Wayne Gretzky

Former NHL great Wayne Gretzky speaks with reporters Monday at Dodger Stadium. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / January 13, 2014)

This Dodger Stadium gathering on a winter day -- well, winter in name only -- was, among other things, to witness the arrival of the “ice truck,” officially kicking off the building of the rink for the Kings-Ducks game Jan. 25.

Beyond, and above that, it marked a very public return of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky to the NHL fold. Gretzky talked about the day in larger terms, not personal ones.

“It’s a wonderful day, a great day for the sport,” Gretzky said Monday. “It’s a great day for the Kings and the Ducks organizations. It’s a wonderful day for the game of hockey itself.

“For me, I’m very proud of it. I was a piece of the group that was part of putting hockey, stamping hockey in this area. I say this all the time to people.  It was the right group of guys. From Luc [Robitaille] to Marty McSorley to Kelly Hrudey to Tony Granato. Each and every guy understood this was a different market than other markets throughout the NHL. These guys always went about and beyond the call of duty to help promote the sport."

Gretzky’s re-engagement takes an already special event to another level. Los Angeles Times colleague Helene Elliott wrote in Monday’s paper that Gretzky would be honored during the outdoor game, ending what had been a prolonged self-imposed exile.

Yes, you could say he was coming in from the cold. Of course, almost anything seems cold compared with the sunny, 80-degree afternoon at Dodger Stadium.

Bringing Gretzky back was not a singular effort. Kings executive Luc Robitaille, the team’s president of business operations, has kept a dialogue going with his former teammate. More recently, Kings assistant general manager Rob Blake reached out to Gretzky with a phone call to try to take the temperature.

Robitaille was able to persuade Gretzky to attend a game at Staples Center during the Stanley Cup Final between the Kings and Devils in 2012. But that was a low-key appearance, out of the media spotlight, unlike Monday’s news conference at Dodger Stadium.

“The league has talked to him. We asked him too,” Robitaille said. “But it was important it came from the league. I think it was [NHL's Chief Operating Officer] John Collins and his group, and Gary [Bettman] and Bill [Daly]. They reached out to him and they asked him if he would be part of it.

“We want to make sure it has to be from everyone. We can’t have this game without having Wayne. It’s so important he’s here. It’s so important that he be here for that game. It’s the day before his birthday too. I’ve got to remember to have a cake.”

The gregarious Robitaille laughed at that and then got serious when asked about the importance of having Gretzky on hand for such an important occasion for hockey in Southern California.

“It’s very important,” Robitaille said. “Wayne Gretzky is probably like our Babe Ruth and we need him around. He’s the guy that had the most impact in this game. When he left Canada it meant so much to everybody there in a negative way. But when he came to L.A., it changed the game in the United States forever."

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