LAS VEGAS -- St. Louis Blues owner Tom Stillman initially thought a friend was playing a joke on him, but he knew that couldn't be the case because the name and number that came up on his phone was one that he had saved in his contacts folder.
The Great One was indeed calling the new owner of the Blues to invite him to be his guest at the 11th annual Wayne Gretzky Fantasy Camp.
"It's maybe the most surreal experience I've had since I got involved with the Blues," Stillman told NHL.com Tuesday morning before playing in his first game at the Fantasy Camp. "Really, I can remember times when people used to leave phone messages for me saying it was Wayne Gretzky, ha ha, but it was him and he was asking me to come to the event, saying that they were planning to wear Blues uniforms this year so they'd like me to come.
"When the Great One calls, what are you going to do? You're going to go. This is the hockey fantasy camp of fantasy camps"
Stillman played NCAA Division III hockey at Middlebury College. He still plays regularly, at least three times per week, including once a week with members of the Blues' alumni still living in the St. Louis area.
Gretzky, whose wife Janet is from St. Louis and still has family living there, said he had met Stillman while attending some Blues home games last season.
"Right about the time he had finalized his deal to buy the team, I told him every year I do a different theme [for the Fantasy Camp] and this year I'm doing the St. Louis Blues of 1967," Gretzky told NHL.com. "I said, 'I heard you play on the alumni team once a week, so I'd love for you to come out and be our guest, just be part of this, see what it's all about.' We're thrilled to have him. It's exciting."
Stillman, who became Chairman and Governor of the Blues on May 9, 2012, is remarkably self-deprecating about his ability on the ice.
"I think I'm what you would classify as a never-been," he said smiling. "There is a big asterisk there. I play slowly and in a very old-man fashion. I think the phrase is, 'The depth chart doesn't go far enough down for me.'"
But that's the beauty of this camp. Ability and age don't matter. There are no depth charts.
"He's a fresh new owner in the game," Gretzky said. "He's a St. Louis guy that loves the city and that's great for the game. If he also plays, I was like, 'Come on out, come and be my guest.' That's what it's all about."