March 1, 2007
I got up at 3 AM so I could get to the airport early. I booked myself the earliest flight possible, so I could get to Phoenix as soon as possible. I was the one of the first to arrive. I found the crew of folks holding the "Gretzky Fantasy Camp" placard, got my luggage (which, thank goodness, arrived okay!), and hopped on the bus to the resort. We are staying at a pretty nice place these six days, the Wigwam Resort (www.wigwamresort.com).
When I checked it and registered, I was given all kinds of new gear and apparel with the "99" logo on it - very cool! The camp staff will be carting my hockey equipment around for me, washing it every day, etc - "you'll be living just like the pros this week". Whoa - nice!
This evening is the opening reception, and a few of the other pro hockey players that are attending will be present. I'm so so psyched about this!
This may be the only opportunity I have to blog while I am here. I don't really know if I will have any free time to chronicle this event. There WILL be photos posted at some later date.
March 2, 2007
I am up and getting ready for the first day on on-ice events! Today I will get to step on the ice for the first time since December 13th, when I dislocated my shoulder during a game and ended up riding in an ambulance to the hospital. I will see how things feel when I get out there - hopefully it will be nothing to worry about. (If it is a problem, oh well, too bad!) :)
Today's events will consist of drills and practice, and all the players will be evaluated for skill level and then divided up into teams that are as similar is skill level as possible. I know I won't be the hotshot on the ice (by far), but I just hope I don't embarrass myself!
After a few hours of drills, we'll get some scrimmage time, and then come back to the resort. This evening will be the opening gala where all the players find out their teams.
We just got back from the morning practice - it felt great to be on the ice again! My shoulder was fine - yay! Highlight of the morning - sitting beside Walter Gretzky (Wayne's dad) on the bus ride over to rink! He's such a character, yukking (sp?) it up, telling jokes and stories - such a class act.
Cap Raeder then put us through drills, while Eddie Mio, Barry Smith, and Larry Robinson assisted. They worked us hard! At one time we were dubbed "the worst group in five years by Cap because no one seemed to be getting a drill that he was trying to have us do." Then we did a couple of others and we redeemed ourselves. (And became the "best group in the past five years".
Way too late
We had the opening night banquet tonight. What a blast! The MC is amazing - he is apparently the son of a former (or current?) Speaker of the House for the Government of Canada. He had us doubled over with laughter. Many of the celebrities were this evening. Alan Thicke showed up! The Courtnall brothers, Russ and Geoff. I met Darren Pang and Louie DeBrusk. Chatted with Larry Robinson a little as well. I also got a chance to meet and chat with Phil Housley. I didn't know Phil was coming, but it was a nice surprise - he is an extremely nice guy. I met former Penguin, Kevin Stevens. Wayne was there, and I got to see him up close and often, but haven't actually met him yet.
Tomorrow begins the tournament. Four teams. Winner gets the "Gretzky Cup". All team members names get engraved on it. It gets stored at Gretzky's restaurant in Toronto, and if you go and eat there, you get a free meal - plus the bring the cup out and set it on your table! How cool is that??!!
I'm beat - and I have a hockey game to play tomorrow, and the Coyotes game to watch in the evening. To bed! It's 12:54 AM.
March 3, 2007
Game 1 was a success. We won 5-4 in a shootout. I scored one of the three shootout goals (all 15 players per side got to shoot). Highlights - going two on one with Gretzky (he played the first game with our team!) The D (defenseman) played things well though and Wayne dished it to a player following the play. I could almost see it though - reading the game scoresheet and seeing "Kipfer scores on a pass from Gretzky"! It didn't happen though.
On the downside, I sliced my finger on my skate after the game, and had to get four stitches. The Coyotes team doctor stitched me up. And yes, of course, I will be playing the rest of the games. Riding over to the Coyotes game in the evening, the MC of the week, Jim (also the funniest man on the face of the earth), had me stand up and take a bow for "cutting off your finger". He elaborated for the busload of people "yup, took it clean off". Nice. I tried not to laugh at people who came up later asking if I really cut it off.
I also met Alan Thicke (and got a picture with him). Geoff and Russ Courtnall, and Eddie Mio played on our team, and will for the tournament.
Well, typing is difficult now, so I will sign off. Up tomorrow at 5:30 AM to get ready to board the bus at 7:30 for our game. I hope the finger doesn't impede me!
March 4, 2007
Rode the bus over to the rink with Alan Thicke and Walter Gretzky this morning. Walter was in his usual great mood, singing on the bus and telling jokes. Got to the rink and had the Coyotes medical guy, John, check out my finger and tape it up. I popped a couple of Tylenol and was good to go. It didn't bother me at all during the game!
We ended up winning our second game of the tourney, which now puts us at 2-0; the only undefeated team. We will be playing for the Gretzky Cup tomorrow afternoon! Winner of the Cup gets their names engraved on the cup, and rumor has it that if you go up to Toronto to Wayne's restaurant and produce ID, you get to have the Cup on your table, and possibly even a free meal!
It will be tough tomorrow though, since we'll actually have to play two back-to-back games tomorrow.
I got to play against Darren Pang, Ty Gretzky, and Larry Robinson today (I think....I was so focused on the game, I really didn't notice!) I really wanted to score on Pang, had a few shots, but didn't manage to get one by him. My name will appear on the scoresheet, however, assisting on a goal that Geoff Courtnall also assisted on - that's pretty cool!
Got pictures today with Louie DeBrusk, Alan Thicke, Grant Fuhr, Kevin Stevens, Cap Raeder, Darren Pang, and Walter Gretzky. Actually, a highlight was getting a picture with the three Darrens (including me. We all spell it the same way, and have three Darrens in the same place at the same time who all spell it the same way is probably one of those "it'll never happen again" moments, like Gretzky's 50 goals in 39 games, Sittler's ten points in one game, or that guy who won the lottery twice on the same day.
The biggest highlight so far, though, has been having my wife, Amanda, come in yesterday to share this incredible event with me. She's also my photographer for the event, taking hundreds of pictures of everything and everyone. I will add them here probably after the event.
March 5, 2007
Today, the final day of the Camp, has been amazing. Today alone made it worth the money!
First, the game. Our third of the tourney was a must-win. We had the advantage from the start since our team had the best record and was the team to beat. But the other teams were all 1-1. We led 4-2 with 9 minutes left in the third period. Louie DeBrusk turned it up...about eight notches. He led their team back to tie it, and then the scored with about a minute left. We lost in regulation, which left our team and the team we just lost to, with a record of 2-1. We played a three minute overtime playoff for the chance to play in the final. No one scored. So we went to a shootout - five skaters per team. If memory serves me correctly, their first guy scored. One up for them. Scan forward. Eight more skaters shot and no one else scored. I am the final shooter, and we are in a MUST SCORE situation, or we are out. I scored (hope they got that one on tape!). We continued the shootout, one player at a time, and ending up losing a heartbreaker in the shootout. What looked so possible just hours before was now gone. I was pretty disappointed because I had really begun to dream about getting my name engraved on the Gretzky Cup.
But what started out as a disappointing day ended up being (as the MC, Jimmy, said) "the second greatest day of my life". We were on our patio when a player came by and said Gretzky was over by the pool. We went over, camera in hand, and I got to sit down with The Great One, one on one, and chat with him for a few minutes. I told him about meeting his dad the first time, and buying a TV off his uncle, Al Gretzky in London, many years ago. Gretzky told me he was chatting with his uncle a few years ago when Al was running for office in London and Al asked Wayne if he felt like he (Al) was using the Gretzky name for his gain. Wayne said he told him, "why should I, you had it first?"
After I had a chance to chat with Wayne, we all stayed around the pool for about 30 minutes and chatted with Wayne. It was unbelievable!
Later that evening I got Wayne to sign his autobiography, and my favorite Gretzky hockey card! I also got more time to talk to Walter (he was the most accessible person there - he really makes the event super-special), and more autographs from him.
I got autographs from Geoff Courtnall, Kevin Stevens, and Ty Gretzky.
Then came the Awards Banquet. An amazing event. Once again, the MC, Jimmy, was hilarious. Wayne also gave out awards - he gave out about eight of his hockey sticks, signed. I was one of the lucky recipients - I won an "Iron Man Award", for "nearly cutting off" my finger. Wayne said, "rumor has it that Larry Robinson stepped on his finger." Later, Jimmy said "how do you step on your own finger (I still am not sure exactly how it happened)? What are you, an orangutan?" Then him came over to our table, grabbed my knife, and made a comment about keep it away from me for my own safety. It was pretty funny. I guess it's nice to be known for something, than not known. Plus I got a signed Gretzky stick, and another picture with The Great One! :)
See some pictures of the people I met at the 2007 Gretzky Fantasy Camp (all on one page, or individually below)!
Just for Fun: See this You Tube video: