Olympic notebook: Honoring the great Gretzky

The hockey legend drew giant cheers for his brilliant career and even louder cheers when he boldly predicted that Canada would take home Olympic gold this year.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia--At a ceremony on Friday night, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky was honored for his contributions and put on the spot.

Hockey fans gathered at the Molson Hockey House downtown for a tribute to Gretzky, but they also wanted to know whether the Great One thought this year's team has what it takes to win the Olympic hockey tournament. Well, rest comfortable, Canadians, he picked the home team to win gold.

Gretzky, who for many is still the face of Canadian Hockey--praised the work of another NHL great--Steve Yzerman--in putting together the team that is competing in Vancouver.

"It's his focus that is going to win this team the Gold medal," Gretzky said (see video below), brushing off concerns after the Canadian team needed a shootout to take down the Swiss. Canada will take on the U.S. on Sunday.

As part of the tribute, former teammates Grant Fuhr and Kevin Lowe spoke, as did longtime rival Lanny McDonald, who joked about the many, many goals Gretzky scored against McDonald's Calgary Flames over the years.

They also showed the top 99 highlights of Gretzky's career during the event, saving the top three for his on-stage appearance, so he could comment. Here's a video of that:

Women's hockey
While I spent Friday night at the Gretzky tribute and watching several men's hockey games on TV, on Saturday I had the chance to check out some women's hockey in person.

Heading out to the smaller of the two hockey venues, I wasn't sure if there would be a bit of the letdown as neither China nor Switzerland are among the elite teams and the best either can finish was fifth.

I knew from the moment I got in the gates that it would be fine. Outside the game there were people smiling laughing and enjoying the unbelivable sunny weather that has tons of people calling this the spring Olympics.

While their were more kids getting piggy-back rides and fewer people in face paint, the excitement was just as high.

As I, too enjoyed some pre-game sun, I ran into American Eric Elting, decked out in a Canada shirt and Canadian Lorinda Haider wearing a Team USA shirt.

"We had a bet," Elting said. The couple, which dates long distance, had a wager to see who would make it to the gym more before the Olympics. Since it was a tie, each had to come in the other's national colors. As for why they chose this game, like many in the crowd, they wanted to go to the games and these tickets were what was available. "We just picked what was left," Haider said.

On the inside, it was a mix.

Stephanie Carr was part of a group each wearing both Canada and Norway shirts--neither of which was playing at Thunderbird Arena on Saturday. It turns out they are Carr is Canadian, but of Norwegian heritage. As for choosing this match, Carr is just trying to soak up as much of the Olympic experience as she can. "We love the atmosphere," she said.

Thomas Wu, meanwhile, was a man on a mission. Waving a Chinese flag and leading a cheer that translated roughly to "Team China, add oil," Wu has been to each of the Chinese women's hockey games.

"They have played very hard against strong teams ranked higher," said Wu, who is the founder of the six-year-old Hong Kong Academy of Ice Hockey, which teaches children to play the sport. "At times they have been a little nervous. With experience I think they will play even better."

In the end, the Swiss were too much for the Chinese, winning 6-0, but Wu proudly waved his flag throughout, never wavering in his cheers despite the score.

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About the author

    During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried has changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley. These days, most of her attention is focused on Microsoft. E-mail Ina.

     

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