Walter: Gretzky's finished

JOE WARMINGTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

When the phone rang in his Brantford home yesterday Walter Gretzky said he had no idea it would be his son, Wayne, telling him he is no longer going to be involved with the Phoenix Coyotes or the National Hockey League.

“I was stunned,” said venerable 70-year-old Walter, adding he can’t imagine his 48-year-old son, Wayne, not having some connection to hockey.

“He’s had it,” said Walter. “That is the impression I got.”

He was reacting to Wayne’s statement calling it “a difficult decision that I’ve thought long and hard about” to step away from the Coyotes.

On his website, Wayne also wrote, “we all hoped there would be a resolution earlier this month to the Coyotes ownership situation, but the decision is taking longer than expected.

"Since both remaining bidders have made it clear that I don’t fit into their future plans, I approached general manager Don Maloney and suggested he begin looking for someone to replace me as coach ... so now it’s time for me to step aside.”

“I can’t believe it,” Walter said. “Huge isn’t the word for it. It’s disastrous.”

He thinks it’s bad for everybody “that they couldn’t find a way to keep Wayne involved.” But Walter said he doesn’t see any way to reconcile it. “I think it’s done unless something unexpected were to happen.”

In fact the country’s most famous hockey dad said his son is going to shift his focus from the ice altogether to the gridiron and baseball diamond.

“He said, dad, I am going to spend more time with my family,” Walter said. “He said he is going to spend more time with his 17-year-old son, Trevor, who is a 6-foot-5 quarterback and has to decide whether to go to college for football or baseball.”

Wayne Gretkzy and the NHL parting ways? Say it ain’t so? It seems to have happened.

Walter said through the whole legal process with the NHL and Jim Balsillie his son was in a tough spot and caught in the middle. “He told me he wanted the team to stay in Phoenix but he also wants Hamilton to get a team. too.”

CHML Radio host Bill Kelly was saying last night that Hamiltonians were “understanding” that he was stuck in a “financial” mess and will be forgiving. But will Wayne Gretzky and the NHL get back together again?

He said Wayne expressed to him “his disappointment” and that he “didn’t get the backing of the NHL” and is “all on his own.”

Certainly negotiations with the NHL to honour his $8.5-million a season contract, running alongside the team’s bankruptcy court proceedings, were said to be difficult as Wayne did not attend his team’s training camp. Yesterday’s announcement certainly appears to be a very public divorce between the NHL and its greatest-ever player and highest-paid coach.

Just hours after The Great One issued his statement, the NHL offered its own, stating “as always, Wayne placed the welfare of the team ahead of his own in making this extremely difficult decision.

“While the Coyotes have not had the degree of on-ice success that always has been Wayne’s objective, there can be no question he has played a vital role in the youth movement that has positioned the Coyotes for success in the future.

“We have nothing but admiration for all that Wayne has done for the game, and are extremely hopeful there will be a prominent role for Wayne with the Coyotes if the league’s bid for the club is successful. We look forward to his continued involvement.”

Walter said from his vantage point that is unlikely and sadly, he believes, his son is ready to walk away from the game that he both changed and loves.

“He’s totally out of it,” Walter said of Wayne and the NHL. “I think he’s done.”


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