Red Deer is still buzzing after last week’s visit from Wayne Gretzky.
Gretzky was the keynote speaker at the Red Deer College 10th annual Kings and Queens Scholarship Breakfast. He, along with Kelly Chase, a former NHL hockey player turned sports radiocaster, spoke to the crowd of 1,400 people about some of the highlights in their hockey careers.
“It was a wonderful event. We had a huge crowd and we had so many athletes volunteer. To announce $350,000 worth of donations towards the athletic leadership fund you can probably understand why I say this is one of the best mornings I’ve ever had,” said Keith Hansen, director of athletics at RDC.
Although the final tally of what was raised at the breakfast is still not known, Hansen said it was a success.
“I can safely say this was our most successful breakfast ever.”
During his talk, Gretzky touched on a number of highlights of his career but also had some advice for aspiring athletes.
“Whatever you do you have to be selfish and what that means is your focus and your passion has to be what you’re doing,” he said. “Your responsibility is be ready for each and every game and to prepare that way.
“As I tell my own children you have to go to school and you’ve got to have an education. I was fortunate enough that my education, my schooling was being a professional hockey player, but the right route to go is to make sure you finish high school and make sure you go to college and it will make you a better person for that.”
He also spoke about the joys of being able to be at home more.
“As a parent with my older kids when I was playing, I was traveling and I wasn’t around a whole lot. When I did retire, we have two little ones – we have a 12-year-old and a 10-year-old, I get more of an opportunity now to be home and be around things that I didn’t get a chance to before as a parent. It’s been a lot of fun and very enjoyable,” he said.
He added he enjoys attending events like the RDC Scholarship Breakfast.
“I love hockey and people want to hear your stories and people want to hear obviously in this area the days playing for the Edmonton Oilers and playing for Team Canada and things like that. It’s easy for me to come and enjoy myself and talk the game of hockey because I can talk hockey all day long. We’ve had a wonderful time,” said Gretzky. “I used to come here when I was an Edmonton Oiler and we practiced here a few times in Red Deer as a team so it’s always enjoyable to come here. I remember half of the city wears blue and half wear red — that’s my best memory.”
Gretzky added he only gets on the ice once a year now for four days during the fantasy hockey camp he runs.
“Every year when I’m done those four days I say that I’ve really enjoyed this and I’m going to start playing a little bit more and every year I put my hockey equipment back in the garage and I get it the next year when I go back to my hockey camp,” he said.
“It’s the greatest game in the world. I got a chance to play in the NHL and got a chance to play with and against the greatest players but I’m not very good anymore so maybe the passion because I’m not as good as I used to be has sort of gone out of me a little bit but my love for the game is still there. I wish I could still play.”
Meanwhile, more than 60% of RDC athletes received an academic award this year.
Amber Regnier, 24, who plays on the RDC Queens soccer squad, received the BMO Student Athlete Leadership Award during the breakfast.
“As student athletes, it’s amazing the community support we receive and there’s no way we would probably be able to play without the scholarships,” she said. “It’s a big commitment because there is a lot of pressure on academics as well. We are not just here to play soccer or volleyball or whatever it is, we’re here to be academic athletes.”
Trent Schmidt, 21, a volleyball player with the RDC Kings, who was also given the BMO Student Athlete Leadership award said he is honoured to have received a scholarship.
“It’s incredible to not only get recognized for an award like this but financially the help is huge. It gives you some pride of being in the school and being a part of the team.”
Hansen added he doesn’t expect RDC to be able to top the scholarship breakfast next year.
“There’s not a Canadian icon bigger than Gretzky in my opinion. This was our 10th anniversary and we hit a home run. If we top this I will be beyond excited but this is going to be tough to top.”