NHL

Hockey world paying tribute to the Great One's late father, Walter Gretzky

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman released a statement on Friday following the announcement of the death of Wayne Gretzky's father late Thursday night. Walter Gretzky was 82.

'Canada's Hockey Dad' passed away at 82 on Thursday

Wayne Gretzky is hugged by his father, Walter, after being presented with a car during the pre-game ceremonies for Gretzky's last game in the NHL, as a New York Ranger, on April 18, 1999. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says Walter Gretzky "embodied all that is great about being a hockey parent."

Bettman released a statement on Friday following the announcement of the death of Wayne Gretzky's father late Thursday night.

Walter Gretzky, who had battled Parkinson's disease, was 82.

Bettman says Walter's influence on the league and the game was "profound."

"Teaching the game to his children on the famed backyard rink he built in his beloved hometown of Brantford, Ontario, Walter instilled in them not only an uncommon understanding of hockey's essence, but a love and respect for the game that has become synonymous with the name Gretzky, all while ensuring that the game was fun to play," Bettman said.

Bettman praised Walter for staying connected to the game after Wayne retired as a player.

"Walter's passion for the game and for teaching it to young players transcended place, status and skill level," he said.

WATCH | Rob Pizzo joins CBC News Network to remember Walter Gretzky:

Heather Hiscox and Rob Pizzo remember Walter Gretzky on CBC News Network

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CBC News Network's Heather Hiscox and CBC Sports Rob Pizzo reflect on the life of Walter Gretzky. 9:39

"During the two decades since Wayne retired, Walter could always be found at a rink, sharing the game with players and fans at all levels. Quietly and humbly, Walter dedicated so much of his time to countless charities with little fanfare but with a deep commitment to improving the lives of so many — particularly children."

Oilers release statement

The Edmonton Oilers released a statement, extending their sympathies to the family. Wayne Gretzky played with the team from 1979-88.

"On behalf of the Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club, I extend our deepest sympathies to the entire Gretzky family on the passing of Walter Gretzky," said Oilers chairman Bob Nicholson. "The fabric of our franchise has been woven by some of the most influential players, coaches and executives the game has known and included in that too, are the loved ones that make our team a family.

"From his development and constant influence on one of the greatest players our game has known, to the tremendous impact he had on Canada's gold medal-winning team in 2002, Walter was truly everyone's hockey dad. He will be missed by all of us, but the memories created by his tremendous character and passion for our game will remain with us forever."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also offered his condolences in a social media post on Friday morning.

Former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Doug Gilmour mourned the loss of "Canada's Hockey Dad."

Tributes continued to pour in on Friday

"Always the gentleman. Always had a smile and so incredibly generous with his time. Canada's Hockey Dad is a very fitting description," said Leafs president Brendan Shanahan.

WATCH | Walter Gretzky, Canada's Hockey Dad:

Walter Gretzky, Canada's hockey dad

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How Walter Gretzky helped make The Great One great. 5:53

Hockey commentator Don Cherry said that "he was truly a great guy. Godspeed Walter." 

Leafs centre Auston Matthews also paid respect to the Gretzky family.

"Obviously a pioneer of the game. And it's a really sad day, so my condolences go out to the Gretzky family," Matthews said.

Tribute from former journalist

Mark Ritter, a former sports journalist and Brantford, Ont., resident, drove an hour on Friday to the city about 100 kilometres west of Toronto to leave a hockey stick at Walter's reserved parking spot at the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre.

He recalled once spending an hour talking hockey with Walter at Wayne Gretzky's restaurant in Toronto.

"He was always really kind," Ritter said. "He was always shaking hands. He was always making eye contact with people. I think his greatest gift really was time. I think it's something that people take for granted these days. And I think we've kind of learned a little bit more about that during [the COVID-19 pandemic]. That time is really important. And he gave it up unselfishly with kindness and love and care. We lost someone really special.

"I don't think you'll hear a negative word about him. He was a great asset to our country."

With files from CBC Sports

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