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Heritage Classic

Wayne Gretzky eager for Heritage Classic alumni game

NHL's all-time scoring leader says he won't deliver much himself but promises competitive event

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- A now 55-year-old Wayne Gretzky insists he isn't being modest when he talks about how when the skates go on, he doesn't come close to resembling the player he used to be.

"It's a fact," Gretzky said Thursday prior to going to the NHL Powered by Reebok Store to autograph copies of his new book, "99: Stories of the Game," for a throng of gushing fans.

Copy that, but does he have enough to give the people of Winnipeg a show Saturday during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic alumni game at Investors Group Field between former members of the Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets (4 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports)?

Like, can he still skate circles around guys with the puck on his stick?

"Oh listen," Gretzky said, "I can't dangle."

How about a goal? Does he still have a few left on his stick?

Video: Gretzky on upcoming Heritage Classic alumni game

"I hope I get a shot on net," Gretzky said. "Somebody said the best time to retire is when people say you know you could play one more year. I said, 'I got nine goals, that used to be a good month.' When you get nine goals in (70) games, it's time to retire."

Yeah, he also had 53 assists in his last NHL season, 1998-99, but we digress.

For Gretzky, this weekend in Winnipeg and the alumni game Saturday is less about what he can still do on the ice and more about what the game can and still does for people.

"It's about the community, it's about the game, it's about the NHL, it's about raising money for charities," Gretzky said. "Everybody wins."

Gretzky said this weekend is less about competition and more about memories and stories he'll swap with old teammates and foes, just as former Edmonton coach Glen Sather suggested would happen after the Oilers won their first Stanley Cup championship in 1984.

"Glen used to tell us all the time, 'When you guys win, you're not going to realize how long this is going to go on,' " Gretzky said. "We didn't have any idea that 30, 40 years later, we'd still be sitting around talking about it and gushing over it."

Gretzky also is looking forward to the weekend in part because it's an opportunity for the fans in Winnipeg to cheer for some of the greats who have played there, including Dale Hawerchuk, Thomas Steen and Teemu Selanne, who Gretzky's wife Janet still calls her favorite player.

Video: Check out a time lapse at Investors Group Field

"She loves watching Teemu," Gretzky said. "He's a wonderful guy, a really nice young man. She always said to me, 'I really like you, but he's my favorite player.' It's going to be wonderful for the city and the people in Winnipeg."

For Gretzky, this weekend also is about celebrating the future of the game with players such as Oilers captain Connor McDavid and Jets rookie Patrik Laine going head to head in the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic game on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports 2, NHL.TV).

Gretzky is thrilled several of the Canadian teams appear to be going through a rebirth.

"The direction of the young teams, Vancouver and Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg, it's so good for the game," he said. "The energy that they bring, the teams are bringing, and Toronto and Ottawa, it's good for Canada and it's great for the National Hockey League.

"These young guys now in the organizations of the Jets and the Oilers are so headed in the right direction. It's good to see the energy, and the enthusiasm is great in Winnipeg that the franchise is back there and succeeding."

But back to Saturday and alumni looking to put on a good show. Gretzky won't promise to deliver much himself, but he will promise a competitive game.

"When the team was being formed and the Oilers and the League were involved in making sure the right guys were there, getting the group together, the one thing I said is, 'I know Curtis Joseph is in really good shape and he can still stop pucks, we need him in net,' " Gretzky said. "So I guess it gets competitive before you even get out there.

"The hockey won't be quite as good, but the attention to detail and the trying will be exactly the same as when we played."

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