Wayne's decision was personal

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

It doesn't take long for urban myths to get rolling in this country.

Only two days after Wayne Gretzky announced he would not be running Team Canada in next month's world championship because he needs to support his mother in her battle against lung cancer, it was being reported in some circles that the real reason was he was upset at the National Hockey League Players' Association.

The contention is that because Gretzky had been called in to help settle the lockout, only to find out that the goalposts had been moved, he was miffed and refused to participate in a tournament which enriches the PA.

At a promotional event for Sony yesterday, he was asked if there is anything to that story.

"Nothing at all," he said flatly. "Up until about 21 days ago, I was planning to be involved. It's simply on the basis of a personal decision."

For those of you who don't keep track of such things, the failed negotiation occurred more than 21 days ago.

The good news is that Phyllis Gretzky is doing well. She started her second round of chemotherapy on Tuesday, Gretzky said, her tumour is shrinking and her attitude is positive.

On the hockey front, Gretzky reiterated he will continue to be involved with Team Canada as much as possible. He will be available to offer advice on such matters as player selection and, if need be, to exert pressure on any player who isn't sure he wants to participate.

However, as Gretzky said, that's not likely to be a problem.

In the Alan Eagleson days, threats and abuse often were required to get players to go to the world championship.

But today's players, thanks in large part to Gretzky's efforts over the years, are more than willing to participate.

"We haven't had any major issues," Gretzky said.

"And we don't expect that to be a major problem in this tournament.

"The phone call you get to play for your country is the greatest phone call you can get in hockey."

As for the team itself, Gretzky shrugged off the fact that a couple of veteran players, most notably Mario Lemieux, won't be available.

"Our hockey is in good shape," he said.

"We have a lot of good players."

Gretzky was the guest of honour at the introduction of the Sony PSP system and handled questions on a number of topics.

It was inevitable there would be one about steroid use in hockey. Gretzky pointed to his body, gave his questioner a quizzical look and laughed.

While he conceded there probably had been some steroid use in the game when he played, he didn't see it as either widespread or problematic.

"It's like drugs in life," he said. "People who don't do drugs don't hang around with people who do drugs. People who don't do steroids don't hang around with people who do steroids."

He said the frequent involvement of NHL players in world-class tournaments helps the sport stay fairly clean.

DRUG RULES

At all these tournaments -- the World Cups, the Olympics and the world championship -- the players have to conform to International Ice Hockey Federation drug rules and they fall in line with the procedures used by the International Olympic Committee.

These tournaments now feature NHL players almost exclusively, and these players are subjected to drug testing not from the moment the tournament begins, but from the time they are named to their respective teams.

"The best 300-400 players in the world fall under the umbrella of IOC rules," Gretzky said.

And if the best don't do steroids, the others tend to follow their example.


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