for the rink until 1:45pm tomorrow so the campers had some drinks and mingled with each other and the pros. Every year at camp Gretzky does something that is a surprise for the campers, so half way through the event Wayne got up an announced that he had called in some favours and had about 20 jerseys signed by some of the biggest names in the NHL. I'm not kidding. Take the 20 biggest names in the NHL right now and that's what jerseys were here. There was a raffle for them. They put all the campers names in a hat and drew for them. Unfortunately, I didn't win one but it was a really nice touch to already awesome event.
Me, Jeremy Roenick and Dad
Me and Brian Leetch
Me with two other Campers. These guys are veterans of the Camp. Derek on the left and Brian on the right. Brian is playing right wing on my line. They are both great guys from Toronto. Derek has been writing about the camp for NHL.com.
Gretzky Fantasy Camp - Day 4 - "I'll take Gretz"
February 10th, 2012
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 last night and had lots of fun 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 5 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 Gretzky 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 L.A. and 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.
It's a blurry pic that one of the trainers on the bench took with his iPhone for me, but it's a pic I'll treasure for life
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." At this point, I should mention that the other teams goalie is Grant Fuhr. Wayne made it a point to skate over to me and 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 to us, "Make sure you 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, when he played 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 I 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 with us 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 it 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.
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 suite 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 to share with us. It was a really great chat with him and 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.
Gretzky Fantasy Camp - Day 5 - "What Happens In Vegas..."
February 11th, 2012
Today was our final game of hockey and the last day of the camp. We had a really good team and easily could have been 3 and 0, but we lost 2 tight games by 1 goal each. Like coach Cap said, "That's hockey." Our record was 1-2 which meant we were in the consolation game.
It's funny how you get used to the perks of the camp after only 3 games. When I got to the rink, I went directly to the medical room to get trainer Ken to tape up my finger. Then I went and picked up my clean laundry, stopped by the coolers to get some ice cold Gatorade and bottled water, then headed to the dressing room where I found my gear hung up and waiting for me. It's becoming routine. It's going to suck to have to carry my hockey bag to the rink when I get back home!
This was the first game that we wore the red Chicago jerseys. Every player gets a home and away jersey and socks. It was nice to see the red jersey hanging up waiting for me. Bobby Hull said, "It's the best looking jersey in hockey." It's hard to disagree.
Onto the hockey. It's amazing how we came together as a team after only 3 games. We were playing in the consolation game and really wanted to end the tournament with a win. Coach Cap gave us a good pep talk in the dressing room to get us fired up. We were pumped to hit the ice.
Me with Coach Cap Raedar
Cap's pep talk must have worked because we came out hard and went up 3 - 0 after the first period. Bobby Hull is hilarious on the bench. It's sometimes hard to focus on the game because of his comments. He has a loud, booming voice that carries out over the entire rink. Every few minutes he'd say "Let's go you red machine! Keep your foot on the gas!" He said to me when I came off the ice after a shift, "Atta boy Chase, you're gonna get one!" It turns out Bobby was right. I finally buried one past the goalie. I went in, split the defence and got a good hard, low shot off and beat the goalie through the 5 hole. I had 4 or 5 good chances throughout the tournament but I just couldn't find the handle. It felt good to get one in the last game. We won the game 5-1 and ended the tournament on the positive note like we wanted.
Wayne played for the other team in this game. It was pretty cool to play against him this time. Let's be honest, anytime you get to skate with The Great One, it's pretty cool. Having him on our team yesterday was awesome, but it was still cool to play against him. There was one time he had the puck and went behind our net. He was setup in his office and no one on our team would go near him. He was there stick-handling for a good 5 seconds. The boys on the bench were all laughing pretty hard.
Another time I was in the neutral zone and in my peripheral vision, all I saw was the blade of a stick with the puck. Purely out of instinct, I lifted the stick up and as I turned, I saw that it was Gretzky. When you are here, you get really excited seeing him on the ice, but once the game starts, the competitor in you kicks in and you get caught up in the game. The moment that I checked his stick though, it hit me again that I was playing hockey with Wayne Gretzky.
I finished the tournament with 1 goal and 3 assists, good enough for a point per game. I told Dad that if I could put up a point per game in the NHL, I'd be making around 4.5 million a year. I wonder if there were any scouts at the camp...
Joey Moss handing the Gretzky Cup to the winning team
* * *
The evening event was the closing banquet and awards dinner. The campers were in full autograph mode while enjoying some wine. The meal was lovely and Jim Jerome did a great job as master of ceremonies. Jim and Wayne go way back to his days in Edmonton. He has an extremely quick wit and had the room in stitches. They showed a recap video of the whole week which was a really nice touch.
As a center piece on all the tables, they had framed pictures that were taken at the camp throughout the week. There was one of me with Cujo. We were allowed to keep them, so I tracked Cujo down and asked him to sign it. He stopped me on a breakaway earlier in the tournament so I asked him to sign it and say something like "Better luck next time."
Here is the picture:
Here is what he wrote:
Wayne got up and gave a nice speech, thanking everyone for supporting his foundation. This is a charity event and the money raised goes to the Wayne Gretzky Foundation. The foundation supports youth hockey initiatives in the US and Canada. He made a point to thank all his staff members and the sponsors of the event. It was very sincere and you could tell that he really appreciates the people who worked on the event. He also thanked all the pros who came out and told some funny stories about them.
After that he introduced Paul Hipp who came out with a guitar and sang some songs. Paul is an actor/musician friend of Wayne's. He sang some nice songs and then played a song he wrote the day before that was all about the Fantasy Camp. It was a big hit with the crowd. Wayne's entire family was there and his daughter Paulina went on stage and sang some songs with Paul. She has a great voice and they did a killer job of "Picture" (Sheryl Crow/Kid Rock).
She was also kind enough to pose for a picture with me later on.
The music part of the night became less serious as people started encouraging some of the pros to sing. Wayne told everyone that Brett Hull loves to sing so he and Paul rocked some old Beatles songs. Alan Thicke, the actor, joined Paul on stage for some oldies. Mike Keenan was on the mic for a little bit as well. All 3 of them sang pretty good.
The Gretzky Family with Joey Moss
The show stopper though was Joey Moss. I can't remember if it was Wayne, but someone got Joey up on stage to sing "La Bamba." He comes from a musical family and he rocked it. He brought the house down and earned a standing ovation with the whole room chanting "Joey! Joey!" It was the perfect end to the formal part of the evening.
Later on, there were five of us sitting outside on the balcony. Mike Keenan was there and I asked him a few questions about the 1987 Canada Cup (Mike was the head coach). It seems like Dad and I chatted to Mike everyday for a minimum of 30 minutes. I can't say enough about how nice he was to us. He was more than happy to talk about the Canada Cup and he was telling us stories that had my jaw on the floor. It was every Canadian hockey fan's wet dream to hear this inside information. I was just a little boy in 1987, but I remember that series like it was yesterday and I know the history of it inside and out. I was absolutely blown away by what he was telling us.
|Me with Mike Keenan|
Everyone made their way to the casino and bar area. The highlight of the night for me was having a great conversation with Paul Hipp, the guy who entertained us. It started by me asking him what kind of guitar he was playing (I'm a guitar freak, I have 13 and counting) and it ended about an hour and a half later with us talking about everything from music, to movies, to hockey, to politics. It turns out he has a pretty killer guitar collection too (a '58 Strat amongst a bunch of others). He is a captivating guy, and also shared some stories that had me in stitches. It was really cool hanging out with him.
Me with Wayne's son Trevor. He was recently drafted by the Chicago Cubs.
Dad with Wayne's son Ty. He played in the tournament. He was on the winning team. We sat with him on the bus and had a nice chat. I liked him right away because of the hat he was wearing.
Dad with DB Sweeney. He is an actor who starred in a movie about a hockey player turned figure skater called "The Cutting Edge"
Me with Russ Courntall
Dad with Brian Leetch
The rest of the night was awesome. It went late and everyone had a blast. It was one of those "pinch yourself" kind of nights. We were hanging out with NHL legends, Hollywood actors, and each other. The campers all knew each other by now so we got to enjoy each others company one more time before we had to say goodbye.
I could tell stories for years to come about tonight, but you know what they say, "What happens in Vegas..."
* * *
Meet The Campers
The highlight of the week was playing hockey and hanging out with the pros, but a close second to that was meeting the other campers. There are a lot of campers that come back every year and I think it is for two reasons: the camp is so much fun, and the friendships you make with people from all over the world. Everyone here has a story. I exchanged a lot of business cards with people who I'm sure I'll keep in touch with for years to come.
I'd like to introduce you to a few of them.
Meet the Basler brothers, Kevin and Scott. Their story tugged on the heart strings of everyone here. They had talked about coming to the camp for a while, and then their father got diagnosed with cancer. His dying wish was for them to take some of his money and attend the camp with their wives. Yesterday, Kevin scored the goal that I assisted on with Gretzky. After our last game, they sat on the bench and had a beer in memory of their dad. I jumped in and joined them for a picture.
|Me with the Basler brothers|
I don't have a picture of Jean-Luc and his father, Bruno from Quebec. They played on my team. This is their third year at the camp and for the first time since he has been here, Bruno scored a goal. It wasn't just any goal though, it was a big goal for our team in the second game. The icing on the cake? It was assisted by his son and Denis Savard. Hockey forms a bond between many Canadian fathers and sons, and the game is something that these guys still share together.
Woody and Connolly, like me, are good east coast boys living the dream here this week. They are here from Newfoundland and it was their first time in Vegas. It was nice to be able to hang out with some fellas from my neck of the woods, and use some east coast slang in Sin City.
|Connolly, Me and Woody|
Johnny Callahan is a great guy from Chicago who stood on his head for our team in nets.
|Johnny Callahan and Me|
Dad and I met Gary and his buddy Mike in the Calgary airport on our way to camp. It turns out he is married to a cousin of ours and they live in Saskatchewan. Small world I tell ya! We ended up playing on the same team and I set him up for a goal.
|Me and Gary|
This is Red. He is the trainer for the Green Bay Packers.
|Red and Me|
Bruce Bennett is the "Gretzky" of hockey photography. Don't believe me? Check out his portfolio. He was the professional photographer who has been documenting the entire camp. Not only is he an incredible photographer, he is a very friendly guy who I probably drove crazy everyday asking him for tips on taking pictures and telling me stories behind some of his famous shots. He has shot over 4000 NHL games, Canada Cups, Olympics etc... You name it, and he was there taking pictures. The story about the Crosby 2010 goal is ridiculous. He also introduced me to "frozen hot chocolate" here in Vegas at a place called Seredipity's. For that, I will be ever thankful.
|Bruce and I|
This is Jenny and her boyfriend Paul. Jenny works for Wayne, and the camp. I met them on the first night and became fast friends with them. They are lovely people who welcomed me with open arms.
|Paul and Jenny|
Colin Brownlie is an all around awesome and funny guy. He helps out with running the camp. We had a lot of laughs this week.
|Colin and I|
Mike Barnett used to be Gretzky's agent and the GM of the Phoenix Coyotes. We had a few great chats through out the week, but the best one we had was about jazz. His father was a jazz saxophone player who played with Louis Armstrong and Tommy Dorsey to name a few. I studied jazz saxophone in university so we had a nice talk about music.
|Mike Barnett and Me|
Brad Janson has been at every camp since it started. I think it is was destiny that we met on the first night. He asked where I was from, and when I told him "Nova Scotia," we made the connection that I know his cousins very well. We became fast friends and he was great to Dad and I all week. He did a very classy thing on the last day. There were a few trays of sandwiches left over from lunch at the rink, and while the bus was stopped at a red light on the way back to the hotel, he ran out and gave them to a homeless guy. Everyone on the bus clapped.
|Me and Brad Janson|
* * *
A Note of Thanks...
I've been getting a lot of positive feedback about the blog posts. One on the guys on my team came up to me and said "My wife has been reading your blog back in Edmonton." So here's a shout out to Jeff's wife, thanks for reading.
This is the last day of camp which means this is the last blog post about camp... for a while. I am going to post one more in a few weeks after I get back home and settled into reality. This was truly a first class event, but it feels very relaxed and casual. I definitely get the magnitude of how crazy the past 5 days has been, but being here and caught up in it all, I don't think it will really hit me of how lucky I have been to truly live a fantasy until I get home and start to process it all.
I want to take a second and thank everyone for reading and sending some nice comments. I've been getting a lot of texts/emails/facebook messages/tweets from family and friends who are jealous of the experience, but really happy for me. It means a lot.
I've also been getting some emails from people I never met who have been enjoying the blog and living the camp "Vicariously through me." I hope you are enjoying it as much as I have been.
June 23, 2012
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.
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.
Curtis Joseph was really funny and engaging.
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.
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.
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.