Over the past 20 years, many have wondered what could have been. What if Wayne Gretzky had finished his career as a member of the St. Louis Blues? What if we were able to see Gretzky on the same line with Brett Hull for three more years, instead of just 31 games? For years, many had written off Gretzky as nothing more than a footnote in Blues history. Others went as far as to say he was not a “True Blue”.
Over this past weekend at Busch Stadium, Wayne Gretzky reappeared as a member of the St. Louis Blues Alumni in a historic game against the Chicago Blackhawks Alumni. Not only was this a magical game for everyone in St. Louis, it was the most attended alumni game since the inception of the Winter Classic. The return of Gretzky seemed to welcome him back into the St. Louis Blues family. Fans wanted to see “The Great One”, and the Blues organization delivered.
On the most recent episode of Chasen Pucks with Panger, Darren Pang was able to catch up with Gretzky after the alumni game and asked his thoughts on what is taking place in St. Louis. “To come here and see the number of people at the alumni game, and not to see one empty seat,” Gretzky said. “They've (fans) really rallied around this event. It just shows you how far hockey has come in this city, how big the sport has gotten, and how popular it can be.”
Apparently, Gretzky's ties to St. Louis went even deeper than his short tenure with the Blues in 1996. “I grew up a huge Cardinals fan,” said Gretzky. “In those days, we'd get the Cardinals games on the radio. So, I used to listen to Jack Buck and kinda fall asleep listening to Cardinal games.”
An avid baseball fan, Gretzky dreamed of playing baseball, not hockey, at Busch Stadium. “I wish I could've played third base or pitched one game here for the Cardinals in professional baseball, but that's obviously not gonna happen,” Gretzky said of his Cardinals fandom. “Maybe it's only fitting my last game was played at a baseball stadium. I can combine the two sports, hockey and baseball.”
Gretzky has also seen the growth of hockey in St. Louis. A lot of things have changed in the past twenty years since he was a Blue, and he was quick to point it out. “The youth hockey programs here have been so strong,” noted Gretzky. “Five boys were selected in the first round of the NHL draft from St. Louis. I don't care if you're St. Louis, or Edmonton, or Winnipeg, or Saskatoon…you get five boys drafted in the first round, that's pretty special. It shows you how far hockey has come in this area, and it's only going to get more and more popular. And, it's only going to get bigger.”
Wayne Gretzky is forever a member of the St. Louis Blues. He very well may have donned a Blues sweater for his final trip around the rink. I think it is okay now to look back with fondness on Gretzky's limited days as a member of this treasured organization. We might not have seen it for long, but at least we did see it. Remember, Wayne Gretzky did not have to play in the alumni game. He didn't do it for himself, he did it for the fans of the St. Louis Blues. He is a “True Blue”.
“I'm voting you guys the MVP of podcasts.” – Wayne Gretzky