The organizers at the Hockey Hall of Fame had wanted to move this ceremony to a theater or maybe even an arena--something that would encapsulate just how enormous an impact Wayne Gretzky has made on the game. But in a gesture that demonstrated as much about Gretzky as the 61 NHL records he shattered, the man who played like no one had ever seen said he wanted to be treated just like everyone else.
So instead, Gretzky stood tonight in a room that held only about 300 people and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame less than a year after he ended his storied 21-year career. Called the Great Hall, the room is draped with gold moldings and fine woodwork and topped with a stained glass ceiling appropriate for a sport that is treated like a religion in this country and a man who is treated like a god.
"There is not enough time in the day to talk about all the reasons you belong in this great hall," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "You always made those around you better, and tonight you join a new team. We say thank you, and welcome to the Hall of Fame. It's been waiting for you all these years."
His hair cropped a little shorter than it was in his playing days, Gretzky, 38, looked even more boyish and slight than usual as he accepted a standing ovation along with a diamond-studded ring and a Hall of Fame blazer. He thanked his family and friends as well as acknowledging former Hall chairman Scotty Morrison and veteran referee Andy Van Hellemond, who also were inducted tonight.
Usually there is a three-year waiting period to get into the Hall, but it was waived for Gretzky, who played his last game in April.
"I wish I could still play and I miss it tremendously because it's a great game," he said. "Nothing can replace hockey. I miss game day, I miss every day.
"Unfortunately, good things don't last forever."