ESPN The Magazine sent writer Lindsay Berra to Scottsdale, Ariz., to live out a dream of many hockey fans and participate in Wayne Gretzky's fantasy camp. Lindsay will be filing a daily diary about her experience:
Wednesday, February 18
Team 2 spoiled our hopes of a championship today, and it didn't have much to do with the pros on their team.
It had everything to do with the line of Bill Abercrombie, Jamie Hartley and Dave Kolosek. Abercrombie, who scored a handful of goals against us, is the coach of the OHL's Sarnia Sting, and Hartley and Kolosek both work for Louisville TPS. Cap Reader coached Team 4 again, and we juggled lines to try and get Kirk Muller and Phil Esposito out on the ice against Abercrombie and Hartley. If that's not a nice complement for those guys, I don't know what is. Anyway, it was a tight game all the way through, and with about a minute and a half left we were down 7-6 and Cap pulled our goalie. Team 2 scored an empty-netter and we were out. They went on to win a well-deserved championship in the mini-game against Team 1.
I also had a great scoring chance that was perfectly scripted by Kirk Muller. I play the left wing because I was always smaller than the guys I was playing with and with your stick blade on the inside (I'm a right shot), it lets you get the shot off more quickly and get out of Dodge before somebody comes and levels you. Brendan Shanahan plays the off wing, and that's how my high school coach sold the idea to me.
So, there was a draw at the left circle and Kirk was on the left point. He told me to line up on the inside, behind the right wing, and just camp out on the back post a few feet from the top of the crease. Steve Porter from Ottawa won about his fifth draw of the day straight back to Kirk, and I bolted for the net and got my stick down and tried to find Muller. I couldn't see a thing through their two defensemen, their center and Porter, and before I knew what was happening, the puck flew through the crease right in front of me. I let out a string of expletives that Paul the audio guy on the end of my microphone busted my chops for later on, and when I got back to the bench I was still kicking myself. Muller just laughed. "Those are the ones that you miss and everyone in the building goes 'Booooooooooh," he said. "They just don't get that most times, you just can't see a thing."
After dinner tonight, Gretzky handed out signed sticks to all the guys on Team 2. Then, he handed out a few personalized awards -- signed sticks and jersey and photos. John Russo from Orlando, Fla., got best defensive defenseman, Stacey Holt from Austin, Texas, was the hardest worker, Jim Tomaino from Phoenix and Howie Campbell from Toronto were rewarded for coming back for a second year, and Cap Raeder got a beautiful signed photo for being a terrific guy and running all the drills and coaching for Wayne. I got a signed Gretzky New York Rangers jersey, I think for being the only girl and putting up with 72 men for five days, that says "To Lindsay, you were great, love Wayne Gretzky." Pretty cool, eh?
This is pretty cool, too. Halfway through Wayne's awards ceremony, I saw a familiar face lurking in the back of the room. It belonged to Phil Pritchard from the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, and immediately, I knew what was up. You all would probably recognize Phil, too. He's the guy in the Visa commercials with the Stanley Cup. That's right, that's not an actor. Nobody handles the Cup but Phil, not even in commercials. And, sure enough, a few minutes later, he donned his white gloves and carried the Cup up to the front of the room for all the guys to get their pictures taken with. I've seen that thing a dozen times now and it never does get old.
So, here I am, sitting in my hotel room at about 1:30 a.m., listening as the final Fantasy Camp festivities approach last call out at the hotel bar. After five days on the ice, I feel surprisingly good- no residual soreness, no black and blues, no injuries -- even though I haven't played this many consecutive days of hockey since college.
And actually, I wish I were playing more.
The Magazine's Lindsay Berra can be e-mailed at email@example.com.