Gretzky says Canada will beat Russia for hockey gold
Wayne Gretzky is predicting a showdown between Team Canada and Russia in the men's hockey gold-medal game at the Vancouver Olympics.
"And I pick Canada to win gold," he told a roaring crowd Friday night at Molson Canadian Hockey House.
The Great One reflected on Team Canada's performance in its first two games at the Olympics during a tribute event for fans willing to dish out a minimum $100 for a ticket to the hockey venue.
Gretzky said the team's first game, a comfortable 8-0 victory against Norway, renewed the country's excitement and emotion but may have been an unconscious letdown for the athletes themselves.
Switzerland was ready for the Canadians in the second game, he said, making for "the most electrifying game I've ever been in. And I wasn't even playing. I wish I was playing."
The team nearly faced an early upset Thursday night, fans gnawing their nails until the final moment when Sidney Crosby scored in an overtime shootout for a final 3-2 result.
'Better and stronger'
"The best thing that probably could have happened to this team was a close, tight game and it shows this team can win under pressure," Gretzky said. "Going forward, I think they'll just get better and stronger every night."
He predicted Canada, Russia, the U.S. and Sweden will face off in the semifinals, though he didn't rule out Finland showing its mettle.
The retired 49-year-old gave thumbs-up as video footage of three highlights of his career were shown — his first Stanley Cup win, the moment he claimed the title of all-time leading NHL scorer and when he scored 50 goals in 39 games.
To those achievements, he told the crowd that carrying the Olympic torch should be counted among those moments. Gretzky was one of four final torch-bearers lighting the cauldron at BC Place stadium during the opening ceremonies.
As he stood at the ready with Catriona Le May Doan, Steve Nash and Nancy Greene Raine, something seemed off. There was a blip in the music, and the four thought they were in for a surprise, he said.
"So we were expecting something to happen and then in our earplugs we could hear our producer say, 'Can we hand-crank that thing up and I said, 'Uh oh,"' he said.
One of four pillars failed to rise from the floor for the lighting.
"The way Catriona handled herself, she was such a champ," he said.
Gretzky was executive director of Team Canada during the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, when the men last won gold. Though he admitted giving some advice to current executive director Steve Yzerman, who selected this year's roster, he has been happy to visit a slew of hospitality houses, collect jackets (he already has 22 in his hotel room) and sit back as a spectator at the 2010 Games.
"I'm having more fun than even you guys," he said.