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Scotiabank Fan Village

Wayne Gretzky looking forward to World Cup final

Hockey Hall of Fame forward excited to watch Team Canada play Team Europe

by Bill Price @BillPriceNHL / Editor-in-Chief

TORONTO -- The Scotiabank World Cup of Hockey Fan Village saved the best for last.

Wayne Gretzky closed the doors on the 10-day fan festival in the city's Distillery District on Sunday, joining Sportsnet's Christine Simpson for a "Conversation with Wayne Gretzky" in front of a thrilled crowd.

Sitting in front of the Pepsi Live Stage, Gretzky covered everything from the World Cup final between Team Canada and Team Europe, the exciting showing from Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid and Team North America, and Rogers Arena, the new home of the Edmonton Oilers.

"I think as far as Team Europe goes, we didn't know what to expect, we didn't know how that would all come together, and obviously their coaching staff did a really wonderful job of putting together a nice group of players," Gretzky said. "Team Europe captain] Anze [Kopitar] is really a top-notch player, I rate him in the top five players in the NHL, so he's been a terrific leader of that group. I'm happy for them."

Gretzky, the all-time NHL leader in goals, assists and points, said he in intrigued by the World Cup final matchup.

"I think people wanted to see the USA or Russia, but this is something new," Gretzky said. "It's like parenting; my parents parented differently than I do. You have to go with the times and go with the flow and Team Europe deserves to be there.

"[Coach] Ralph Krueger has done a remarkable job with his team, I really like what they are doing. I look forward to it being a big series."

Gretzky, like most hockey fans, enjoyed the speed and youth displayed by Team North America. He singled out Matthews, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, and McDavid, the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft by the Oilers.

"We didn't know what to expect because the kids are so young. I'll say this: I think the people in Toronto should be really excited about Auston Matthews," Gretzky said. "I think I could score a few goals if I played on a line with those two [Matthews and McDavid] guys.

"Right now, I'd play on a team with Matthews and Connor McDavid, they are pretty good. I think I would know where to go, they would get the puck and I would know where to go. I'm pretty smart."

Video: NAT@SWE: Matthews scores 30 seconds into game

Gretzky didn't stop there. He raved about the young talent in the NHL, including Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who he called the best player in hockey, and credited the next generation of players with making the League stronger than ever. 

"What's changed is the players are better, they are just better athletes, they are bigger, stronger, they are faster, and that's a good thing," Gretzky said. "Twenty years from now, they are going to be better than they are today.

"It says a lot about our coaching in youth hockey, in Canada and the United States and worldwide. It's just a better game today, these guys are big and strong and agile and fast. I'm glad I played when I played."

Gretzky will be back on the ice on Oct. 22, when he takes part in the 2016 NHL Heritage Classic Alumni outdoor game between former players from the Oilers and Winnipeg Jets at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg. The next day, the Jets and Oilers will play the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic. Gretzky warned he's not the same player who earned his famous nickname.

"I'm really 'The OK One' now, not even 'The Good One,'" Gretzky said. "We're looking forward to it. Hopefully it's not too cold in Winnipeg in October, but we're all looking forward to the game."

Gretzky is also looking forward to the opening of Rogers Place. Gretzky skated there on Sept. 9, and on Sunday said, "it's like nothing I've ever seen."

"I've been fortunate to travel around to different arenas. I've never seen anything like the new arena in Edmonton. It's so special, it's so unique, I think the people of Alberta, people of Edmonton, Canadians for that matter, are going to be so proud of this facility," Gretzky said. "It's something so unique, something I've never seen before."

In the course of his career, Gretzky played 1,487 NHL regular-season games and 208 Stanley Cup Playoff games, winning four championships with the Oilers. He also played for the Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers, and said he loved every minute of it. Gretzky retired in 1999.

"Everything I have in my life is because of hockey and the NHL, I never took it for granted and never take it for granted," he said. "I loved every part of hockey: practice, preparing, the games, the travel, the guys, there wasn't one thing about hockey I didn't love, I think you have to be that way.

"Sure, we all get tired, sometimes it's draining, but let me tell you something, I have everything I have because of the NHL."

Gretzky said none of it would have been possible if not for the love and support of his parents.

"We weren't a family that was rich with money, we were a family that was rich with love and companionship and support," Gretzky said. "That's what Canadian life is all about, you want to support your children and give them every opportunity in their life to do what they can do and be the best that they can be. And that's what my mom and dad did. They didn't do anything special or unique, they just gave us the opportunity."

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