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The ‘Great One’ May Retire

April 13, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ With speculation growing about Wayne Gretzky’s future, even he admits it’s time to think about retiring.

On Monday night, Gretzky insisted he had not made up his mind.

``I have 1,000 different thoughts, to be honest,″ Gretzky said after the New York Rangers played their second-last game at Madison Square Garden.

The 38-year-old hockey great is in the last year of a contract and has said he would decide sometime after the season. He acknowledged, however, retirement was under consideration.

``It’s time to think about it. ... All of a sudden it’s become a bigger issue than I imagined,″ he said. ``Let’s see what happens over the next five or six days.″

The New York Post reported today that Gretzky will retire after the Rangers’ season finale Sunday, citing what it described as ``unimpeachable sources in whom The Great One has confided.″

``He has made up his mind, but he has had his reasons for not wanting to make an announcement,″ the Post quoted an unidentified person it described as having knowledge of the retirement decision as saying. ``But it’s done. He is not coming back.″

The Toronto Sun also reported Gretzky would retire, saying the only way he would revise his decision to quit would be if his wife, Janet, and agent, Michael Barnett, urged him to step back and review his decision.

``We’ll find out soon enough,″ Rangers coach John Muckler said following Monday night’s 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay. ``Everybody is speculating, but only one person knows for sure.″

The Sun and ESPN quoted unidentified sources as saying Gretzky asked for an unusually large number of tickets for Sunday’s game. The Rangers, though, said today that Gretzky has asked for 10 tickets.

``He’s at 10, nothing out of the ordinary,″ Rangers spokesman Rob Koch said, adding that player allotment is usually between four and eight tickets.

The latest speculation was inspired by a TV report that said Gretzky’s retirement was imminent.

John Davidson, a color commentator for the Rangers, said Sunday on Fox TV that after speaking with Gretzky he believed the player was 80 percent sure he would retire after Sunday’s game.

``The people very close to Wayne ... and I mean very close, feel there’s a very strong possibility Sunday will be the last time he plays,″ Davidson said.

Gretzky responded to questions about Davidson’s report by saying, ``There’s been times where I’ve said things to friends that get blown way out of proportion.

``The only thing I will say is that I will not be one of those guys who says `I’m 90 percent sure’ or `maybe I’m coming back.′ The decision I make will be 100 percent. No ifs ands or buts.″

Fans at Madison Square Garden held up signs Monday night with slogans such as ``Wayne Don’t Go.″ Gretzky said the fan reaction made it difficult to consider retiring.

``I said it a hundred times that I’ve been here over the three years,″ Gretzky said. ``This is the greatest city to be an athlete in.″

As far as one old friend is concerned, the answer won’t come easily, and certainly won’t come soon.

``Knowing Wayne, he would weigh everything and talk to a lot of people before making that decision,″ said Bruce MacGregor, assistant general manager of the Edmonton Oilers. ``It’s a very hard decision. When you retire, it’s for a long time.″

Bill Tuele, another member of the Oilers’ organization who also is a longtime friend of Gretzky, wasn’t so sure he would retire after this year.

``I will say this. Wayne has not shared any final decision with anyone,″ Tuele, the Oilers’ vice president and public relations head, said in a telephone interview. ``Wayne’s dad doesn’t know.″

After a February game in Calgary, Gretzky admitted it was his last game there because he knew the Rangers weren’t visiting the Flames next season. He received an emotional response that night from the Calgary fans, and has received similar tributes in other arenas as the season drew to a close.

It hasn’t been a typical season for Gretzky, who missed 11 games at one point with a neck injury. He had played in 223 straight games since signing with the Rangers as a free agent in 1996.

The injury was the second in Gretzky’s career involving a disc. In 1992-93, he missed most of the season with a lower back injury before coming back to lead the Los Angeles Kings to the Stanley Cup finals.

There will be no playoffs for the Rangers this season, however. They missed for the second straight year.

``It’s been a frustrating year for him ... the way the club has played and the (neck injury). Those kind of injuries bother you a lot,″ MacGregor said in a telephone interview from Edmonton. ``Maybe there’s some speculation that he’s not 100 percent.

``I suspect (Gretzky’s retirement) would have to do more with this than anything else.″

The 1998-99 season has included at least one milestone for the NHL’s leading career scorer. His ninth goal of the year gave him 1,072 as a professional, moving him past boyhood hero Gordie Howe.

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