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Achy breaky body

Thursday, 02.10.2011 / 9:30 PM

By John Dellapina - NHL.com Staff Writer / Gretzky in Vegas

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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 NHL.com 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.

Quote of the Day

What we expected is what we got. Very mature young individual that's focused. He is on the right track. He's not only a great hockey individual, but he's a good person off the ice. He seemed to take a leadership role with this group right off the hop and ran away with it, and was vocal, was respectful, was everything it takes to be a Panther. His future looks bright.

— Florida Panthers director of player development Brian Skrudland on defenseman Aaron Ekblad's performance at development camp