SASKATOON - The two men known respectively as "Mr. Hockey" and "The Great One" are hopeful that Team Canada can win gold at the Vancouver Olympics, but they say it will be a tough competition.
Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky spoke out about the chances for the men's hockey team when they gathered in Saskatoon for a sports celebrity dinner Friday.
"They'll win," Howe said when asked for his prediction in an interview with The Canadian Press before the gala. "Unless they lose," he quipped.
"But I think they've got a strong a port of hockey players."
Howe said he saw the team practise and thought they were very good.
"They've got some of the elderly statesmen who have been around the game for a while and if that rubs off on the younger ones they'll be doing fine."
Gretzky's prediction came before a crowd of more than 1,200 people at the dinner where Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a well-known hockey historian, refereed a conversation between "The Great One" and "Mr. Hockey." Gretzky said the game will come down to two things.
"One, goaltending. I always told Marty Brodeur 'You don't like hearing this Marty but the pressure's on you' and he would always tell me 'I know.' Secondly, if your best players play at the calibre they're capable of playing at under high scrutiny then they'll be fine," said Gretzky.
Gretzky said Team Canada is a favourite to win a gold medal, but unfortunately will play against some tough teams, including the Russians, the Czechs, the Swedes and the United States.
"Competition's going to be great and I think it's going to be exciting and I think it's going to be great for the country. Hopefully we're in that gold medal game and get a chance to win gold again."
"It is our game. It is our country," said Gretzky.
"This will be the one place in the world that come February 28th will shut down in the afternoon so everybody can watch a hockey game and you just don't get that in any other country."
The 40-minute long conversation with Howe and Gretzky was like a dream for hockey fans as the men talked about the future of the game and its past. Gretzky recalled that he was 10-years-old when he first met Howe, his hockey idol. The men would later face off on the ice.
"The first game we played I was 17-years-old and I remember skating around the warmup and thinking 'Oh my goodness I'm playing against Gordie Howe,"' said Gretzky.
"Gordie was over there and he was looking at me, he was winking to me and he was telling me 'Good luck.' So the first shift I go down and I lifted his stick up and I got the puck and I'm going back the other way and he came down the ice and he gave me a whack in the hand and I went 'Oh my goodness.' And he got the puck and he went back the other way."
"I said 'I'm never taking the puck from him again.' That was it," laughed Gretzky and the crowd.
Toward the end of the conversation, Harper asked the men about their worst or toughest moment in their long hockey careers.
"My first punch on Rocket's nose," joked Howe. "No, not really. I think Rocket was mad at me. I beat him at golf."
Howe said in the interview that he's too old to skate for Team Canada now, but joked that "maybe" the team can win without him.
"I hope they do," said Howe. "If they play well and everything falls in line they'll do it. If they don't they should be respected for the effort they're putting in."