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Short Shifts

Wayne Gretzky recalls first time he faced Gordie Howe

The Great One on 'Conan' discusses excitement during warmup, what happened when stole puck from Mr. Hockey

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Wayne Gretzky appeared on "Conan" on Tuesday, and The Great One told the story about playing against his idol, Gordie Howe, for the first time in the World Hockey Association.

Gretzky was 18 the first time he played against Howe, who was 50 and playing for the New England Whalers during the 1978-79 season.

Watch: Youtube Video

"I was in the warmup [and] I was so, so excited to play against Gordie Howe, and I thought, 'Wow, this is something really cool,'" Gretzky said. "And we're skating around the warmup getting ready for the game, and every time I went by Gordie he was winking at me and he's getting me excited for the game.

"I went back in the locker room and I said to one of the guys, 'Gordie Howe is out there winking to me.' And he said, 'No, no, no. He's got a blinking problem, he's not winking at you.'"

Later in that game, Gretzky told the tale of taking the puck off his idol's stick.

"The first shift I stole the puck and I was going the other way, and all of a sudden I felt this stick and he cracked me over the thumb," Gretzky said. "[Howe] said, 'Kid, don't ever take the puck from me again,' and I said, 'No, I never will.'"

Howe, whose 801 goals are second in NHL history behind Gretzky's 894, died June 10. Gretzky was among the many who attended his funeral in Detroit.

"He was a real special man, and he was the greatest hockey player who ever lived, and he happened to be the nicest man," Gretzky said. "We went to his funeral, it was the most surreal thing I've ever seen. Nine in the morning until 9 p.m. at night, people lined up and came in and went by his casket for 12 straight hours, and it was people from Russia and France and England and of course North America, so he was just someone who was very, very special."

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