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.