Former hockey player and NHL coach Wayne Gretzky once said ‘you miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.’
I completely missed the shot I took of Gretzky and me, a selfie, during a chance meeting at a hotel in Ottawa, Canada in June 2008.
Canada’s national capital knows how to throw a party and that year welcomed the first weekend of summer with a few big events. They included the Ottawa International Jazz Festival, where Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at the Lincoln Centre Orchestra performed for the first time in Ottawa since 1999. The United States was in presidential campaign mode and ‘Hope’ t-shirts with Democratic contender Barack Obama were being sold at the Byword Market. Republican Presidential nominee John McCain was the guest speaker at a luncheon of the Economic Club of Toronto in Ottawa.
It was the summer before we understood the effect sub-prime mortgages would have on the economy. While those deals were close to collapsing, National Hockey League teams were making deals at the player’s draft at the Scotiabank Place arena. Centre Steve Stamos was selected first overall in the draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Some people from the hockey world were staying at the hotel where radio and tv broadcasters from across the country were attending the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) Conference. The weekend agenda included guest speakers, workshops, networking and a lot of food and drink.
I was sent to Ottawa to represent the station I worked for at the time, to accept a regional radio Murrow award for our coverage of a Waterloo businessman’s attempt to purchase an NHL team. This was BlackBerry co-chair Jim Balsillie’s second attempt to buy an NHL team. After failing to purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins he attempted but failed again to buy the Nashville Predators. I was on my way to a formal dinner, with the award, in hand when I spotted Gretzky holding court.
Wayne Gretzky holds court
Wayne was making his own deals at the NHL draft as the coach of the Phoenix Coyotes. Even though he retired in 1999 he was still in the game of hockey and there was a fair-sized line up of people waiting to get his autograph. As I got closer I noticed Wayne signed every sheet of paper put in front of him, while at the same time having a conversation with someone about hockey.
He never looked down at the paper he signed, no one said thank you, he never said you’re welcome, instead he kept his eye on the person he was having the conversation with somewhere off to his right. To his left was a group of tall finely-groomed athletic looking men wearing neatly ironed golf shirts and pants. I believe they were his entourage.
It wasn’t clear to me what Wayne and the person on his right were talking about. They were having brief back and forth exchanges, perhaps about hockey or draft picks. That was the year he chose Viktor Tikhanov for the Coyotes and gave up some draft choices.
Trying to take a photo
I decided to ask Wayne for a photo of the two of us and chose not to line up with the autograph seekers. I also wanted to tell him about the award our station had won for hockey coverage -and about the conversation I had had with his dad in April 1999, when his dad let it out of the bag that Wayne was retiring from hockey.
None of that happened.
There was no way to politely interrupt the conversation between Wayne and the man to his right. So I simply took the shot you see below, in which Wayne is carrying on with his conversation and I am looking into the camera wondering if I had captured a photo.
Someone said to me later that I should have told Wayne I was with the media. Perhaps then he would have been more receptive. Although I was there on official reporter capacity I hadn’t wanted to interrupt him. Besides, this photo is more of a conversation piece and far funnier than any run-of-the-mill photo of two smiling dudes.
2008 would be the final season Gretzky coached the Phoenix Coyotes. The team owners would file for bankruptcy protection that year. He resigned after four seasons as coach and director of hockey operations with the team.