The final scrimmage to determine the roster for Team Canada's entry into the 1991 Canada Cup tournament was held at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. Upwards of fourty talented Canadian professional hockey players had been divided into two teams. Competition was fierce. Stars such as Steve Yzerman and Mark Messier were conspicuous by their absence: Yzerman because he left camp; Messier because he hadn't arrived yet. Nevertheless, the presence of such icons as Wayne Gretzky, Al MacInnis, Scott Stevens, and future star Eric Lindros created a sense of optimism for Team Canada officials. The video coach for Team Canada, I sat in the stands at the Gardens, As I waited for the scrimmage to begin, I observed a unique phenomenon that can only be the result of the charismatic leadership skills of one of the world’s greatest athletes.
Twenty minutes before the start of the scrimmage that would decide the final roster, Wayne Gretzky, arguably the greatest player to ever don a pair of hockey skates, came onto the ice alone and began to stretch and skate slowly around the rink. Before the "Great One," as he is affectionately known, had completed one lap, three more of his teammates followed suit. All four players continued to skate counter-clockwise, engaging in idle chat as they stretched slowly and methodically. Within two minutes, every member of Gretzky's brigade had reached the ice surface. It was apparent that Gretzky's team was eager to warm up; their opponents had yet to set foot on Maple Leaf Gardens ice.
This anecdotal testimony is an example of how one person’s presence can influence others. Why were Gretzky's teammates so eager to join him on the ice well ahead of their scheduled scrimmage? Why were the opposing players still in the locker room? One may argue it was purely coincidental. I believe that the respect fellow teammates had for Gretzky's playing ability and leadership qualities inspired them to follow more closely in his path. Seeing the greatest player in the world scurrying to reach the ice surface early: what better motivator can a team have? Outstanding athletes truly have a unique mindset.