Guest blogger: John Ciarlo

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(John Ciarlo, a former Army officer, is a United States Military Academy graduate who also holds an MFA from Columbia University.  He has written several screenplays and is a Nicholl Fellowship winner.  He lives on Long Island with his wife and two children.  “Buddy and Grace” is his first novel, about a terminally ill, retired FBI agent who loses custody of his Alzheimer’s stricken wife to his estranged daughter.)

Below is John’s story, written the day after The Great One’s final game:

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“I was a boy that happened to love a game…”  — Wayne Gretzky.

I excited last week when I got offered two tickets to yesterday’s Rangers-Pens game.

This was before J.D. had speculated last Sunday on a Fox (boo) game that he was 80 percent sure that the Great One would call it quits. I didn’t really believe he would, but I was still troubled because I couldn’t imagine J.D. throwing something that provocative over the air haphazardly.

When Gretzky got a tumultuous ovation in Ottawa on Thursday night, I watched hoping that if he had decided to retire (I no longer doubted it) that his fellow countrymen could convince him to change his mind.

Friday afternoon, he held his press conference. He would play one more game.

Friday night, the guy who gave me the tickets called and said he wanted to go. My girlfriend, now wife, graciously offered to give up her ticket. I, ungraciously, told her where we would be sitting in case the camera came our way during the broadcast.

I had a ton of work to do this weekend, and didn’t touch any of it. I felt bad about feeling bad because I realized that there are much more important things than an athlete retiring, even this one. Feeling bad about feeling bad didn’t make me feel any better.

This past week I’ve read every paper I could get a hand on. I was shocked when I read his career statistics. Not because I had forgotten them, but, maybe, because I’d become used to them.

Sunday came. I seriously thought about not going. Gretzky had said he wanted it to be a celebration. I didn’t feel like celebrating.

I’m glad I went. It seemed like at least 25 percent of those in attendance wore 99 jerseys from one team or another. When I got to the Garden, Tony Robbins, the motivational guru, was being interviewed on the street. Scalpers were demanding $400 for cheap seats.

The line for programs stretched from inside the building to the street, I’d estimate how long that is, but think it better if I show you at some future point when we’re there watching a Rangers game. I wouldn’t have gotten in line anyway, but felt relieved when I walked past the front of the line and saw that there were only a handful left. It was reported that people arrived hours earlier than I did, and bought tens and hundreds of copies. Don’t know if that’s true, but I did get the game day insert with both teams’ rosters.

Gretzky was the last player on the ice for the pre-game warmup. He was cheered from that moment until the players left and the Zambonis went to work. When the players came back the roaring restarted. The pre-game ceremony commenced. Lemieux, Messier (an especially loud roar), Glen Sather, Gretzky’s family, Bettman, Neil Smith (crucified by boos), Leetch, Graves, and Beukeboom were present. Leetch gave a speech and presented a gift. I couldn’t hear what he said because it was drowned out by a chorus of “Sign Him” (big rumor Sinden wants him).
The Rangers gave Gretzky a car. His dad drove out in it. Emotional moment when he hugged his dad.

The puck was dropped. At first the place was like a tomb. Don’t know if it was because so much energy had been expended by the crowd before the game. Gretzky played Great. Leetch scored, assisted by the Great One, and looked like the Leetch of old; joining the rush and blowing by the Penguins. Richter stood on his head.

And then, Jagr ended the game in overtime with a beautiful move. It was over so suddenly, and we didn’t want it to end that way, or to end any way.

During the game every time Gretzky touched the puck the place went nuts. It paled in comparison to the post-game celebration. Gretzky skated laps. He brought his team along for one. One moment that I loved was when Muckler (the Rangers coach, and life-long, pre-Wayne birth, Gretzky family friend) called time out with some 30 or 40 seconds left in the third period. I thought he was doing it solely to allow the crowd to honor his player. That was part of the reason. I learned from watching television that the other part was that he wanted to tell Gretzky that his daughter had just given birth to a son and that he wanted him “to go out there and get a winner.” It was at this moment that Gretzky lost it emotionally. He regained his composure then played the rest of the game and the first shift of overtime, but unfortunately watched his career end from the bench.

My all-time favorite Gretzky moment came during his first season with the Rangers. It was in the second round of the playoffs. The Rangers were playing the Devils, who were heavily favored. My girlfriend (now wife) and I lucked into great seats: about 10 rows up, and center ice. The game was close. Gretzky got the puck at center ice along the left boards (right in front of us). He had the angle on the left defenseman but chose to curl after he crossed the Devils blue line. The whole Garden had stood up when he got the puck, but groaned when he curled. As usual, he was way ahead of everyone. He drew the left defenseman as well as the right one. Unrealized by the fans or the Devils was the fact that Russ Courtnall had just hopped on the ice during a line change and was streaking (knifing?) toward Brodeur. Gretzky hit him with an at least 50-foot, bullet, backhand no-look-pass. Courtnall didn’t score on the breakaway (which is kind of appropriate, because the Rangers never really got Gretzky a finisher during his three-year tenure), but the whole Garden held its breath as if it was only then that they appreciated what they had seen, and felt embarassed that they had doubted him for a moment. They then roared like they did yesterday.

“It’s always too soon when you see a great player retire.”  — Mario Lemieux.

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64 Comments

  1. Awesome post!!!!

    I was a Gretzky fan before a Ranger fan. From when he started. That Edmonton team was something. I wanted to play like him.

    Followed him to the RANGERS. They were never great, but the passion of the fans here has kept my undivided attention.

    Still have his memorable games on tape.

  2. Great article John – i feel privileged to have seen him play, and that he was in a Ranger jersey (and not a Kings or Oilers one) makes it that more special.

  3. On a sour note – is Bettman real with this 2 weeks thing?
    There must be at least a dozen owners, especially Dolan, who are probably speed dialling Joey Zasa right now. There should be no break, if talks have stalled bring in a mediator. If, as we are led to believe that around 80% of the CBA has been agreed on, then it should be easy work to finish it all off and get the players back on the ice and the money rolling in again.

    The reason the NHL won’t approve a mediator is because they have no intention of moving on their proposal, they expect the union to cave and a mediator will find some sort of middle ground, therefore giving the players a better deal than the owners are prepared to hand out.

  4. http://web-vassets.ea.com/Assets/Resources/Others/Nov13_NYRvsNYI.jpg

    Wow – simulated Asham and simulated Halpern scored the other night for the simulated Rangers – and the simulated blog went nuts!

    However, the simulated Rangers (with a simulated Norwegian Hobbit) then lost 4-1 to the simulated Caps the next game
    http://web-vassets.ea.com/Assets/Resources/Others/Nov14_WSHvsNYR.jpg

    and in a fit of simulated clairvoyance, the simulated Rangers will lose again to the simulated Caps tonight
    http://web-vassets.ea.com/Assets/Resources/Others/Nov16_NYRvsWSH.jpg

    #simulatednhlsucks

  5. Is the TSN.ca website in an alternate universe, or just Canada – i’ve never see so much pro-ownership drivel in my life.
    Quotes like: “owners have made so many concessions already”, “the NHLPA has not made a serious concession at all”

    plus any Bettman criticism is met with negative feedback.

    Are they drinking Bettman and Daly’s kool-aid or are they particularly anti-union up there?

  6. I was not a big Gretzky fan when he was with the Rangers. other than the first year, I felt he played selfish. I felt he was to consumed with his records. he wanted to have more assists than any player had points. he did not shoot much during his last 2 seasons because of that. he was a pretty good goal scorer you know.

  7. Why do so many people claim the players are “winning” the negotiations? Did people really take the first offer from the owners as a serious starting point?

    The owners are trying to take: a % of players pay (on contracts they signed), years of free agency, bargaining rights, arbitration rights, applying limits to earning capabilities by capping contract lengths.
    So far the only concession i can see is that they propose to increasing revenue sharing

  8. Lockout from the Lockout. Double Secret Lockout. #4 for Mr. Bettman. The NHL is on Double Secret Probation.

  9. Amen, UK. No one is “winning”. In fact, we are all losing. Losing Hockey, Losing salary, losing revenue, losing face, losing faith, losing the twilight of a career, losing the prime of a career, losing an opportunity to bash people’s face in, etc…

  10. Only player who is gaining in this lockout: Paul Bissonette.

    BizNasty2point0 is playing 1st line minutes, scoring goals and judging by his twitter feed, enjoying somewhat of a celebrity status in South Wales

  11. Remember that time Dubinsky broke his finger while playing in Europe and BLOCKING A SHOT!? I mean….who plays that hard over there?

  12. The moment the last CBA expired, the players already lost. It’s now a matter of how much they will lose. On one hand, Don Fehr is good in terms of minimizing it, on the other hand he may be steadfast enough to lose the whole season. If that happens, watch him go after the cap. That could assure that 2013-2014 is lost too. Scratching off 2 years of their career isn’t something any player wishes for.

  13. _Remember that time Dubinsky broke his finger while playing in Europe…_

    Unless a(nother) Europånsy war has just broken out while I wasn’t looking, Alaska isn’t in Europe. Apparently you can see (Asian) Russia from there though.

  14. Great post John! I have that game on dvd. I remember hating Jaromir for that for a long time. Happy belated birthday Staal! How’s Juliet?

  15. Thanks Tiki!
    Jules is doing ok…they’ve moved on to phase 2 of treatment which is a good thing…however she keeps getting a fever so she is constantly on antibiotics…which isn’t good. I know she is sore and has gained weight from the steroids…
    That being said, the fact that she is progressing to the next phase of treatment is a very, very good thing, for which we are sooo thankful!

  16. I warned the hockey fan about fehr on this very blog, people wouldn’t listen. The rangers are done, this will go on into next season and I’m not the only one who believes in that theory so does Bob Mckenzie, who stated this in a tweet a month or so ago. I don’t care what people say, (mainly the Canadiens from Canada) but the onwners are humongous hypocrites.

  17. hi john…i remember that pass…it was the best pass ever…i recommend you guys to check it out……also,john i went to NAPS many moons ago when it was in maryland….we beat MAPS 31-0….ya can look it up

  18. TommyG
    What do you mean we wouldn’t listen to you?…
    Did we have a vote I didn’t know about?
    I don’t remember being offered a choice between Fehr and someone else.
    What did you warm us about?
    What could we have done?
    Just wonderin’

  19. emikeyj.

    Thanks for bringing up a reminder of Army’s futility against Navy in all things football.

    I”m going to punish myself and go watch the Army-Navy game next month in Philly, hoping against hope that Navy doesn’t make it eleven in a row.

  20. Don’t really have a great problem with the sentiment, but Simmons could at least try to make it sound like he’d watched more than one game in the last 20 years.

  21. I don’t know how legit that source is, LW. Especially when he mentions that “The Rangers are also viewed as anti-lockout”. *Viewed*? You think? With the brand new, or rather renovated MSG? Yeah, Dolan is delighted that no games are being played. He’d be making money regardless of what the new CBA looks like. As long as they are playing hockey, that is.

  22. I was thinking the same thing when I read that, ilb. Dolan has to love the lockout. More concerts, less hockey, Knickerbockers on their way to an 81-1 season.

    And, LW. I know. It’s pretty absurd. He refers to LA as a “NHL Hotbed.” Really? The team that was referred to as the Sacramento Kings over and over _after_ winning the Stanley Cup? He’s kind of an idiot but he at least hates Bettman.

  23. So I guess we can expect Mr Snider to propose concessions to the players in the form of still allowing all the long-term, fron-tloaded deals that his team has participated in.

  24. I would think that Snider would enjoy erasing a year of Bryzgalov’s contract. Maybe he is just focusing more on having to pay Pronger…

  25. Boston Bill is a loser. He chose Tottenham as his favorite EPL team a few years ago, then quit on them. He said he wouldnt care for the Bruins as long as their ownership stayed the same, but every playoffs, he’d jump on the bandwagon, and when they won the Cup, he was fan #1. The only words he ever uttered about the Celtics when they were dormant for 20 years before being gifted Garnett by Kevin McHale was to whine about the death Len Bias, not because he was dead, but because it cost the Celtics championships. He’s #1 on my faux wish-death-upon list.

  26. This, so called, “lockout” obviously locked out a vast majority of RR posters too…so, I hate it even more (if it possible).

  27. Somebody, get Bettman a military bimbo. He’s one of the few whose reputation would actually be enhanced.

  28. BillyBleedsBlue on

    Thanks for the great read! And the simulated games updates. Those are fun. Yeah. Lets Go Rangers!!!!! Sim-u-lated!!!!!

  29. guest bloggers stink on

    Gretzky was far from a great Ranger. If you like him you do for what he did for hockey cause as a Ranger he was just another mercenary looking for a paycheck.

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