January 4, 2005
Great words of encouragement
By TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun
Not that the Canadian players needed further inspiration for tonight's tournament final against Russia but they received it yesterday from a rather well-known visitor. The team was unwinding in its dressing room at the Ralph Engelstad Arena here in Grand Forks, N.D., after practice when Wayne Gretzky walked in. Although Gretzky has become synonymous with Hockey Canada in the past few years, the players seemed to be genuinely taken aback by his presence.
"The room went silent," London Knights forward Corey Perry said. "It was an unbelievable sight, and then he shook our hands. He gave us a little praise and wished us the best.
"Here is Wayne Gretzky rooting for you, and for him to come into the dressing room, it was just enough to get us going for (tonight's game)."
Gretzky's visit could not have been for more than a few minutes. The players had practised at nearby Gambucci Arena, and conducted media interviews not long after they arrived at the Ralph Engelstad Arena to undress. When asked on Sunday about possibly talking to the players, Gretzky had smiled and said he didn't want to mess with a good thing.
Captain Michael Richards, who also wears the 'C' back home with the Kitchener Rangers, also was in awe.
"To meet him for the first time, I was pretty nervous but excited at the same time," Richards said. "Having a guy like him address the team and having him on your side is really nice. He just said to go out there and enjoy it."
Defenceman Brent Seabrook of the Lethbridge Hurricanes said the players will take Gretzky's visit and words to heart. The team has been receiving well wishes from former players since the tournament began, but none are bigger than Gretzky.
"He's Mr. Hockey," Seabrook said. "He looked us all in the face and said, 'Good luck.' It was awesome, really good for us."