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Gretzky's Favorite Forum

Hockey: At dinner celebrating upcoming jersey retirement, he says he misses former home of the Kings.

October 08, 2002|JERRY CROWE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Wayne Gretzky's retired jersey will hang in Staples Center, but part of him wishes the familiar No. 99 could hang in the Forum, where the all-time scoring leader played his eight seasons with the Kings.

"Oh, absolutely," Gretzky said Monday before a dinner in his honor at Staples Center. "That was a special place, very unique. But you know what? Time moves on and this building is spectacular....

"But the atmosphere in the Forum, I'm not sure anybody can ever replace that."

The mood was light in Staples Center as Gretzky's family, former teammates, coaches and friends gathered to salute The Great One at a charity event hosted by KCBS sportscaster Jim Hill and comedian Alan Thicke.

Gretzky's trade to the Kings from Edmonton in 1988 changed the hockey landscape in the Southland, turning the sad-sack Kings into Stanley Cup contenders. They never won it, but they reached the finals in 1993 before losing to the Montreal Canadiens.

"Obviously, it's a really exciting night for not only myself but my whole family and friends," said Gretzky, who still calls Thousand Oaks home although he is a 20% owner and managing general partner of the Phoenix Coyotes. "I always felt honored to be part of the National Hockey League. Everything I have in my life is because of hockey, and to get your jersey retired in any city is something special.

"But here in L.A., to be part of this hockey team and this sports city, as I've said before, this is home for us now. We love living here."

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman flew in for Monday's program, as did former teammates Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Kelly Hrudey, Rob Blake and Tony Granato, among others.

The current Kings and Coyotes, who will meet in Wednesday night's season opener at Staples Center, were also among the guests. Gretzky's jersey will be retired in a pregame ceremony.

The guest of honor's guest of honor was Bruce McNall, who as owner of the Kings made the trade that brought Gretzky to L.A.

Gretzky, who was traded to the St. Louis Blues in 1996 and retired as a member of the New York Rangers in 1999, had made it clear that he wouldn't attend a King ceremony honoring him until McNall was out of prison.

McNall, who served nearly four years on two counts of bank fraud and one each of wire fraud and conspiracy, was touched by Gretzky's generosity.

"It means a lot to me, more than you can imagine," McNall said.

Joked Gretzky: "It's a lot better visiting you here than in Lompoc."

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