Young hockey players need to be kids and enjoy the game, says the Great One.
Wayne Gretzky delivered that message to about 150 people Tuesday in Charlottetown during a fundraiser for Camp Red Fox, a Canadian diabetes camp in Canoe Cove.
"At a young age, kids need to be kids," he said. "Your passion for what you're doing will take you to the next level."
Hockey's all-time leading scorer said it's OK to have dreams and ambitions, but he doesn't believe 10-year-old players should be lifting weights and running 10 miles.
Gretzky touched on everything from a potential lockout and international hockey anniversaries to leadership and career highlights during a 40-minute question and answer session with the crowd.
Gretzky said he is like all fans who hope a deal between the NHL and its players gets done and the season is saved. He said it is a different landscape from 2004 when the season was lost.
"I think they have a much better opportunity today than we did in 2004 because we were changing the whole dynamics in 2004. Today there is a salary cap in place and hopefully it gets done quickly," Gretzky told The Guardian in an exclusive interview. "At least we're negotiating on the same page this time."
Gretzky just returned from Russia where he was taking part in activities to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Summit Series.
Gretzky had many moments wearing the Maple Leaf and playing the Soviets, including the 1987 Canada Cup. Tuesday was the 25th anniversary of Game 1 of the best-of-three final.
"We didn't really look at it like, ‘OK this is another ‘72,'" Gretzky said, "it just sort of took on a life of its own."
Gretzky set up the winning goal in the deciding game when he passed the puck to Mario Lemieux while defenceman Larry Murphy drove to the net.
"By going to the net, he took the defenceman with him, and more importantly, he kept the goalie sort of in his crease," Gretzky said when asked what he thought of feeding the puck to Murphy.
"Once Mario got the puck, there was no way he was ever going to miss from that spot."
Wellington resident Rodney Savidant had an opportunity to meet Gretzky for the first time.
"When he was playing, you couldn't help but watch," he said while sporting a Gretzky Oilers jersey.
"He's the best player there ever was ... He was always where the puck ended up, and then it ended up in the net."
Savidant has been bringing Gretzky's father Walter to Summerside for the Boys and Girls Celebrity Golf Tournament for the past six years.
"We went to his house one day. We were in Brantford and we went and knocked on the door," said Savidant, recalling the first encounter. "He invited us in as though we had known him all of our lives."
"We didn't really look at it like, ‘OK this is another ‘72,' ... it just sort of took on a life of its own." - Wayne Gretzky
Another well-known Canadian also has been in Walter's home. Gretzky recalled an encounter he had while working on a TV show with musician and teen heartthrob Justin Bieber.
"The first thing Justin Bieber said to me was, ‘You know I was in your basement and met your father,'" the hockey legend said.
Gretzky and former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna were in the city to help raise money for Camp Red Fox. The camp is for children living with type 1 diabetes and is operated by the Canadian Diabetes Association.
The event, sponsored by TD Bank Financial Group, raised $10,000 for the camp.
Terry Lewis, development co-ordinator for the Canadian Diabetes Association, said the donation would enable children, who might not otherwise have a chance to attend camp, an opportunity to get together and see kids who have the same condition they do.
They also learn about managing their diabetes, he said.
"They're learning in a fun environment."
Much more in the print edition of The Guardian on Wednesday including a Question and Answer article by Guardian Sports Editor Jason Malloy, who had an exclusive one-on-one interview with Wayne Gretzky.