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100 Greatest Players

Three legends, all with same dream as kids

Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Mario Lemieux discuss their love of the game

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

LOS ANGELES -- Ever wonder what it would look like and what they would talk about if Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Mario Lemieux, arguably the three greatest living players in NHL history, were on the same stage at the same time?

Wonder no more. It happened Friday. It was 17 minutes of press conference history that has never happened before and may never happen again.

"We're like little kids," Gretzky said toward the end of the press conference, which took place shortly before 67 remaining members of the 100 Greatest NHL Players presented by Molson Canadian were unveiled at "The NHL100 presented by GEICO." "We're having more fun than anybody."

Gretzky, the ambassador for the NHL's yearlong Centennial Celebration, Orr and Lemieux sat left to right on stage in a ballroom at the JW Marriott at LA Live. They were asked to discuss and recall several different memories from their careers, their lives and the game itself.

Video: Gretzky, Orr and Lemieux discuss their careers

The first question they were asked was if the greatest player in NHL history was sitting on that stage?

"No," Orr said.

Why?

"Gordie [Howe], in my mind, is the best to ever play the game," Orr said. "I'm not sure if we'll ever see another one."

Added Gretzky: "I think we all feel the same way."

Gretzky said one of the things he has discovered while working with the NHL on the Centennial Celebration is how much in common he has with other legends like Orr and Lemieux.

"We all had the same dreams growing up as kids," Gretzky said. "Mario probably wanted to be [Jean] Beliveau. Bobby Orr probably wanted to be Doug Harvey. Of course I wanted to be Gordie. So we all had the same dream. That's the interesting thing when we all meet. We all had the same dream as kids that we wanted to play in the National Hockey League."

Gretzky and Lemieux got to play together for Canada in the 1987 Canada Cup and, of course, combined to score the championship-clinching goal in a 6-5 win against the Soviet Union in Game 3 at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario.

Yes, that did come up Friday, with Gretzky telling a story about the one time he and Lemieux disagreed.

"The first game against Czechoslovakia we had a 2-on-1 and I passed it to him, and he passed it back to me and I missed," Gretzky said. "We went to the bench and I said, 'Mario, when I give you the puck, you score. You're a better goal-scorer than I am.' As fate has it we had a 2-on-1 that ended the Canada Cup in Game 3."

Orr said one of the great disappointments of his career is that knee injuries prevented him from playing with Gretzky and Lemieux in an international tournament. Orr retired in 1978 after multiple knee surgeries.

"Obviously I watched them play a lot," Orr said. "I watched Mario score his first goal in Boston Garden and it was a pretty good goal. I thought, 'He might have something going here.'"

"Yeah, he's got a chance," Gretzky added, laughing.

Orr, though, did slyly bring up the one time he and Gretzky did play together. He wouldn't give details, leaving it to the journalists in the room to dig up the info.

"I'll leave that with you," he said, smiling.

It was a charity game in Winnipeg in the spring of 1980. Gretzky was available because the Oilers had already been eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I had to fly in from Hawaii," Gretzky said, "and the only reason I flew from Hawaii to Winnipeg was so I could play with Bobby Orr."

He did it because of how much he respected Orr. In fact, it was only a year before that charity game that Gretzky used to pepper former Oilers teammate Garnet "Ace" Bailey with questions about Orr. Bailey, who died on Sept. 11, 2001, played with Orr in Boston from 1968-73.

"I think he probably got tired of me asking him Bobby Orr questions because all I wanted to know was what did Bobby Orr eat, what did Bobby Orr do, how did Bobby Orr practice?" Gretzky said. "We're fans as kids and we're fans as players."

And they're fans in retirement too.

Gretzky is a partner and vice chair with the Oilers. Orr is a player agent who calls Oilers captain Connor McDavid a client. Lemieux is the co-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"But we were all kids, we all idolized the game," Gretzky said. "That's been the most interesting thing for me about this top 100 is that whether it was Doug Harvey or Bobby Orr or Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky or Mark Messier or Gordie Howe we all followed Hockey Night in Canada, we all followed the National Hockey League, we all collected hockey cards and we all came from really nice families and great parents that gave us an opportunity to play the game we loved."

They are three of the best to ever play it. And they finally got to talk about their experiences in the game together in the same place Friday.

"From a distance I see Wayne and Mario, but I don't spend a lot of time with them," Orr said. "To come here and be able to spend some time with them, have a few laughs, talk a little hockey, it's very special. Very, very special."

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