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NHL Winter Classic

Outdoor games keeping Wayne Gretzky busy

'The Great One' visits Fan Arena at NHL Centennial Classic, will head back to Winter Classic

by Dave McCarthy / NHL.com Correspondent

TORONTO -- Wayne Gretzky had a busy start to 2017. The Great One, who is serving as the official ambassador for the NHL's Centennial Celebration, was in Toronto on Sunday for the 2017 Scotiabank NHL Centennial Classic after playing in the Winter Classic Alumni Game on Saturday in St. Louis.

He will head back to St. Louis for the 2017 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks at Busch Stadium on Monday (1 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV).

It's a busy weekend, and he wouldn't want it any other way.

"I was thrilled when the Commissioner [Gary Bettman] called me to ask me to be a part of the 100th anniversary and to be an ambassador on behalf of the players and the League," Gretzky said Sunday. "I was ecstatic to say the least. I've said it a million times, but it's the greatest game in the world and I was fortunate enough to be a part of the National Hockey League. I was in St. Louis yesterday and it was so overwhelming how great the atmosphere was and the support not only from the fans and corporate sponsorship, but the players themselves, the current players and alumni players. Everyone was genuinely enthusiastic; everyone was totally on board and felt like they were a part of history and something really special.

A highlight for Gretzky during his stop in Toronto was the chance to visit the 53-foot Museum Truck that is a part of the NHL Centennial Fan Arena tour. The truck will make stops throughout the year in each NHL market.

"To fly up here today and do the tour of the truck; the truck is like a moving mini-Hall of Fame and I truly enjoyed my time in there," Gretzky said. "I think kids and fans and players will truly enjoy the tours they get through the truck."

Located over the weekend on the grounds of Exhibition Place, the tour through truck held special significance for Gretzky. When he was growing up, Gretzky would come often to the original Hockey Hall of Fame which was located at Exhibition Place in Toronto from its inception in 1961 before it moved to its current location at Brookfield Place in 1993.

"It's like the game itself, we've expanded so much and the game has gotten so much bigger and so much more popular in so many ways by attendance, by the amount of kids playing, by television and people who follow our sport now and that's how the Hall of Fame was," Gretzky said. "When I used to go to the Hall of Fame in the late '6's and early '70s, it was one little section with the NHL Hall of Fame and on the other side of that was the Canadian International Hall of Fame. There were these two little rooms that weren't very big and I could kind of walk through there in one minute but I would spend hours in there just staring at the old sticks and jerseys."

Video: WC Alumni: Gretzky on time with Blues, Hull

He recalled seeing Vladislav Tretiak and Phil Esposito's jerseys from the 1972 Summit Series, which left a lasting memory on him and only further fueled his passion for the game.

"It was so thrilling to see those jerseys so for me. It was just part of my life, always wanting to be around the game of hockey," Gretzky said.

Attending the two outdoor games, Gretzky could not help but think back to the first outdoor game in 2003, the Heritage Classic in Edmonton between the Oilers and Montreal Canadiens. Gretzky participated in the alumni game and fondly recalled his experience of the event.

"The day before, we had a practice and everybody thought it would be just a 20-minute skate around. But the players had so much fun, we ended up practicing for about an hour and 20 minutes. It was really a lot of excitement and the stands (at Commonwealth Stadium) were basically full for the practice and it was minus-30 degrees Celsius. For the players, it was nothing because we had heated benches, it was fine, but for the fans, it just shows you how tremendously loyal the fans in Edmonton and Alberta were to not only the Oilers and the NHL but to the Montreal Canadiens. It was a wonderful couple of days and a great jumpstart to what we now know is all these outdoor games

Though nothing is set in stone yet, Commissioner Bettman said the plan for next season is to hold, give or take, three outdoor games. As far as Gretzky is concerned, the more the merrier.

"I personally don't think we can get enough of them,' he said. "I think they're

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