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Posted On Friday, 02.11.2011 / 6:35 PM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - Gretzky in Vegas

A future in the game

LAS VEGAS -- Jesse Brewer is 4 years old and he lives in a city, Las Vegas, that doesn't have an NHL team but still he can name 15 teams in the League and proudly roots for the Los Angeles Kings. Jesse also knows who Wayne Gretzky, which is why it was such a thrill for him to have his blue helmet signed by The Great One on Friday.

Since he's 4, Jesse obviously didn't provide the fullest quotes when I asked him what it was like to get Gretzky's autograph, but the smile on his face was all we needed to see.

Jesse's father, Justin, who nearly broke my computer on Thursday when he kicked the cord, was as excited for his little boy. Justin is trying to teach Jesse about the game and says he's getting there. He called him a little rink rat.

Gretzky noticed that, too. When Jesse approached him for the autograph -- he was the first of many kids at the Las Vegas Ice Center who got The Great One's to sign something -- Gretzky said, "I saw you here yesterday, don't you go to school?" Jesse quickly said no and Justin chimed in that he already graduated.

It drew a good laugh from the people surrounding Gretzky, who was sitting on a picnic table in between the two rinks here at the rink and was immediately mobbed by humbled kids looking to get the greatest signature in hockey.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Posted On Friday, 02.11.2011 / 6:27 PM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - Gretzky in Vegas

Camp Profiles in Courage: Rick Tocchet

LAS VEGAS -- Rick Tocchet's jersey hung in his locker stall Thursday afternoon, but the ex-player and coach was mysteriously absent from the on-ice portion of Wayne Gretzky's Fantasy Camp.

Now we know why. We just wish we didn't.

"Well, I didn't dress, I had kidney stones," Tocchet informed "It's the first time I ever had them and probably is one of the most painful things I've had in my life. I'd actually rather fight Marty McSorley five times and have my hands tied behind my back than have what I had. I'm sure that people that have had them will attest to that."

To his credit, Tocchet was here Friday to adhere to the commitment he made to The Great One.

Talk about a profile in courage.

"Well, if I didn't play Wayne was going to cut me," he said. "So, I had to show up."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Posted On Friday, 02.11.2011 / 12:27 AM

By John Dellapina - Staff Writer / - Gretzky in Vegas

All good things must come to an end

Sitting in the largely deserted Continental Presidents Club at McCarran Airport across from Dan Rosen, whose brain and fingers should be far more fatigued than my legs and back considering how much he wrote for over the last few days.

Awaiting the red eye back to Newark, our time at the Wayne Gretzky Fantasy Camp is up. Which is too bad on one hand -- it's a blast being around The Great One and many nearly-as-great ones such as Leetch, Chelios, Hull, Fuhr, et al. -- and a relief on the other -- chasing those renowned folks and the many talented campers around the Las Vegas Ice Center rink the past few days has been exhausting.

Today, for the last round-robin tilt for our Team Keenan, I was moved up to forward. Never having played anything but defense going all the way back to my days of playing roller hockey at the Cheese Box in Astoria, I find myself completely disoriented on the rare occasions when I have to take a shift up front. And today was no different.

Know how the puck always seemed to come to Gretzky without him having to chase it? It always seemed to be going to the place I had just vacated today. Except for the two times I was set up for point-blank one-timers only to instinctively do what comes naturally when playing defense: redirect the puck AWAY from the net. Then there was the one time I figured I'd try to create some traffic in front, only to look up to the terrifying sight of a John MacLean rocket coming right at me.

"You almost hit me with that one," I reported to MacLean when we repaired to the lockerroom.

"I was trying to," he replied in a matter of fact tone that either was vintage MacLean deadpan or simply him telling a chilling truth.

Still, I maintain that anybody can play forward but it takes a true talent and student of the game to play defense.

Which is meant as no disrespect to the three new friends from New York that I came all the way to Las Vegas to meet. Then again, maybe I should be questioning the intelligence of Brooklyn boys Charles Sued, Fred Harari and David Beyda, who formed a high-energy line for Team Keenan today. Not only did they give me high fives and say "Nice shift" after many of my clueless turns, they took a picture with E.J. Hradek and me in the lobby of the Bellagio hotel. Hopefully, they'll just use it as a prop to tell all their friends back home how slow and cement-handed we both were.

Anyway, I finally found a way to get some of the too-generous campers to take back some of the ice time I was eating up: I bailed after the second period. We were down, 7-4,  at the time. And when Team Keenan fell into a 10-4 hole early in the third, I was beginning to believe that maybe the Brooklyn boys were right and my shifts hadn't been that bad.

But then the mates I left behind mounted a furious comeback only to fall, 10-9. As MacLean came off the ice he offered this assessment of my decision not to play the third period: "Best move you made the entire camp."

Sad but true.
Posted On Thursday, 02.10.2011 / 9:30 PM

By John Dellapina - Staff Writer / - Gretzky in Vegas

Achy breaky body

Our team "Team Keenan" has 20 skaters -- that's four full lines and four defense pairs. So I'm only playing every fourth shift.

And still, my entire body aches. This is sad.

The day began enjoyably enough. I set up shop near the NHL Live! shooting location and got on-camera interviews with Wayne Gretzky, Brian Leetch, Brett Hull and Bernie Nicholls that should show up on NHL Network and over the next couple of weeks and months. I'm reminded at times like these that most of hockey's all-timers aren't just phenomenal athletes, they're good people who revere the game and never tire of talking about it and helping to promote it.

Things continued to go swimmingly when I dressed between Grant Fuhr and John MacLean in the "pros' room" where the Gretzky Fantasy Camp has stationed the participating NHL alumni and interlopers like me, E.J. Hradek, Alan Thicke and Chad Kroeger of Nickelback. It's always great to spend time with the classy MacLean -- we talked New Jersey youth hockey, which has nurtured both of our sons. And it was great to listen to the stories and jabs going around the room.

One repeatable highlight: the not-quite-in-playing-shape Hull standing in the middle of the room in his black L.A. Kings sweater and black hockey pants and proclaiming. "I thought black was slimming!"

Then the games began.

I tried to simply take a shift or two and leave the ice time to the fine folks who have actually paid good money to play, but hockey folk are too welcoming for that. So Keenan and his assistant coach, Rangers Director of U.S. Amateur Scouting and former Phoenix GM player agent Mike Barnett, insisted I play a regular shift. I did -- as MacLean's defense partner. Suffice to say that I might have set a record for most D-to-D passes per shift -- my theory at times like this is simple: Get the puck off your stick as quickly as possible and back to the best player near you.

We dropped a tight game in the early afternoon. And while I wasn't to blame, can't really say the same for Marty McSorley. Nobody here is more engaging with the campers than Marty, but his decision to rag a puck for 30 seconds in our zone late in a tied game rather than make any number of easy passes up ice resulted in a turnover that cost us the game.

When we trudged back to the locker room and Gretzky, who had played in another game, asked how we did, he cracked: "Wow, that's something new: Guys coming back to a locker room complaining that Marty cost them a game."
Of course, what really cost us was the fact that Chris Chelios was on the other team. And somehow, even though that Cap Raeder-coached team also had a cast of thousands on its bench, Chelios played just about every minute. Seriously, Chelios is way too close to NHL shape for this. Any time you want to leave the ice would be fine with us, Chris.

The second half of our doubleheader was a rollicking affair made all the more fun because Gretzky joined our team. At one point, the opposing goaltender caught a rut and crumpled to the ice -- just as we were nudging home a rebound -- with an injury that required him to be helped off by two trainers.

Said Keenan: "I hope he's not hurt too badly. Marty, make sure that goal counts."

It did. But it wasn't enough. We got buried by a flurry of late goals against and we're out of championship contention. Can't say I'm broken up about that. Dragging my aching body back out for a title game after our final round-robin game Friday doesn't feel like something I could manage.

Couldn't have logged more than 10 minutes of ice time in either game and now, I can't tie my shoes. Sad.

Posted On Thursday, 02.10.2011 / 6:31 PM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - Gretzky in Vegas

Seen and heard around the dressing room

LAS VEGAS -- Seen and heard around the pro's dressing room prior to the games Thursday at Wayne Gretzky's Fantasy Camp:

Ex-NHL goalie Eddie Mio commenting on Brett Hull's new shall we say rounder body and how he looked wearing the black L.A. Kings uniform:

"I'm sorry buddy, but I can't believe you scored almost a thousand goals. I just can't believe looking at you now that you scored almost a thousand goals."

Hull responding to Mio: "I thought black was supposing to be thinning."

Denis Savard, holding an Oilers' sweater with Gretzky 99 on the back, asking Gretzky for an autograph:

"It's for a buddy of mine in Chicago. He's had this for a while and has been waiting to get it signed. I might not give it back to him, though!!"

Mike Keenan holding up Chris Chelios' old, think and tattered shoulder pads:

"Do you see these things? How do you wear these things?"

Chelios responding by ripping the pads out of Keenan's hands and saying he's had them since he played for Keenan in 1991.

Gretzky pulling the Kings' black jersey over his head and telling me that it feels good on him.

John MacLean pulling the same Kings' black jersey over his head and commenting how big it is on him.

Bernie Nicholls name misspelled on the back of his jersey. It was missing an L.

Every player clowning around and swapping stories like it was old times.

"I recognize a lot of the faces," Hull said, "but I don't recognize a lot of the body types."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

Posted On Thursday, 02.10.2011 / 6:17 PM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - Gretzky in Vegas

Legends speak and Crosby rules

LAS VEGAS -- The Hall of Famers have spoken and they believe that Sidney Crosby is by far and away the best player in the world right now even though he isn't playing due to a concussion.

Wayne Gretzky referred to Crosby as the League's "best player" and Brett Hull told that it's not even close.

"As an overall player there is no question," Hull said. "Last year I would have said Ovechkin a little bit over Sid because I'm a goal scorers' guy, but Sid just picked it up and said, 'I'm going to do it all.' His ability to lead, his skating is so phenomenal and his playmaking -- there is no question that Sid is the guy."

Bernie Nicholls, who had 1,209 points over 18 NHL seasons, compared Crosby to Wayne Gretzky.

"He's the next Gretzky," Nicholls told "To me, Gretz was amazing, but to see the way Sid handles himself, how good he is for the game, he's just a tremendous talent and he is fun to watch. I don't even think it's close. He's won a Stanley cup, won a gold medal -- he's the man. He's head and shoulders above them all. Sid is just a winner."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Posted On Wednesday, 02.09.2011 / 9:15 PM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - Gretzky in Vegas

Keenan wants red line back in

LAS VEGAS -- Dellapina has a point. I shouldn't expound on another man's strengths and weaknesses when I don't even have my skates with me. Then again, isn't that my job? Am I not paid to analyze and write what experts like Walter Gretzky tell me.

My job isn't to pretend I'm a hockey player.

Anyhow, in other news from my conversation earlier today with Mike Keenan, the ex-coach of eight NHL franchises told me he'd like to see the NHL bring the red line back.

What's that you say about the red line?


Yeah, I said it, too. I am perfectly fond of the game as it is today with how fast guys go through the neutral zone, but Iron Mike said that he'd prefer seeing guys have to think their way into the offensive zone rather than whip the puck in over two lines and immediately go on the forecheck.

I would think it's safe to say that Keenan is in the minority in this debate and the NHL doesn't have any plans to reinstitute the red line, but when a guy with a Stanley Cup ring who has coached in the League for three decades talks about the game as it's played today you tend to listen.

I did.

Here's what Keenan had to say:

"You don't have to be a skilled thinker to bring the puck out of your own zone. You don't have to be a skilled thinker in the neutral," Keenan said. "It's because of the red line. When they took the red line out, and Chicago did this last year and won the Cup, they whip the puck as hard as you can to a post-up man at the far blue line, he tips it in and now you're on the forecheck. See, I played Division I hockey and Cornell was winning the championships because they played like that. I absolutely hated the game because I played defense and you were backpedaling already to retrieve the puck. There was no thinking. The game was perceived to be faster because the puck went from end to end faster, but the thinking was not as acute as it had to be when there was a red line.

"I want thinkers. I think the game is a lot more fascinating to watch with the red line. They say the coaches devised all these systems to clog the neutral zone up, but you watch now, they play a 1-2-2 and the defensemen have to play from the far blue line to that end as opposed to the red line to that end.

"I like the athleticism of the people participating. I like the skill set. I've coached in the league for three decades and there is a lot of perspective. Some people are saying the game is a lot faster. In some ways it is, but in the design of the rules in a lot of ways you don't have to think as much."

Disagree if you want, but he's not changing his opinion.

NHL Live! will be broadcasting from Wayne Gretzky's Fantasy Camp on Thursday and Friday from noon-2 p.m. ET. Follow on, NHL Network and Sirius/XM radio.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Posted On Wednesday, 02.09.2011 / 8:45 PM

By John Dellapina - Staff Writer / - Gretzky in Vegas

Blame the pants

First of all, shut up, Rosen. Until you lace 'em up and get out there with us, get off Hradek's and my backs -- heaven knows we don't need anything else weighing us down.

As for Walter Gretzky, thank you. Clearly, the Father of the Great One practices what he preached to his ever-polite son: If you don't have anything nice to say about somebody, don't say anything at all.

I blame the pants.

E.J. and I were among the last "campers" to visit the hockey player's dream world that is the equipment truck parked outside the Las Vegas Ice Center yesterday. So we had to take what we could get -- which was a whole lot of amazing, spanking new gear. Unfortunately, all they had left were Byfuglien-sized pants. Since I'm more of Zuccarello-sized player, I felt like I was wearing a barrel around my waist when we ventured out for the one-hour practice/evaluation that will set the teams for the games that begin tomorrow at Wayne Gretzky's Fantasy Camp.

Yeah, that's it. It was the pants that caused me to be among the last to finish the skating drills and to be heading North whenever the puck was heading South during the 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 games that coach Cap Raeder drew up on the board for us to play.

I am proud to report that I didn't bust any drills by making the wrong pass or going left when I should have gone right. But that was only because I was smart enough to get far back in the drill lines to watch others perform the elementary tasks first. I owe all the Mites, Squirts, Pee Wees, Bantams and Midgets I've coached over the years an apology because making sense of those basic instructions diagrammed on a coach's board is much harder than I ever thought.

So, apparently, is getting back to your skates after wiping out during a breakaway relay drill -- which is what I did upon failing to score on my one chance in that practice-closing contest. As I floundered around in the corner, my "teammates" on the grey squad (named after our jerseys, not our hair color), watched in helpless horror -- the next shooter couldn't take off until I got back to the blue line.

I never thought it was possible to be humbled on a hockey rink because I've never been under the illusion that I was any good at this game. But as Glen Sather once very impolitely said about classy veteran John MacLean, my "giddy-up doesn't giddy-up anymore."

I blame the pants.
Posted On Wednesday, 02.09.2011 / 6:08 PM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - Gretzky in Vegas

Fantasy fun in the Vegas sun

LAS VEGAS -- Canadian actor Alan Thicke of "Growing Pains" fame and Albertan-born rocker Chad Kroeger from the band Nickelback are two of the more than 60 "campers" in Sin City this week. So are NHL PR guru and chief Brian Leetch expert (though he clearly hasn't learned a thing from years of covering him) John Dellapina and "NHL Live" host and plodding winger E.J. Hradek, but that's another story altogether.

It costs $11,000 to participate in Wayne Gretzky's annual fantasy camp, but for these people it was like giving to a charity that benefits themselves. The idea that for four days they can act like pros and play with and against Hall of Famers is priceless to these dreamers. It is absolutely worth the price of admission.

For example, here you have a natural gas tycoon and a wildly successful dentist out of Ottawa skating in practice while Walter Gretzky sits in the stands and jots down some scouting notes about them, grading them with an A, B, C or D.

He loves it. So do the players. How could they not? They are paying to be a pro, and they would probably pay double.

Cap Raeder, Marty McSorley and ex-Coyotes GM and Gretzky agent Mike Barnett were running practices Wednesday at the Las Vegas Ice Center. Mike Keenan was sitting in the bleachers, where he was joined for a short while by Glenn Anderson.

They traded stories and ripped on Barnett for wearing white warm-up pants on the ice.

"He can't be on my coaching staff," screamed Keenan, who will be manning one of the benches opposite Raeder when the games get under way Thursday.

Of course Gretzky is the star of the show here, but Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Anderson, Bernie Nicholls, Denis Savard Grant Fuhr and Chris Chelios are just some of the legends that will be playing this week.

Dellapina and Hradek are legends in their own mind. In fact, when I asked Walter Gretzky what he thought of No. 8 in gray (Dellapina), he said he didn't even see him, that he was invisible out there.

Sounds about right. Hey, I am also surprised Hradek could make it up and down the ice by the end of the hour-long practice.

I guess surprises really do lurk around every corner of this game.

We all won't be surprised Thursday when we see that a 50-year-old Great One can still skate and feather passes all over the ice.

We can't wait.

NHL Live! will be broadcasting from Wayne Gretzky's fantasy hockey camp on Thursday and Friday from noon-2 p.m. ET. Follow on, NHL Network and Sirius/XM radio.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Posted On Tuesday, 02.08.2011 / 3:05 PM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - Gretzky in Vegas

Off to Vegas

Wayne Gretzky in Las Vegas! Sign me up.

I'll be early Wednesday morning to catch my flight to Sin City where I will spend three days chatting with and writing about the Great One and some of his great pals at Gretzky's annual Fantasy Camp.

Joining 99 in Las Vegas will be Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios, Mike Keenan, Glenn Anderson, Rick Tocchet, Denis Savard, Grant Fuhr, John MacLean and Bernie Nichols among others. The home base is the Bellagio Resort and Casino on Las Vegas Boulevard, but a great deal of the action will take place at the Las Vegas Ice Center.

This is the ninth year Gretzky has held his fantasy camp. House-league dreamers pay to play with and against some of the best to ever lace 'em up in the NHL, and we have the honor of being there to cover it all.

I'll be bringing my Flip Cam, so be sure to look out for some video from the ice and inside the dressing rooms. This blog will be populated at various times Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before the red-eye brings me back home to New Jersey, or rather, back to reality.

NHL Live will be broadcasting live from the Bellagio on Thursday and Friday and the shows will be chock full of noteworthy guests, including Gretzky himself. A full schedule of who will be on and when will be released Wednesday. E.J. Hradek and Dave Strader will be your hosts.

I'm told E.J. will also be on the ice Thursday and Friday after he finishes his hosting duties, so we will absolutely be sure to give some instant analysis of that. We just hope he doesn't sully the reputations of all of you hard-working house leaguers out there.

If you want to know where the Great One falls in the Crosby-Ovechkin-Stamkos debate, stay tuned. If you want to hear from Chelios about rigors young defensemen have to go through in this League, keep hitting refresh. We'll ask Brian Leetch about the '94 Rangers, why it never worked again for them and if he feels the Hurricanes, Ducks and Blackhawks could be succumbing to a similar fate. We'll talk to Brett Hull about Steven Stamkos' one-timer and John MacLean about his future.

There will be plenty to write and discuss. It all gets under way Wednesday from America's playground.

NHL Live! will be broadcasting from Las Vegas from noon-2 p.m. ET Thursday and Friday. The show is available on NHL Network, and Sirius/XM Radio.

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

Every D-man who comes from Sweden has watched him play. He was my idol growing up and he's the reason I started to play 'D.'

— Coyotes' Oliver Ekman-Larsson on Hall of Fame defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom
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