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Hradek: Bronze in the bag, and a host of thanks

by EJ Hradek

With another Wayne Gretzky Fantasy Camp in the books -- my team skated away with the bronze medal, but more on that in a bit -- I have to offer a huge thanks to Wayne and his entire staff, led by Darren Blake, Jeff Holbrook and Jenny Granich.

Aside from working tirelessly to give the campers a once-in-a-lifetime experience, they're always available to help our group at the NHL Network and with access to the legends and the logistics of our coverage.

In particular, Jenny managed to find time for some of our silly requests while juggling an impossibly busy schedule. Thanks!

Again this year, it was terrific to catch up with Wayne and the impressive cast of former players as well as the campers, some of whom I've gotten to know over the past few years.

Amazingly, fantasy camp lifer Derek Mori was part of his seventh championship team in nine camp visits. I don't know how he does it. I mean, he's not that good! But he is a team player and a terrific guy. I guess that still goes a long way. Congrats to Derek, good guy Brian Hyken and the rest of Team D on a job well done.

My team -- the much beloved Team C -- earned the precious bronze with a come-from-behind 6-5 win over Team E. Yours truly netted the eventual game-winner with a no-angle shot that caromed off goalie Jon Callahan and into the net behind him. It was beyond lucky! In a show of thanks, I offered Callahan an NHL Network hat. Thanks, Jon. I owe you one.

My teammate, four-time Olympic gold medalist Hayley Wickenheiser, finally got her talented hands on a bronze. See what playing alongside of me will do for your career? She now has four Olympic golds, one Olympic silver and the prestigious Gretzky Fantasy Camp bronze!

Before I head for the airport, a few final observations.

For those wondering whether No. 99 will return to the NHL, I can only say he seems pretty happy with his current circumstances. If the stars align themselves in a particular city, I know he'd consider it. After all, he remains a pretty competitive guy. But it would have be the right opportunity in the right city.

It was terrific to see Theo Fleury at the camp. His life has been filled with challenges, stemming from being sexually abused as a teenager by his former junior coach.

In his post-playing life, Fleury has become a tireless advocate for sexual abuse victims and a motivational speaker. And, believe or not, he fronts a "hockey-tonk" country band, Theo Fleury and the Death Valley Rebels.

Finally, thanks to my Team C coaches Glen Gretzky and Joe Lama as well as pros Rick Tocchet, Matthew Barnaby and the Golden Girl, Wickenheiser. If there was ever a terrific role model for aspiring female athletes, it's Hayley Wickenheiser. I couldn't have been more impressed with her.

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