Gretzky: I'm 'innocent'

Phoenix Coyotes hockey coach and part-owner Wayne Gretzky addresses the media during a news...

Phoenix Coyotes hockey coach and part-owner Wayne Gretzky addresses the media during a news conference following the game against the Dallas Stars Thursday, Feb. 9, 2006, in Glendale, Ariz.(AP Photo/Paul Connors)

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:56 AM ET

Wayne Gretzky says he is "100% innocent."

"I have done nothing wrong," The Great One told the Sun's Al Strachan last night in Phoenix, where his Coyotes were preparing to take on the Dallas Stars.

Gretzky was responding to reports that state wire taps had recorded him and Rick Tocchet allegedly discussing the multimillion-dollar gambling ring now known by the cop moniker of Operation Slap Shot.

A source familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press that Gretzky talked about how his wife, Janet Jones, could avoid being implicated.

According to the Newark Star-Ledger, Jones bet $500,000 US while the investigation was under way, including a $75,000 bet on the recent Super Bowl match between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks.

Jones released a statement last night denying having ever made a bet for Gretzky.

"At no time did I ever place a wager on my husband's behalf," she said.

DEFIANT

Meanwhile, there were suggestions that Gretzky, the highest-scoring and most recognizable player in NHL history, should not travel to Turin, Italy, for the Olympics. Gretzky is the executive director for Team Canada, which opens up its defence of the gold medal against the host Italians on Wednesday.

But a defiant Gretzky deflected such speculation, stressing that he still plans on going overseas to fulfil his role with the Canadian team.

"If I did one thing to embarrass Team Canada or the country or hockey, I would resign," Gretzky said.

In a brief press conference following the Coyotes 5-1 loss to the Stars, Gretzky added that he had just endured three of the "worst days" of his life.

While the NHL is conducting its own investigation, league officials continued to back Gretzky.

"We know Wayne very well. We have no reason to doubt what he says," NHL vice-president Bill Daly said last night in an e-mail.

Gretzky also received the support of Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, who was asked yesterday if the Great One should go to Turin.

"I'm sure he'll do us proud over there," Harper told reporters in Ottawa.

Authorities in New Jersey allege from Dec. 29 through Feb. 5 -- the day of the Super Bowl -- bettors placed a total of $1.7 million US in wagers with the ring allegedly run by Tocchet, a New Jersey state trooper and a South Jersey man. All three face charges of promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy, and are scheduled to be arraigned in Superior Court in Mount Holly, N.J., on Feb. 21, the attorney general's office said yesterday.

While Jones has not been charged, Elliot Mintz, a spokesman for Jones, said she may be called as a witness before a grand jury in New Jersey.

"There is no allegation whatsoever that Janet has violated any law," Mintz said in a statement.

Investigators say about a half-dozen current NHL players placed bets with the ring and officials were looking into whether any were involved in the five-year-old operation.

One prominent NHL figure linked to Operation Slapshot was Coyotes general manager Mike Barnett who, according to the Arizona Republic, allegedly bet on the Steelers' 21-10 victory over Seattle Sunday. There also were reports that former Maple Leaf Travis Green placed wagers with the ring as well.


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