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Keith Gretzky: He Knows He Has What It Takes

October 7, 2011 General No Comments

Keith Gretzky: He knows he has what it takes
By David Terentieff
Nov 5, 2000, 19:04

 

Item: Keith Gretzky has been drafted in the first round by the Calgary Rad’z of Roller Hockey International (RHI).

Gretzky is the younger brother of Wayne Gretzky, AKA “The Great One,” who won four Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers and is currently a member of the Los Angeles Kings.

What makes Keith Gretzky think he can skate in the intense world of Roller Hockey International? Will his ice hockey skills translate over to roller hockey? And does he have what it takes to stay with the crash-’n’-bash RHI, which sanctions full-contact hockey?

Gretzky doesn’t think he has what it takes — he knows he has what it takes. And therein lies the key. That positive affirmation was one of the glaring features that came out of a discussion with Gretzky shortly after he was drafted by the Rad’z.

“I hope to help (the Rad’z) out with scoring a little bit,” he modestly said when asked about his role with the team. Never mind that he is new to the league, because he has the seemingly brash belief that he will be a positive contributor to the Rad’z. “I’m a smart player and I have the ability to be quick,” he added with absolute confidence.

 

Hard to teach scoring

Gretzky taught hockey at his “Gretzky’s Game” hockey school for several years. Then last season he worked with 16- to 20-year-old junior players as assistant coach with the WHL Tri-Cities Americans in Kennewick, WA. While scoring goals is something Gretzky comes by naturally, in his work with youngsters he has developed his own theory about the art of scoring.

“It’s hard to teach a kid to score goals,” he said. “Not everyone is talented like Brett Hull. He shoots and it goes in — not everyone has that gift.

“Some guys will score 50 goals by working hard. Some will score 80 or more goals on natural talent. They just have a natural goal-scoring shot,” he said. But he agreed that even for those with a natural gift, hard work is the key to scoring goals.

“When you’re 16-years old and trying to improve your game you have to do extra work and shoot lots of pucks each day,” Gretzky said.

Gretzky’s background is similar to that of many other RHI players. Like many skaters in the two-year-old league, Gretzky has an extensive ice hockey background, including two campaigns (1991-93) with the San Diego Gulls of the International Hockey League.

He noted that his coaching duties with the WHL Americans didn’t leave him much time to work on his own skills during the past season. But that doesn’t bother him. Gretzky has absolute confidence in his skills – whether on blades or on wheels. Besides, he’ll have some time to work on his own game before reporting to the Rad’z for the roller hockey season.

Since the WHL season ended, Gretzky has concentrated on increasing his daily mileage on wheels, developing his wind and stamina. He rides a stationary bike at least 45 minutes a day to get his heart rate up and keep his legs fit. “I’ll ride the stationary bike, get strong, and then go from there to determine how much time I need to spend on blades,” he said.

It’s not at all surprising that Keith feels comfortable on skates. He’s been perfecting his stroke and glide since his parents first laced him up at age four. He says he played hockey since that early age, just like big brother Wayne. And now, at 27, even if he doesn’t share The Great One’s phenomenal athletic gift, he does share his humility.

 

In-line more than a fad

Keith couldn’t help but notice the explosive popularity of in-line skating in Southern California when he played with the IHL Gulls. He developed his own 11-mile training course around the San Diego neighborhood where he lived.

“It (in-line skating) is more than just a fad. The sport is growing so fast, and it hasn’t gone away,” he said. He noted that he has seen a lot of interest in in-line skating in Canada, too — but nothing like the way the phenomenon has exploded in California.

As a traditional centerman, Gretzky uses a straight blade on ice, and says he’ll use the same blade on the concrete surfaces of RHI. He prefers a wooden blade because of the stiffer, more responsive feel. As for the rest of his roller hockey equipment, Gretzky says he plans to skate with the best state-of-the-art gear available.

“Roller hockey equipment is all lighter than what we use on ice,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to duplicate the experience of a blade on ice, but I hope to find wheels which will give, as close as possible, the same experience as ice skating.”

In January, RHI announced a multi-year television deal with ESPN and ESPN2, with plans for a live prime time game of the week on Monday nights. The TV coverage should give Keith, along with many other IHL players, a showcase opportunity during the heat of the summer.

 

Back behind the bench

After winding up his first season behind the bench with the Tri-Cities Americans, Gretzky said the experience agreed with him. The Americans climbed out of the basement at the end of their season and qualified for the WHL playoffs.

His coaching experience was certainly a change from his accustomed role on the ice. Asked what he looks for in a player from a coach’s perspective, Gretzky first said he’s looking for two totally different player types.

Defensemen, according to Gretzky, “have got to be able to skate — especially backwards. They have to be strong and to be good shots.” And forwards? “They have to be quick, as well as big and strong.” He added that centermen are always expected to be competent two-way players.

Gretzky acknowledges that working with the junior hockey team has been difficult. “It has been totally different dealing with such young kids here and trying to mold them into something you want…very difficult,” he noted. But since this was a rebuilding year for the Americans, Gretzky found his rewards in working with raw, emerging talent.

“I decided to leave my wife, six-month- old son and three-year-old daughter in the Tri Cities for the summer,” said Gretzky, “and I hope to continue with the Americans next season.”

Whether it’s coaching or playing, Gretzky is counting on his long-time association with the game of hockey to serve him well as he skates with other converted ice-men in Roller Hockey International.

 

This first appeared in the 06/1994 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®
© Copyright 1991-2001 Hockey Player® and Hockey Player Magazine®

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