GLENDALE, Ariz. -- "I didn't do it."
That was Wayne Gretzky's answer last night to all those who have suggested that he has been involved in an illegal betting ring and has placed bets through it.
His associate coach, Rick Tocchet, is on an indefinite leave of absence from the Phoenix Coyotes and is facing charges that he financed an international gambling ring that allegedly took non-hockey bets from a number of current players, as well as Gretzky's wife, Janet.
Gretzky didn't deny Janet's involvement but told The Toronto Sun in an interview yesterday that he himself is "100% innocent," and, as a result, has not the slightest intention of stepping down from his post as executive director of Team Canada for the Turin Olympics that get under way today.
"No way," he said, when asked if he was contemplating such a course of action.
"I haven't done anything wrong," he said. "Why would I step down?
"I would never embarrass Team Canada or the country or hockey. If there was any truth to this, I would phone (National Hockey League commissioner) Gary Bettman and (Hockey Canada president) Bob Nicholson right now and say: 'You know what? I resign. It's over.' Even if I made a one-dollar bet. But I didn't. I would never do that. "That's the bottom line. The bottom line is I didn't do it."
Gretzky said that he has always been fully aware of the implications of someone in his walk of life being involved in sports betting.
"I have never bet on sports in my life," he said.
He admitted that even though he rarely gambles, he has occasionally done so in Las Vegas casinos. But he added that even in that type of circumstance, where gambling is legal, he made a point of never even entering the area where sports bets are placed.
"I wouldn't even go into a sports book in Vegas," he said. "Even though it's legal, I would never do that. That's how serious I am about it."
Gretzky spoke quietly and openly. He was heading towards the dressing room in the Glendale Arena at the time, just a couple of hours before his Phoenix Coyotes were to play the visiting Dallas Stars.
He appeared relaxed, but he is aware that there is going to be another furor when his wife finally faces the media.
"It's going to be a tough couple of days," Gretzky conceded.
Janet did issue a statement last night, backing up Wayne's assertions.
"At no time did I ever place a wager on my husband's behalf," she said. "Other than the occasional horse race, my husband does not bet on sports."
Gretzky, meanwhile, went on to stress that he is innocent of the charges.
"If I had done it, I would say so," Gretzky said. "If I had done something wrong, I would admit it."
As for betting on football games, he said: "I would never do that. If I had even bet so much as a penny on sports, I would call Bob Nicholson and tell him I resign."
Throughout his career, Gretzky always has been extremely conscious of his image. Despite being under an intense spotlight for more than 30 years, there never has been a hint of impropriety.
The biggest "scandal" associated with Gretzky came about when he called the New Jersey Devils "a Mickey Mouse team."
Considering his three decades of exemplary behaviour, his involvement with a gambling ring would be totally out of character -- and he knows it.
"If I did one thing that would embarrass Team Canada or the country or hockey," he said, "I would resign. It didn't happen."
There have even been suggestions that he was part of the ring.
"Come on," he said. "There are going to be so many innuendoes, I'm not aware of any kind of ring."
Coyotes captain Shane Doan said that he and his teammates fully support Gretzky and Tocchet.
"There are so many speculations and allegations," said Doan, who will play for Team Canada in Turin. "Nothing has come out that's concrete. There has been nothing proven against anybody.
"People are trying to stretch and stretch. Every time you hear something said, it's speculation and allegation. That's what is disappointing."