RYE, N.Y. — Wayne Gretzky can't change his mind about retiring today: he would have to return the baseball glove-shaped leather recliner and lifetime major league baseball pass his teammates gave him Saturday as farewell gifts.
Not that Gretzky was inclined to reverse the decision he announced Friday. He acknowledged feeling nervous about today's finale and tribute at Madison Square Garden and was reluctant to leave the ice Saturday after his last practice, but he remains determined to retire while hockey is fun, not work.
"Reality is setting in now," he said after the Rangers' practice. "Emotionally, I'm drained, to say the least. But I haven't even had a little falter or thought I've made the wrong decision. I'm 100% sure."
Wearing his trademark turtleneck sweater beneath his jersey, Gretzky appeared relaxed and laughed easily on the ice. When it ended, his teammates gave him a stick-pounding salute and surrounded him for a group photo.
"I find myself focusing in on him and soaking everything up," winger Adam Graves said. "He's a classy guy and he always deflects the spotlight to other people. I'm looking forward to [today]."
The start of today's other scheduled NHL games will be delayed so fans elsewhere can watch a pregame tribute to Gretzky. He has invited friends and relatives to join him from Edmonton, his first NHL home; North Carolina, where former Edmonton teammate Paul Coffey plays for the Hurricanes; Hawaii, Florida, Toronto and across Canada. It's not clear if former Edmonton and Ranger teammate Mark Messier will attend. The two are not as close as they once were and Messier is said to still resent that Gretzky didn't intercede with Ranger management and ensure Messier was re-signed two years ago.
"I've told everybody, 'Just enjoy the game,' " Gretzky said. "I don't think I've ever been in a situation like this before. I've been in the Olympics, Canada Cup, seventh [playoff] games, but I don't think I can compare to what [today] will be like."
Gretzky, an avid baseball fan, said he was surprised by his teammates' generosity Saturday. "It's very thrilling, very flattering," he said. "I'm just a fan now."
Not yet--not before he plays one more game and, perhaps, adds to his remarkable 894 goals and 2,856 points. "I like to score every game. I would love to score [today]," he said. "Let's put it this way: If I get a hat trick, it's not going to change my mind, and if I don't score, it's not going to kill me."