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Wayne Gretzky a big believer in Olympics

Despite fond memories, The Great One knows tournament presents challenges to NHL

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Wayne Gretzky does not share the strong negative sentiment some NHL owners feel toward Olympic participation.

"I'm a big believer in the Olympic Games," Gretzky said Friday after the Board of Governors meeting, where he represented the Edmonton Oilers as partner and vice chairman of Oilers Entertainment Group. "I happen to love everything about the Olympic Games. … I think it's a positive, but I'm not the only guy that has say in this." 

The NHL has yet to decide whether its players will go to PyeongChang in 2018 after going to the past five Winter Games.

On Thursday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said there was "some strong negative sentiment" among the owners, and the Board would have to make a decision soon.

Gretzky played for Canada in Nagano in 1998, the first time NHL players went to the Olympics. He was executive director for Canada in Salt Lake City in 2002 and Turin in 2006.

He sees both sides.

"From my point of view, we play for one thing, and that's the Stanley Cup," Gretzky said. "There's nothing more exciting than the Stanley Cup. But the one spectacle that's really remarkable is the Olympic Games."

He said NHL players not only promoted their sport at the Olympics, but they meshed with the other athletes and boosted other sports.

But he said the logistics were difficult when the Olympics were held outside North America. He remembered flying from Nagano to Vancouver to New York, practicing and flying to Toronto the next day, then playing for the Rangers against the Maple Leafs the day after that.

"It's hard on your body," said Gretzky, who still had three assists in a 5-2 win in that game against the Maple Leafs. "I don't know if anybody did a study on how many maybe minor injuries or injuries there were over the last 20 or so games, but it's a lot easier when it's in Salt Lake City and Vancouver to jump back into the League. It's a tough haul to fly all the way from Korea. It's a long way."

It is one man's opinion. But it is Gretzky's.

"I think that everybody's entitled to their opinion," Gretzky said. "The one thing about our game that's really good is the Commissioner is always looking for input from ownership to general managers, coaches, players. Everybody's always trying to make the game better, and he's very open to everybody's opinion.

"My opinion is -- I told you -- I like the Olympic Games. Does that mean the NHL's going to go? I don't have a crystal ball. I can't tell you."

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