Reuters - Fri, 16 Apr 20:34:00 2010
Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky, the former center known as 'The Great One', has urged the NHL to allow its players to go to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has been non-committal about taking a three-week break from the season to allow players to compete in Russia.
"The Olympic Games helps hockey," Gretzky said.
"The last eight years the Russian players, Swedish players and all the European guys have played in the United States and Canada," he said referring to the 2010 edition in Vancouver and Salt Lake City in 2002.
"I understand from the commissioner's point of view there are worries about shutting down the league for 20 days. But I think this is one time as North Americans we owe it to them to go over to their Olympics."
Gretzky, who lit the cauldron to launch the Vancouver Olympics, said February's final between the United States and Canada was one of hockey's best games.
"It was a great game. It was so good and so positive for the National Hockey League, having a US-Canada final," he said.
"There are a few games that go down in history, like in 1980 when the U.S. beat the Russians. It was just exciting. It was a positive for our sport."
Gretzky said fans in his adopted state of California were still talking about the thrilling final won in sudden-death overtime by Canada.
"Everywhere I go everybody says the same thing -- 'We're devastated we lost but what a hockey game ... and that's what sports is all about."
Gretzky stepped down as head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes in September.
He retired as a player in 1999 after 20 seasons that included four Stanley Cup wins with the Edmonton Oilers.
Gretzky was named Phoenix coach in 2005 but in four seasons the club went 143-161-24 and never made the play-offs.