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Posted On Saturday, 02.11.2012 / 8:36 PM

By Derek Mori -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Mori: Another Cup, another fantastic experience

Derek Mori has been attending Wayne Gretzky's Fantasy Camp since 2006, when his wife sprung the trip on him as a 40th birthday gift. He is here for a seventh straight year and has agreed to blog his experiences for NHL.com.

Derek, who lives in Oakville, Ont. with his wife, Anita, and twin boys, says he's certainly not an ex-pro, but he's not a beginner either. He's been on the team that has won the Gretzky Fantasy Camp Cup four out of the six years he's been here, and he intends to do it again.

Read on to learn more about Derek's experience and what No. 99's camp is all about:


LAS VEGAS -- It's over, and I'll be heading back home with my fifth Gretzky Cup championship. This was a tight one, too.

My team, known as Team D all week, knocked off Team A by the slim 2-1 margin. Our team was coached by Glen Gretzky, Joe Lama and Marty McSorley while the opposing team was coached by Walter Gretzky and Charlie Henry.

It really could have gone either way, but I have to give credit to Marty for his pregame pep talk. He spoke about strategy, which I thought was extremely helpful for our cause. He also gave us sound, sage advice on the bench after our shifts.

Marty can coach. We were thrilled to have him behind our bench.

We played two periods and were down 1-0 after the first. But, I struck for our first goal in the second period to tie it up at 1-1. It came on a deflection.

The game-winner came off a scramble in front of the net. They pulled their goalie in the final minutes and put some serious pressure on us, but we shut them down and got to enjoy our celebration on the ice.

And, yes, it is very much like the Stanley Cup celebration, except Gary Bettman doesn't present our captain with the Gretzky Cup. Wayne is the one who presents the trophy to us and Joey Moss wore white gloves and carried the trophy onto the ice.

This win is my fifth, but it is particularly gratifying because there are many first-time campers on our team as well as one veteran, Chris Sealy, who has been coming here as long as I have and still hadn't won until this year. We kept telling him he was a jinx and nobody wanted him on their team, but we were thrilled to win this one for him and I was genuinely excited when I saw him raise the Cup over his head.

Everybody was already talking about coming back next year to defend the title. I'll take Chris on my team again. He's no jinx for me.

Tonight we have a Awards Ceremony and Banquet Dinner at the Bellagio. Everyone is pumped.

We head home Sunday and I have so many more stories to tell my family and buddies back home.

Until next year.

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Posted On Friday, 02.10.2012 / 9:17 PM

By Derek Mori -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Mori: One win to the title at another great camp

Derek Mori has been attending Wayne Gretzky's Fantasy Camp since 2006, when his wife sprung the trip on him as a 40th birthday gift. He is here for a seventh straight year and has agreed to blog his experiences for NHL.com.

Derek, who lives in Oakville, Ont. with his wife, Anita, and twin boys, says he's certainly not an ex-pro, but he's not a beginner either. He's been on the team that has won the Gretzky Fantasy Camp Cup four out of the six years he's been here, and he intends to do it again.

Read on to learn more about Derek's experience and what No. 99's camp is all about:


LAS VEGAS -- Once again this camp has exceeded my expectations.

Wayne really knows how to do it right. He improves it and makes sure the customers are happy. We definitely are.

They always want feedback from us, the campers, to know if people had a good time, what they enjoyed, because that plays into whether or not they have another one. Not everyone is always going to be happy, but we're all on holiday here, so you can't complain. We're on holiday, playing hockey, drinking beer, hanging out and we're in Vegas -- do I need to say more.

If I win another championship, it's like a cherry on top of a great trip.

And, you know what, I've got a chance. We won again today, and now we're 3-0 going into the Gretzky Cup Final on Saturday.

It was a tight one, though. We were tied and went to overtime. Guy Carbonneau and Denis Savard were on the team and they were good. I can't believe those guys were 0-2 against us.

We didn't play that well, but we worked on some small things for tomorrow because the pros don't play in the championship. We're all looking forward to it. It's a one game elimination now.

I didn't score today, but I came close in overtime. I was on the ice and my linemate scored, but if he didn't score I would have gotten it. It was a rebound goal, bang-bang, and I was right there to get it, too.

It's a great feeling to win and to get another opportunity to get another Cup, but what I'll take most out of this year's camp is the new friends I've made. There are a lot of first time guys here and guys here for only the second time that I have never had a chance to meet and get to know.

There is also a guy on our team that has been here for seven years and he's never won, so we're trying to win the Gretzky Cup for him. It's the Ray Bourque thing. We want to win it for ourselves, but we want to really win it for him, too.

Thursday night they had a party at Hyde Bar here at the Bellagio and, like every year, they managed to surprise us again. They always try to organize something that is fun and different, which is good because it keeps the energy going and the intrigue up.

Well, Thursday night they were raffling off NHL sweaters that were autographed by the former pros that are here. They put all of our names in the raffle and there were 20 sweaters available, so you had basically a one in three chance to get it.

I didn't get one. That's how good my luck has been here in Vegas. Then I went to play the tables afterwards and I didn't play very well either.

Tonight they've given everyone free time to do what we like, but I'll go up to the hospitality suite, hook up with some guys, go have dinner and probably go to a club. We'll go out in packs, but of course we've got to prepare ourselves for Saturday's big game.

Or, at least our goalie better.

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Posted On Friday, 02.10.2012 / 3:05 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Gretzky talks respect in game, Crosby



LAS VEGAS -- Wayne Gretzky said Friday from the Bellagio that he believes the respect factor from player to player was lost for some time, but it is coming back into the game now and it's essential that it remains.

"As much as the League is trying to police itself, and I think they do as good a job as they can do, I think it was Sidney Crosby that said it's still up to the players to monitor themselves and understand that you can't just hit guys in the head," Gretzky said in a sitdown interview with the NHL Network.

"If a guy has his head down, yeah you've got to hit him, but you can also take your foot off the pedal a touch with that respect factor," Gretzky continued. "I think it's gotten way better the protection of each and every player. And, listen, the physical aspect of our game can never be taken out. That's what makes our game special. We need to keep that physical presence in our sport, but it can be done in a way when it's not crossing the line."

Gretzky said in his day that respect factor existed because players understood there was life outside of hockey.

"The players understood they had to do whatever it took to become a champion, become a winner, but the guy on the other side also had a wife, kids, a mom and dad," Gretzky said. "There was always that feeling that, 'OK, I can't really cross the line, this is as far as it can go.' For some reason we lost a little bit of that respect factor from the players point of view to each other. We're getting that back now."

Regarding Crosby, Gretzky called him the game's best player and said he's hopeful that No. 87 can soon put this part of his career in the rearview mirror.

"You don't replace the best player, and he's without question the best player in our game today and he has been for a few years," Gretzky said. "More important his importance to that franchise, to helping that team win, and for those fans to get to watch him play, because he is a special hockey player. Then you top that off with what he does as far as being the front guy for the game itself, the ambassador for our game, the people of Nova Scotia, the people of Canada -- you don't replace that.

"It's very disappointing that a player of that caliber is injured, and I hope when he does come back he comes back at the right time, where he does feel healthy and can put this part of his career in the rearview mirror and continue without having to face these setbacks."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Friday, 02.10.2012 / 2:19 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Savard: Don't blame Crawford in Chicago

LAS VEGAS -- Ex-Blackhawks Hall of Fame forward Denis Savard is quick to come to the defense of Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, who has been benched and criticized for his lack of consistency this season.

"Everybody seems to think that Crawford has not played as well as he can, but I don't believe that," Savard told NHL.com Friday morning from the Bellagio. "I think the kid has played well most of the year. They haven't played well in front of him in the games that I have watched closely. I know Corey and he's a competitor, a winner and a really great kid. Of course you'd like to see him put a string of wins together so his confidence doesn't get shattered, but they just need to play better in front of him."

The Hawks are 0-5-1 in their last six games and have dropped to sixth in the Western Conference. Crawford hasn't played since he allowed five goals on 28 shots before getting pulled in the third period of an 8-4 loss to Edmonton on Feb. 2.

"People look at 28 shots and he gave up five goals, well there were probably 15 quality chances against him and that number has to get reduced," Savard said. "I always put on the board 21/7 when I coached. I would say, 'If we do 21 shots against and seven quality chances, we're going to win.' I think their mentality has to get back to that. If they do that, it'll help the kid gain his confidence back.

"I'm pretty sure that's the message they've been given, but they just have to start doing it now. They can't wait any longer."

Does that mean Chicago needs some help before the trade deadline, particularly on the back end?

"I think (GM) Stan (Bowman) would probably say, 'Hey, you know what guys, this is us, let's turn this around. We were a good team for the first 45-50 games,' " Savard said. "I know they have room under the cap and I'll tell you this, this organization is committed to winning and if they feel they need to make some changes they will. It's pretty clear that they want to win. The Hawks will spend right to the top of the cap to try to get it done."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Friday, 02.10.2012 / 1:56 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Fuhr interested in a new challenge

LAS VEGAS -- Grant Fuhr is comfortable living back in Edmonton and doing community and corporate relations work for the Oilers. He's also busy coaching a bantam team and rehabbing from having surgery on both knees three weeks ago.

Life is good for the Hall of Fame goalie and five-time Stanley Cup champion goaltender, but he wouldn't mind a different challenge down the road.

"I'd like to coach junior," Fuhr told NHL.com Friday morning from the Bellagio. "That's what I'd really like to try at some point in time."

Fuhr is the former goalie coach for the Flames and Coyotes, but he's talking about being a head coach in the Western Hockey League.

Why make the jump? Why bother?

"I enjoy the kids and I enjoy the process of what it takes to be successful," Fuhr said. "I think that's the fun part of it. For instance, this year I coach bantams and you see how focused parents and kids are about the end of the road, but they have no idea about the process of how to get to that point. I can mention it to them, point it out to them, and it's interesting to see that nobody has ever done because nobody knows. They just see the end result."

Fuhr, though, said he has not been putting out feelers to friends in the Western Hockey League as of yet. He moved back to Edmonton from Phoenix five months ago and is still getting settled. He also enjoys working with the Oilers, and can see his role growing in the community capacity.

"I've kind of got the perfect world right now," he said. "I've got free time. I still hang around the rink a bunch. I get to see junior games, NHL games and I get to coach kids games. I still get my share of hockey, but at the same time if I want to pick up and go play golf I can go play golf."

That will change if he starts coaching in the Western Hockey League.

"But that's OK," he said. "Hockey is still the right part of life."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 8:49 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Cujo: Leafs need a superstar

LAS VEGAS -- Ex-Toronto goalie Curtis Joseph is intrigued by the direction the Maple Leafs are taking this season, but he said he still believes they lack the superstar power that will put them among the elite teams in the Eastern Conference.

"It used to be that in order to be an elite team you needed superstars. Now in order to make the playoffs you have to have superstars, and you want one at every position if possible," Joseph told NHL.com Thursday from Wayne Gretzky's Fantasy Camp. "I think the Leafs have lacked superstars since Mats (Sundin) has been gone."

Joseph said a guy like Columbus captain Rick Nash is exactly the type of player the Leafs need. He used Nash as an example because of the recent trade rumors involving his name and the Maple Leafs.

"If they could do that, whatever they package up to get him, that would be huge for them because Nash is a superstar," Joseph said. "It's just like batting orders, you want your third, fourth and fifth guys to protect each other. (Phil) Kessel and (Joffrey) Lupul need a little protection."

Joseph, though, did have high praise for Phil Kessel, saying he has superstar qualities.

"That guy has got unbelievable skill and he's just starting to realize that he's in that tax bracket so to speak," Joseph said. "But, to be a superstar you have to think like a superstar, carry the weight, carry the team. Now he's got to get 40 goals and get others to hit 30."

But, even without the so-called superstar power, Joseph senses his old team is in a good spot and should only get better. He likes what he is seeing from goalies James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson.

"I think Reimer is going to be a good No. 1. The Monster, it seems like he likes that No. 2 role and he's flourishing with it," Joseph said. "They may have something with 1 and 1A, which is OK. If you can have a 1 and 1A and they both play well, that's great. If you have a B and a 2B, that's not good. So, it looks good, but they have to push each other."

The key, though, is making the playoffs this season. Joseph has been in the market long enough to know patience is wearing thin among the fans.

"The fans are really hungry," he said. "If you're a playoff contender then you're a Cup contender, so they need to be that. It looks like they can be this year. I think they're getting that chemistry and winning breeds chemistry, but I think they're still missing a superstar or two."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 8:01 PM

By Derek Mori -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Mori: Back in the Final at Gretzky Fantasy Camp

Derek Mori has been attending Wayne Gretzky's Fantasy Camp since 2006, when his wife sprung the trip on him as a 40th birthday gift. He is here for a seventh straight year and has agreed to blog his experiences for NHL.com.

Derek, who lives in Oakville, Ont., with his wife, Anita, and twin boys, says he's certainly not an ex-pro, but he's not a beginner either. He's been on the team that has won the Gretzky Fantasy Camp Cup four out of the six years he's been here, and he intends to do it again.

Read on to learn more about Derek's experience and what No. 99's camp is all about:


LAS VEGAS --
Two games down, two wins in the book, and a clear path to the Gretzky Cup Final. I've won the title here at this camp four out of the six years I've been here, and it's nice to know I'm going to have a shot for a fifth title this year.

Eddie Mio, the goalie on my team and one of our two ex-pros, absolutely stood on his head today. He was the first star in both games.

Marty McSorley, the other ex-pro on my team, is great to play with because he knows a lot of the technical stuff dealing with systems, where you're supposed to be, what responsibilities each player has. Although he's a fighter, he's got some great hockey awareness.

While on the bench Marty is a serious guy, but very much a team guy. He is telling guys all the time what to do and reminding them of their assignments. Even though you know, he'll remind you that, 'Hey, that guy there, that's your guy.' Marty is playing 'D' and after he comes off he'll tell people things that they could be doing or should be doing.

That's great because when you're playing men's pickup hockey, people don't say that stuff. Guys don't want to do that because it gets other guys angry. But, this is coming from a pro. These guys are trained elite athletes and it's engrained in them that when the puck goes here, they have to stand there and do this. They're trained like that and it's good to hear about it from them.

As for me, I did pretty well. Not only did we win both games, I got a goal in the first game. Wayne actually set me up on a 2-on-1 and then he rode his stick like Tiger Williams after I scored. The guys all got a good laugh out of that.

Wayne is just as excited as everyone else. He doesn't want to score, but he has fun setting guys up. He still has the hands and the vision.

The pace overall was a lot faster. In fact, every year it's getting faster. Maybe it's because I'm getting older and slower and the other guys coming here are younger and faster, but the pace was quick today and I was sucking some wind.

Twenty years ago it would be no problem, but now I'm just exhausted.

Our first game was against a team that included Jeremy Roenick, Brian Leetch and Grant Fuhr. We beat them 8-4, but I was talking to Fuhr and he told me that he had some work done on his knees recently. He said, 'I'm not going down, I don't care.'

The second game was tight and we barely squeaked it out. Guy Carbonneau and Denis Savard played for the other team and Curtis Joseph went in net for the second half of the game.

I hadn't met Carbonneau until breakfast this morning. He was sitting by himself and I was like, "Hey, come on over here and sit with us." Hey, he's a rookie here, gotta help him out. We were chit-chatting about hockey, and that's really what this is all about.

It's all hockey all the time here, and there is more to be played Friday.
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Posted On Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 7:18 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Leetch praises McDonagh, Rangers consistency

LAS VEGAS -- Hall of Fame defenseman Brian Leetch is impressed with all of the Rangers young defenseman, and he even went as far as saying that he sees some of himself when he watches Michael Del Zotto read the play and work hard to get up the ice.

However, the guy Leetch is most impressed with is Ryan McDonagh, the second-year blue-liner that the Rangers acquired from Montreal in the deal that sent Scott Gomez north of the border.

"I love him, yeah," Leetch told NHL.com Thursday from the Bellagio. "I look at him as one of the best skaters that I've seen. Del Zotto and (Marc) Staal and (Dan) Girardi, they're all very good skaters, but you can tell when they're skating full speed. They're working to get there and working to get into position, but with McDonagh's pivots and those just a couple of strides -- just a tremendous, tremendous skater."

Leetch wasn't done talking about McDonagh's skating.

"The way he can move side to side, and the power in those strides, stands out to me," he said later in the interview. "It looks different than I've seen."

The Rangers are also looking different than Leetch has seen in quite a while. He credited the team's ability to win despite not always playing its best as a reason why it is first in the Eastern Conference with 71 points heading into Thursday.

"I haven't seen them play where everybody is firing on all cylinders, and yet they continue to get points," Leetch said. "They're very consistent in their work ethic. They continue to stick with it and stick with it and find ways to get points. They're able to flatline their effort at a very high mark, but they may not have reached their highest yet. I haven't seen them play a complete game with things going right for everyone, but they just keep riding and rolling along."

A big reason for that is Henrik Lundqvist, who Leetch called "the most important guy to come into that organization since Mark Messier."

"People say he's playing better than he ever has," Leetch said. "I think he's played like this from his first year after the lockout right on through.

"What I was worried about is having a great goaltender like Lundqvist burn through his prime years without being able to build around him," he added. "I was nervous that they were not going to stick with the youth, patchwork around them, and maybe hit it for one year. But, they've stuck with those guys. That's the way to do it, and I think that breeds a lot of that team mentality, when those young players are coming up together and they have those same experiences off the ice together. That works well in their favor."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 5:14 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Gretzky has some sleeper teams to watch out for

LAS VEGAS -- Wayne Gretzky has his eye on Vancouver, Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis, but he doesn't think anybody that is focusing on the playoff race should skip past Nashville.

The Predators are Gretzky's sleeper team in the Western Conference.

"I like how they're playing," Gretzky told NHL.com Thursday from the Bellagio. "I think their goalie is playing as good as anybody in hockey right now. Hopefully the organization can keep that group together and I think they can give it a legitimate run."

As for his sleeper team in the Eastern Conference, Gretzky, who finished his career in New York, decided to cross the river for his pick.

"I like the way Marty Brodeur has bounced back," he said. "I think he's playing as well as he ever did lately. I like their team. I think New Jersey could be a tough opponent for whoever gets them in the playoffs."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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Posted On Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 2:58 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Tocchet talks Flyers and the urge to coach again

LAS VEGAS -- Rick Tocchet, now a part-time analyst for Flyers games on Comcast SportsNet, has been impressed with how his former team has persevered despite not having Chris Pronger since mid-November. However, Tocchet also told NHL.com Thursday morning that now, more than ever, the Flyers need Ilya Bryzgalov to step up and start living up to the expectations that he carried with him to Philadelphia.

"The young guys have played beyond expectations. Jagr has also played very well for them this season," Tocchet said from the Bellagio on Thursday. "They've got guys playing beyond the expectations that they thought they'd be at, but the guy that really is probably the most important guy that hasn't is Bryzgalov."

Tocchet said a big reason why the Flyers are still in the hunt for the Atlantic Division title and the top seed in the Eastern Conference is because of their team chemistry.

"You take (Shea) Weber, (Kris) Letang or other big-time defensemen away from their teams, it's going to be a chink in the armor," he said. "But, the (Flyers) team chemistry this year is at an all-time high, and sometimes team chemistry can overcome a big loss. But, listen, having Chris Pronger in a seven-game series is pretty special to have. It's a significant loss."

Tocchet is enjoying his job as a part-time analyst in Philadelphia because it allows him to spend more time at home in Pittsburgh with his 12-year-old son than he did when he was coaching in Tampa. However, he said Thursday that the itch is still there for him to coach in the NHL, and he'd like to scratch it soon.

"I've had a couple of calls for assistant coaching interviews, but it would have to be the right situation," Tocchet said. "You'd like to get a real solid chance with something really solid. If that happens, who knows? Listen, you get a taste for being a head coach you want to be a head coach. But, sometimes to get back in the game, you might have to be an assistant."

Tocchet admitted he still has a sour taste in his mouth from how it ended with the Lightning. He was not re-hired by GM Steve Yzerman after the team missed the playoffs in 2010 for the third straight season, and second under Tocchet.

"I could do full-time TV, but right now I do it part-time and that's really good," Tocchet said. "But, there is still that itch I'd like to scratch. You get a sour taste in your mouth from before, but part of it is a learning process, too. It's a good time to learn."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 2:37 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Hull chats about Hitchcock, Blues, Stars

LAS VEGAS -- Ex-Blues great Brett Hull swells with pride when he talks about the turnaround in St. Louis this season orchestrated by his former coach, Ken Hitchcock.

Hull, who spoke to NHL.com Thursday morning from the Bellagio, said it was "an absolute no-brainer" for Blues GM Doug Armstrong and President John Davidson to bring Hitchcock on board in early November because he's the exact coach the young team needed.

"They're group of young, talented kids that needed someone to give them direction and a no-nonsense approach to how we're going to play the game," Hull said. "It was just like in Dallas, if you didn't buy in and do it the right way at 100-plus percent, you weren't going to play. That's what those kids in St. Louis needed, and it's obvious that it's true because look at them now."

The Blues are fourth in the Western Conference with 69 points. They have two games in hand on fifth place Nashville and three games in hand on first place Detroit.

"It filters through the whole team," Hull added. "You're accountable to the next guy and he's accountable to the next guy. Then you're all working together, and it just breeds success."

Hull said he thinks the Blues are built to have success for many years to come with young players like T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, Alex Pietrangelo, David Backes, David Perron and Chris Stewart leading the way in front of one of the League's most formidable goalie tandems in Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott.

"From what I understand Hitch isn't quite as dictatorial as he was, so the players aren't going, 'OK, enough, enough,' " Hull said. "I do think it's built for the long term."

He can see some similarities between the Blues and another of his former teams and employers, the Dallas Stars.

Hull, though, said the Stars right now are a "generic" team that is missing a star.

"Jamie Benn has a chance to be a really good player, but he's still a baby and he hasn't figured it all out yet," Hull said. "Kari Lehtonen is a very good goalie, but other than that it's just a very generic, workmanlike, blue-collar team."

Hull still lives in Dallas and is around the team quite a bit though he has no official title. He is happy to see that Tom Galiardi has stabilized the ownership situation there, but said the only way for the team to win back the fans is to simply win and get in the playoffs.

Dallas is currently 12th in the Western Conference, but only two points shy of eighth.

"You feel bad for the team because you've got a two-time World Series team (Texas Rangers), you've got the World Champion Dallas Mavericks, and the perennial it doesn't matter if they go 0-16 Cowboys selling out a 100,000 seat building," Hull said. "There is only so much sport dollar to go around, but the only way to get 'em back is to win. But, to win you have to have a superstar-type player. There just isn't that right now."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 1:54 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Gretzky's annual return to the ice

LAS VEGAS -- Wayne Gretzky's Fantasy Camp, now in its 10th year of existence, still excites the Great One because it allows him to catch up with old friends and make new ones while gabbing about hockey the entire time.

Those two reasons are why he continues to hold the camp, and why it's the one time of year he laces up the skates and gets on the ice.

"One thing about being great players is sometimes I don't think people realize how much guys love the game of hockey," Gretzky told NHL.com Thursday morning from the Bellagio. "We can sit around and talk the game of hockey all day. So, my enjoyment comes in watching the campers come in and get the opportunity to ask questions to guys like Bobby Hull, and listen to stories about what happened in something like Game 7 of the '87 Cup Final. That's what it is all about. Everything about the camp is surrounded by the game of hockey, and that's what makes it enjoyable for me."

But why doesn't Gretzky skate anymore?

"Hockey is the greatest game in the world and playing in the NHL was a thrill and an honor, and I always felt that once I was done playing there and couldn't play anymore, there was no other league like the NHL so it would just not be the same playing in a Sunday night men's pickup league," he said. "So, I just stand on the sidelines and watch."

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Posted On Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 10:52 AM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Making good on dad's dying wish

LAS VEGAS -- Even in a group that includes Hall of Fame players like Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull, Bobby Hull, Brian Leetch and Grant Fuhr, the best stories can still sometimes come from two brothers from Linwood, Ont. named Scott and Kevin Basler.

Scott and Kevin are here at Wayne Gretzky's Fantasy Hockey Camp because it represents one of their father's dying wishes.

When Joe Basler got sick 16 months ago, he told his boys that if he were to die, they need to do something fun, a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing, with their inheritance money. He didn't want them to pay their taxes or pay off their cars or any debts they had; he wanted them to experience one of their dreams.

So, they each paid the $11,999 freight to come to Gretzky's camp with their wives and have the time of their lives.

"We used to joke around and kept asking to come to this camp as a Christmas present," Kevin said Wednesday night from the hospitality suite at the Bellagio, where the teams for this year's camp were revealed. "Our mom, Bernice, died in '02 and dad went and bought himself a Harley. He said you only live once. Well, this is our one-shot deal. That's why we're here."

Scott is in the furniture moving business and Kevin is a heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician as well as a huge New York Rangers fan. Scott is a big Toronto Maple Leafs fan.

They were put on a team that will be coached by Cap Raeder and Bobby Hull. Denis Savard and Guy Carbonneau are the former pros that they will be playing with, though Kevin would have fulfilled another one of his dreams to land on the same team as Brian Leetch.

The next best thing is getting to know Leetch and all the other former pros here.

Dad would be happy.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.08.2012 / 10:02 PM

By Derek Mori -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Mori: Gretzky's Fantasy Camp a dream come true

Derek Mori has been attending Wayne Gretzky's Fantasy Camp since 2006, when his wife sprung the trip on him as a 40th birthday gift. He is here for a seventh straight year and has agreed to blog his experiences for NHL.com.

Derek, who lives in Oakville, Ont. with his wife, Anita, and twin boys, says he's certainly not an ex-pro, but he's not a beginner either. He's been on the team that has won the Gretzky Fantasy Camp Cup four out of the six years he's been here, and he intends to do it again.

Read on to learn more about Derek's experience and what No. 99's camp is all about:


LAS VEGAS -- This is my seventh year coming to Wayne Gretzky's Fantasy Camp, and it never gets old.

What started as a surprise 40th birthday gift from my wife, Anita, to me has turned into an annual experience that has given me a new fraternity of hockey buddies. That is why I keep coming back -- the camaraderie, the friendships, and the fun time we all have together.

The hockey, if you can believe it, has become the bonus. Although, when you come here, it's like you're a kid again playing hockey on a road trip, only we're adults now and we can pretty much do whatever the heck we want. No curfews for us.

I was born and raised in Scarborough, Ont. and currently live in Oakville. I am a nuclear engineer, which sounds a lot grander than it is, and I have been playing hockey since I was five years old. I'm a huge fan, to the point where my wife jokes with me that I know too many useless things.

What sprung her interest in getting me to this camp back in 2006 was my admiration for Wayne Gretzky. I followed his career closely, so she gave me this great gift to go to Phoenix for his camp. Now, I will say that I am a die-hard Toronto Maple Leafs fan and always have been. I bleed blue, even though we as fans have been bleeding for far too long now.

I love this game, and I love this camp because of the great friends I made. It's only once a year, but it's easy to reacquaint yourself with everyone. That's what we've been doing, letting our hair down and getting to know one another again. We swap our own hockey stories all the time.

For the first couple of camps it really felt as though I was living out my fantasy. You go through the dressing room, see all the pros that you used to watch and admire on Hockey Night in Canada, and it becomes like you've won your own Stanley Cup and this is the reward.

That's an irreplaceable feeling and certainly it hasn't worn off, but now I also enjoy talking to the guys, the campers, who are here for the first time and telling them my experiences. They always want to know what to expect and I'm able to tell them. I enjoy it, socializing with them and making more hockey friends. That's why I come back. It's a great time, bottom line.

Most of us got here Tuesday afternoon and our week started by getting ourselves registered. That's when we get all of our new gear, all the outer equipment -- helmets, gloves, sticks, jerseys, pants, socks, bags. It's pretty much everything you can think of except your under garments and under equipment. You also get fitted with all kinds of hats, gloves, sweat suits, sweatshirts, etc.

Everything has Wayne's logo on it. You name it, he's got it. I have six years' worth of stuff that I share now with my twin brother, Darren. I'm not complaining about it, and neither is he.

Tuesday night we had a light reception so we could all get reacquainted and get to know the new guys as well as meet Wayne again. One of the more memorable things for me every year is he always remembers me. He must meet thousands of people, but he remembers me.

I remember my first year at the camp, we were in Phoenix at the time, and you know you're going to get to play with Wayne. Well, there he goes setting me up on two breakaways. I scored on one of them, and it's all on video. What a fantastic feeling, Wayne Gretzky set me up for a breakaway goal.

Well, I come the next year and Wayne says to me, 'Hey, you're the breakaway guy.' That's what I became known as for a while, but later on he remembered my name.

Everyone went out for a late night Tuesday. It's a great time because you get to know a lot more about the other players in such a relaxed, social setting. Then, today, Wednesday, was our first day on the ice in sort of a training camp where the coaches evaluate you so they can rate us and make even teams.

All the guys you were out with the night before, you can't remember all of their names because there are so many different guys, but you get to know them well and then you get to play with them.

But, really, the on the ice portion of this is the bonus. You play hockey and party, have a great time. It's really almost the perfect day.

 

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Posted On Wednesday, 02.08.2012 / 7:47 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Keenan talks current state of the Rangers

LAS VEGAS -- Ex-Rangers coach Mike Keenan envisions his old team as being a tough out come playoff time because they're built to withstand the rigors of a physical series.

"That's the way they're built," Keenan told NHL.com Wednesday from the Las Vegas Ice Center, where he was scouting players he will wind up coaching at Wayne Gretzky's Fantasy Hockey Camp. "You can't be running out, waving a flag and declaring that this is a dynasty. But, their work ethic, goaltending and their team defensive posture has done it for them."

Keenan, who is a part-time analyst for Rangers' broadcasts on the MSG Network, isn't ready to plan the victory parade down the Canyon of Heroes just yet, but he appreciates the team philosophy and dynamic coach John Tortorella has crafted in New York.

"Early in the season, at least by November, I picked up the fact that they were one of the hardest working teams in the League and hard to play against," Keenan said. "John has them playing a defensive style and a physical style. They are a competitive group. They work well together. They have defensive posture and are willing to sacrifice for each other. And, they play a real demanding, physical style based on the players they have."

The last part is important to note because with the trade deadline quickly approaching (3 p.m. ET on Feb. 27), Keenan is wondering what, if anything, the Rangers will do? He noted that they're not among the top teams in scoring this season (13th entering play Wednesday) and that both Brandon Dubinsky and Brian Boyle are having down years offensively based on what they did a season ago.

Dubinsky had 24 goals last season, but only six so far this season. Boyle had 21 goals last season, but only four so far this season.

Keenan said the key is for teams such as the Rangers, who are in first place in the Eastern Conference, to not be afraid to pull the trigger on a deal.

"The New York Rangers were in first place at the trading deadline in 1994 and we made very significant trades to improve the team," Keenan said. "People said, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'Well, through my experience, I have already been to the Cup Final three times and have a pretty good handle on what the ingredients are for success in the playoffs.' There is an ingredient that you know and understand that you need. John Tortorella and Glen Sather both won the Cup so they know what the ingredients are. If they can find that ingredient that they don't have, then they should do that."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.08.2012 / 4:27 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Roenick ready for first crack at Gretzky camp

LAS VEGAS -- The always gregarious Jeremy Roenick will arrive here Thursday morning to take part in his first Wayne Gretzky Fantasy Camp, and he told NHL.com on Wednesday that he can't wait for it.

"Just to be invited by Gretz was awesome," Roenick said. "I love that."

But, more to the point, Roenick is looking forward to getting on the ice and getting to hang out with the guys who will be known as campers this week.

"To be around other people, all these fans, that get to pay and hang out with us, get on the ice with us -- I love fan interaction," he said. "It's one of my favorite things about being a professional hockey player, so I'm looking forward to meeting some of the guys, the people that supported me for so long, getting on the ice with them and maybe getting to teach them a couple of things."

He's also interested in getting a chance to catch up with some of his old colleagues and teammates that will join him as the former players in camp.

"There will be some storytelling," Roenick said.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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Posted On Wednesday, 02.08.2012 / 3:21 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Gretzky Fantasy Camp Blog

Back in Vegas with No. 99

LAS VEGAS -- We're back in the glitziest town in the U.S.A. for the Great One's Fantasy Camp.

Wayne Gretzky has again allowed NHL.com to go behind the scenes at his annual camp that gives regular house league heroes the opportunity to skate and play both with and against No. 99 and some of his buddies on the ice at a rink a short distance away from the famous Las Vegas Boulevard.

Talk about a welcome break from trade rumors.

The list of former players that are scheduled to attend is a who's who, including Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Grant Fuhr, Guy Carbonneau, Marty McSorley, Jeremy Roenick, Curtis Joseph, Rick Tocchet, Russ Courtnall and Geoff Courtnall. Bobby Hull and Mike Keenan are also on the list, though Keenan is scheduled to be a coach along with Cap Roeder.

The international group of "campers" here are from all walks of life. They're doctors, dentists, attorneys, businessmen, whatever -- but for a few brief days they pay to play against and party with some of their hockey heroes, including Gretzky himself.

Our own E.J. Hradek, who will be shooting segments for NHL Live from the Bellagio, is one of the guys that will get on the ice and test his skills against some of the best to ever lace 'em up in the NHL. I'll promise not to rip on E.J. too much in this blog before I depart Vegas on a red-eye flight late Friday night, but promises can be broken.

It's all on you to perform, E.J.

Really, though, this blog is here to serve you, the reader that is not here in Vegas.

What does Leetch think of the Rangers' chances to do what the New York Giants just did and what he did back in 1994, parade down the Canyon of Heroes in lower Manhattan?

What does Brett Hull think of the job his old coach, Ken Hitchcock, is doing with the Blues this season?

Does Fuhr have some opinions on the game's best goaltenders?

What does Keenan have to say about the job John Tortorella is doing with the Rangers?

Does McSorley have an opinion on the best fighters and antagonists in the NHL today?

Do Tocchet and Carbonneau want to coach again?

And, most important of all, what does Gretzky think of all of the above and more?

The goal from now until that red-eye takes off is to have answers to all of those questions and more right here in this blog.

Stay tuned.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Quote of the Day

They said, 'You're going to love the city. It's smaller than Philadelphia, but you're going to love it. You're going to love the fans.' Just watching the playoffs last year, the fans seemed louder there than they did anywhere. I'm really excited about that.

— Forward Scott Hartnell on his upcoming season with the Columbus Blue Jackets