WHAT IT’S LIKE...

….to go to his first NHL game

The Hockey News - - Buzz - WAYNE GRET­ZKY – WITH KEN CAMP­BELL

When I first signed with the In­di­anapo­lis Rac­ers of the WHA – where I would play eight glo­ri­ous games – goalie Gary Smith was one guy who took me un­der his wing. They called Gary ‘Suit­case’ be­cause he had been traded so of­ten or ‘The Axe’ be­cause he’d been axed by so many teams. The first time I met him, I told him he played in the first game I ever saw live at Maple Leaf Gar­dens. It was New Year’s Day 1969 in a game be­tween the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Oak­land Seals. “How many did I let in that night?” he asked me.

“Seven,” I said. He thought that sounded about right.

I was seven years old, and I re­mem­ber sit­ting mes­mer­ized in the stands with my grand­mother that night watch­ing the Leafs beat the Seals 7-3. Af­ter the game I told her, “We can’t leave be­cause I have to see the three stars.” The three stars were so big back then. The guys would skate out, and they’d have this big star around them. If the home team won, they would get the first and third star and the vis­it­ing team would get the sec­ond star and the guy would never come out.

The first WHA game I ever went to, I was in­volved in a shootout at Var­sity Arena in Toronto be­tween pe­ri­ods of a Toronto Toros game. (Toros) owner John Bas­sett called my dad when I was 12 and said they had a pro­mo­tion where three young kids would take a penalty shot against the backup goalie that night. Les Binkley was the goalie, and I told him years later, “I thought I had you beat, then this big foot came slid­ing across and I didn’t score.” I was so mad.

WAYNE GRET­ZKY

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