New King of Kings Packs Victoria Arena : Full House Pays to Watch Gretzky’s First On-Ice Drill With New Team
King training camps once were so quiet, you could hear the ice melt. In this British Columbia island city with the veddy British tastes, afternoon tea is still a tradition, and the annual visit of Los Angeles’ ice hockey team made for far less conversation than, say, salmon spawning season.
But that was before the arrival of Wayne Gretzky, whose Kingly presence stirred a tempest even in Victorian teapots.
When the Kings formally opened training camp here Saturday with their first on-ice session, a standing-room-only crowd of more than 1,000 men, women and children filled the Juan de Fuca Recreation Center to watch.
And they paid for the privilege, too--$2 for adults, a buck for the kids, with the proceeds going to local hockey programs.
“It’s like this at our training camp every year,” team captain Dave Taylor deadpanned as he shouldered his way through the throng that met the team’s bus outside the center.
Left wing Paul Fenton was still negotiating the steps of the bus when he heard the cheers.
“When I came off the bus, they were all clapping--it was great,” Fenton said. “Then I realized I was right behind Wayne, and it wasn’t for me.”
They may all be Kings, but only Gretzky has achieved the rank of royalty in Canada, where his departure from Edmonton last August is often viewed as much an abdication as a trade. But if Canadians still mourn the loss of their national hero, they haven’t yet spurned him.
“Smile, Wayne--we love you,” a fan old enough to be Gretzky’s father insistently bellowed during the three hours Gretzky was on the ice, time that mostly was spent in skating drills and scrimmaging.
Gretzky, who needed an escort just to get in and out of the rec center, tried to suggest that he wasn’t the center of attention.
“They’re not here just to watch Wayne Gretzky,” he said. “There are some good hockey players on this team, like Luc Robitaille.”
But Gretzky’s stab at modesty was unmasked by the crowd, which emptied the rink as soon as No. 99 left the ice, even though one squad of Kings still had 90 minutes of practice remaining.
Gretzky, trying to blend in with new teammates after 10 seasons as an Oiler, acknowledged that the fanfare--which built dramatically with his marriage in July to actress Janet Jones and crested with his August trade to the Kings--has been somewhat of a distraction. He said he hoped that in time, other players would get their deserved recognition.
“It’s been hard on people,” he said.
Saturday afternoon, however, was a joy for Fenton, who got to play left wing on a line Gretzky centered. Taylor was to have been the right wing, but apparently strained a muscle in his lower back during drills and was forced to leave the ice. Taylor, who said he was uncertain whether he’d be able to practice today, was replaced on right wing by Brian Wilks.
Ftorek said he intends to try any number of combinations with Gretzky during camp, but Fenton--a 23-goal scorer last season after being recalled from New Haven--relished his chance.
“I don’t think there’s anyone who’d mind (playing with Gretzky), whether he was a goaltender, a defenseman or a forward,” Fenton said.
“You could see how clever he really is . . . he has an extra dimension out there that nobody else has.”
Fenton’s early line on Gretzky?
“He needs another few years in the league,” he said.
Gretzky was just as flippant when asked about his role with the Kings.
“I have no idea,” he said. “I think my job is to protect (Marty) McSorley.”
McSorley, an enforcer type, came to the Kings from Edmonton in the Gretzky trade, along with forward Mike Krushelnyski.
Doug Keans, a former King goalie who was not re-signed by the Boston Bruins after last season, is in camp for a free-agent tryout. He had a 16-11 record last season with the Bruins, but became expendable when Boston signed Andy Moog. Keans played parts of four seasons with the Kings before being claimed by Boston on waivers in 1983. His record with the Kings was 13-18-13. . . . Right wing Jim Fox, who had arthroscopic surgery on both knees, opted to stay in Los Angeles for at least a couple more weeks to give the knees a chance to strengthen more.
Left wing Bob Bourne, who had signed a one-year termination contract in June, decided not to report to camp and has retired, despite the entreaties of John Tonelli, who played with Bourne on the New York Islanders. Tonelli has signed with the Kings as a free agent after playing with Calgary....Center Dan Gratton put his right arm through a glass window and severed tendons in an accident at home and will be lost at least 8 weeks. Gratton lost his balance on a ladder. . . . Mike Krushelnyski signed a four-year contract with the Kings--three years and an option, according to his agent, Bob Beale. Krushelnyski was technically a free agent and was being pursued by Hartford, according to Beale, before coming to terms with the Kings.