It’s always satisfying to see an old friend or colleague do well. Yesterday’s announcement that Keith Gretzky is becoming assistant general general manager of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers after spending five seasons as director of amateur scouting for the Boston Bruins put a smile on my face.
Keith and I worked together back in the 1990s as part of the Phoenix Roadrunners’ hockey telecast team on the regional cable network ASPN. (Yes, the similarity to “ESPN” was on purpose, with the “A” standing for Arizona.) Keith did color along with former Hartford Whalers’ goaltender Mario “Goose” Gosselin. Dave Tunell did the play-by-play and I was the off-ice reporter, interviewing players and coaches during intermissions and post-game.
I also roamed the stands with microphone in hand, occasionally coming across some former NHL stars, such as Yvan Cournoyer and Henri Richard of the Montreal Canadiens.
While the production values of the telecast were extremely professional, the atmosphere was always light. Goose had a French-Canadian accent, which got thicker when he got excited. It was hoot listening to him. Keith played counter-point. Road trips to exotic places like Denver (in its pre-NHL days), Salt Lake City, Kansas City, Houston, San Diego, Milwaukee and Cincinnati were always fun, with a bit of bar-hopping after the final buzzer sounded.
One trip to Cincinnati for a game against the Cyclones stands out. Because of my full-time job with a TV station in Phoenix, I was unable to fly out with the team. I caught a later flight, connecting through Detroit. The plane used from Detroit to Cincy with a small prop job. Most of the flight was spent inside the clouds. The ground only appeared during the descent – and it was snowing like crazy. Not having time to go to the hotel to check in, I went directly to the arena – an old barn called the Cincinnati Gardens that opened in 1949.
The telecast went smoothly. I interviewed a Cincinnati Reds’ player who was soon headed to spring training and did a report from outside, with fans pelting me with snowballs as a reminder to viewers back in the “Valley of the Sun” what winter elsewhere was like.
After the game, because the snow was still falling heavily, we headed back to the hotel with sacks filled with White Castle hamburgers as a late-night snack. We stayed up late drinking beer and replaying the game. Dave had been especially hard on the officiating team for bad calls. I didn’t bother to check in, instead dropping my gear in Keith’s room. Given the fact we had an early flight home, while the team headed off to a road game in another city, it made more sense to bunk with him.
We awoke to a sn0w-stalled world. Cabs weren’t operating. There was no limo service to the airport, either. Amazingly, a guy in the lobby said he had a rental car. He was headed to the airport and offered us a ride. We piled in and started the slog. Along the way, he asked what we were doing in town. I think it was Dave who answered and the driver replied, “I was the ref at the game. Hope you weren’t too hard on us.” We didn’t say a word.
At the airport, most of the outbound flights were canceled due to snow elsewhere, but not the one to Phoenix. We made it back home to 80-degree sunshine by lunchtime.
Getting back to Keith. I’m sure the surname is familiar. Yes, his brother is one of greatest players in NHL history, Wayne Gretzky. That certainly has been a blessing and a burden for him. Hearing the news of his appointment by the Oilers, I’m glad to see he’s having success of his own.