Order of Hockey In Canada welcomes inaugural members
(pictured: Gordon Renwick, Cassie Campbell-Pascall, Wayne Gretzky, Bob Nicholson, Gordie Howe, Frank Mahovlich (on behalf of Jean Beliveau))
Wayne Gretzky didn’t need another piece of hardware to add to his 61 NHL records, four Stanley Cups, or gold medal as executive director of Team Canada’s Olympic championship team of 2002.
Yet there he was on Monday night in Toronto, speaking humbly to a group of assembled media as one of the first five honourees of the Order of Hockey in Canada. The award, introduced by Hockey Canada, honours a select number of individuals whose ‘role or service in the game is recognized as extraordinary in Canada.’
“Anything to do with Hockey Canada and the representation of your country is always special,” said Gretzky. “One of the greatest thrills of my life was participating (at the Olympics) in 1998. I wish we would have won a gold medal. Unfortunately we did a lot of good things but came up short and didn’t win.
“But I got a second chance to be part of an organization, a group that put together a team in ’02 and won our first gold medal in fifty years. To be part of that was really special.”
The other honourees were NHL legends Jean Beliveau and Gordie Howe, three-time Olympian Cassie Campbell-Pascall, and Gordon Renwick, who co-founded the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, Hockey Canada’s predecessor.
The 2012 Women’s National team that won the gold medal in Burlington, Vermont was also honoured, along with the 2012 Women’s Under-18 team.
Beliveau was unable to attend the gala at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. However Gretzky vividly recalled meeting the legendary Habs captain known as “Le Gros Bill”.
““I was playing in a Quebec peewee tournament in Quebec City. He came down to the locker room to say hello, so I had the opportunity to meet him, shake his hand.
I was home yesterday visiting my father and I was showing my son the picture that I had with Jean Beliveau in the locker room. I thought it was a pretty unique picture because there’s so many pictures of Gordie and I, and not a lot of Jean Beliveau at that age. So I brought it up to show my son and I think my dad thought somebody was stealing it. He immediately took it back downstairs and put it back. It was a wonderful time and it was great to meet him as a youngster, he was as nice as Gordie was when I had a chance to meet Gordie at that age.”
The paths of Gretzky and Howe have crossed several times, most notably at the time of the iconic photo taken of the two when Gretzky was a youngster and Howe had a stick playfully wrapped around the youth’s head. Gretzky surpassed Howe as the all-time points leader in 1989, and broke Mr. Hockey’s career goal mark five years later. Yet in The Great mind, the numbers are a mere shadow of the memories:
“When I was 17 years old in Edmonton and I was walking out of the locker room with the late Ace Bailey, Harry Neale was walking in and he was coaching the New England Whalers at the time. The trainer walked by and said ‘Are these them?’ and Harry said ‘Yeah, put them over in that room’, and I said ‘What are those?’ And he said ‘Those are Gordie’s skates. If I don’t hide them, he won’t take a day off.’ I remember thinking at 17 years old, ‘Wow he’s 48 years old and still the same player, the same person that he was.’
He’s still my idol, he’s still the best player to ever play the game. I’ve developed a really nice relationship with him over the years. I still get tongue-tied when I’m around him.”
Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson congratulated all five honourees, while also stipulating that the maximum number of honourees per year going forward will be three.
TMLfans.ca spoke with Order of Hockey In Canada honouree and two-time Olympic gold medalist Cassie Campbell-Pascall.
Q: What does this award mean to you, in light of everything that you’ve won in your career?
A: I think that when you’re playing you set individual goals and team goals and you try to accomplish them. I was fortunate to play on some great teams and accomplish a lot of those great goals. But this kind of award – you’re not aspiring to it, you’re not looking for it. And then when it comes your way it’s really special because it gives you an opportunity to rehash some of the old times and tell some of the stories and kind of reflect on where women’s hockey started, and where it has gone through and now what it is. In that sense, it’s a really special award.
Q: Every four years there are always younger players trying to take the job of veterans on the Olympic team. How close was making the cut for you in 2006, the year that you later retired?
A: In 2006, the three old players (Campbell, Danielle Goyette, Vicky Sunohara) we all played on the same line, and we were there by the skin of our teeth, I’m pretty sure. I think that’s when I knew I had to retire, not only for that reason where I knew I wasn’t going to make 2010, but more importantly for the program. It needed new leadership, it needed to allow the young players to develop as leaders, and I think that’s exactly what happened. When Meghan Agosta who you teach in hockey school starts making your team, you kind of know it’s your time.
Q: Do you have an appreciation for how hard it is to retain one of the 20 Olympic spots, whether you are a young player, or veteran?
A: Well I had a challenging time every Olympic year. In my first Olympics I was an All-Star defenceman and in my second Olympics they asked me to play forward, so that was a big challenge. The coach who asked me – Daniele Sauvageau – is here tonight. And so it was never just easy for me. I was never a guarantee on the team. I think it helped that I obviously wore the “C” and was a bit of a leader, but it was never a guarantee any year. And that’s what makes this award kind of so special; it recognizes the hard work that I did on the ice, but also some of the think I did off it.
Q: In light of Jacques Rogge’s comments after the 2010 Olympics, stating that women’s hockey must be more globally competitive to remain an Olympic sport, how much closer is the sport to having a level playing field?
A: I think it’s coming. I think if you’re expecting to see a huge difference in four years’ time, I think you’re fooling yourself. I think the changes that are made after 2010 will probably take an 8-year cycle and I think that’s fair. I think that’s the same time period that men’s hockey was given many, many years ago. So I think we’re on the right track, there’s some great things happening. I disagreed with the day that Rogge made his comments. I didn’t disagree with his comments. I just disagreed with the timing. But having said that, I think that it was a blessing in disguise, because I think that it woke a few people up that needed to be woken up.