Before the hockey town that Wayne Gretzky built hosted its first outdoor game at Dodger Stadium, The Great One made a rare Hollywood move by going on Conan to promote it.
In an 11-minute interview on the late-night show with host Conan O'Brien, Gretzky reflected on his trade from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings, his guest appearance on Saturday Night Live and several aspects of his on-ice playing career.
Beyond all his records and his place in hockey history, Gretzky's Hollywood persona wouldn't have been as pronounced if it were not for that trade 25 1/2 years ago.
"It was hard for especially people in Edmonton because they weren't just fans, they were friends of mine. A lot of the people that go to all the games, I knew from all the years of being in Edmonton," Gretzky said of the deal. "So it was difficult for everyone. But you look back at it now and everything happens for a reason and we love it here in L.A. and the NHL is thriving here and everyone seems to be doing OK."
The Oilers won their fifth Stanley Cup in 1990 without Gretzky and made it to the final in 2006 before losing to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Kings made it to the final in 1993 with Gretzky before losing to the Montreal Canadiens, then won their first title in franchise history in 2012.
Edmonton hasn't made the playoffs since 2006 and is still in a rebuilding stage.
But Gretzky was on Conan for the NHL's Stadium Series debut, which is today between the Kings and the league-leading Anaheim Ducks. He called the game happening at Dodger Stadium a "real big dream."
Even before this promotional tour, the "Great One" said he was an advocate of outdoor hockey in Los Angeles.
"I'd love to see an outdoor game in L.A. because we see the Winter Classic and the Heritage Classic with the snow and that's all wonderful. But a big part of our game, too, now and the success of the National Hockey League is California and places like that," Gretzky said before the Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony in November. "It's going to be wonderful to see people sitting at Dodger Stadium when it's 65 degrees (F) and they're sitting there in shorts and T-shirts and enjoying a National Hockey League game. I think it's going to be wonderful for our sport."
It should be roughly 19 C (66 F) when the puck drops around 8:30 Central time tonight. When Gretzky and the Kings faced the New York Rangers in an exhibition game in Las Vegas in 1991, temperatures ranged between 29 and 35 C.
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said after a California heat wave last week he was looking forward to cooler temperatures for this game.
"I think it's going to be completely unique and it's going to be tremendous playing in 60-degree weather outside under the stars," Boudreau said. "I think a lot of people will be real interested to see how that works."
Ice technology has improved drastically in the 22-plus years since that Las Vegas game. As Gretzky acknowledged during his appearance on Conan, so has the NHL, in general.
O'Brien asked Gretzky about a so-called unwritten rule that opponents wouldn't hit him, which the former Kings captain refuted.
"I didn't get hit as much as people probably wanted me to get hit, especially on the opposing teams," Gretzky said. "I knew it was time to retire when I was playing my last year and people I was playing against, before they would hit me, they would scream my name or say, 'Hey, heads up' or, 'Wayne, get out of the way,' or 'Here we are.' I remember thinking, 'Wow, something's not right about this.' "
-- The Canadian Press