noshing (no more) with 99

Say your so longs to Grandma Gretzky’s Perogies, get your goodbyes in for WGS Plant Based Vegan Caesar Salad: after 27 years, Wayne Gretzky’s own Toronto flagship restaurant is closing today for good. A condo development (of course) will rise in its downtown stead.

I was only ever there once, in — wait, now — 1994? Wayne was on hand himself, I wish I could say he was manning the stoves, but no, it was a book launch, for Jim Taylor’s Wayne Gretzky: The Authorized Pictorial Biography. I talked to Taylor, who was friendly, and to Wayne’s dad, Walter, who was friendlier. There was no getting near the then-Great One: like the appetizers, he was besieged as soon as he appeared.

The restaurant had opened a year earlier, down on what used to be Peter Street, just north of the used-to-be-SkyDome, in the year-of-our-Lord-the-Blue-Jays-won-a-second-straight-World Series. Back then, of course, the local hockey team was still at home uptown, at Maple Leaf Gardens. The restaurant debuted in July of 1993 with the intent (as WG’s website explained right up to the end) of striving “to honour this Canadian Hockey Hall of Famer by creating a dining experience with Gretzky’s greatness in mind.”

The gall. That same spring, Gretzky had taken a break as a fine-dining impresario to join the Los Angeles Kings in their quest for the Stanley Cup. Against Toronto in the Campbell Conference Final, Gretzky escaped justice in the sixth game of the series when he high-sticked Leaf captain Doug Gilmour and failed to surrender himself after referee Kerry Fraser missed the call. Maybe you don’t remember; Toronto will never forget.

The Kings won that game, in overtime, on a goal of Gretzky’s. He had a say in the deciding game, too, scoring a hattrick as the Kings dismissed the Leafs 5-4 to win the series and advance to their first Stanley Cup Final.

How did Toronto forgive #99 his trespass? It’s hard to remember. Somehow. Gretzky’s opened a month after the Kings ceded the Cup to the Montreal Canadiens over the course of five games, so I guess there’s that.

It wasn’t just Gretzky, of course, who made the restaurant happen, he was just a partner, and the brand. The Bitoves were the majority owners; there was talk, too, that they were after an NBA franchise. In August, not long after the restaurant opened, Globe and Mail sportswriter William Houston dropped by.  He came out unimpressed. “The food was mediocre and the service slow,” he griped in the paper. “It took 35 minutes to get a ‘King’s Clubhouse.’ When it arrived the French fries were soggy and cold — not even tepid, but chilly.”

Houston was all over the story of the restaurant that month: he also broke the news that the first question prospective WG’s employees were asked when they came in for an interview was, “What does Wayne Gretzky mean to you?”

Wayne and his wife Janet were on hand for the grand opening in September, and so too was a forgiving Gilmour. His Toronto teammate Wendel Clark showed up, too, as did Gretzky’s old Oilers pal Paul Coffey, a Detroit Red Wing by then, along with future Leaf president Brendan Shanahan, still toiling on the ice in those years as a winger with the St. Louis Blues. Vladislav Tretiak came, and Alanis Morissette, and Toronto’s mayor, June Rowlands.

What else?

It’s worth noting, maybe, that Gilmour opened his own restaurant that same fall, Gardoonies, not far from the rink where he worked his day job.  I’m pretty sure it’s no longer around, though I should probably check on that, just to be sure.

What I can report is that #93’s new digs didn’t make quite the immediate impression that Gretzky’s did — not, at least, if the December, 1993 issue of Toronto Life is your source, as it is mine. Consulting the magazine’s year-end awards issue, I find that while Gardoonies figured not at all,  #99’s place had endeared itself so thoroughly to its host city that it featured twice, winning recognition as the city’s

NOISIEST RESTAURANT

Wayne Gretzky’s on Peter Street; take earplugs.

and for the year’s

MOST AUDACIOUS ATTEMPT AT STICKHANDLING THROUGH CITY COUNCIL

By Wayne Gretzky, who tried to get 41 Peter Street (the location of his jock – stop/restaurant) changed to 99 Blue Jay Way. The Great One’s request is tied up in city council.

Councillor Howard Levine was chairman of the committee considering the application, and he said the city was being seen as “pliant and lacking in principles” for even contemplating allowing the change.

Another councillor, Robert Maxwell, said that letting Gretzky have his Way would give the impression that anybody could have a street name changed.

“You just don’t play with history like that,” said Councillor Michael Walker, though I guess in the end the lesson we all learned is that you do, if you can, and Gretzky did, eventually. But then, like the restaurant at 99 Blue Jays Way itself (as of tonight), that’s also, well, history.

one week and another: haven’t really looked at it as a concussion

In The Paint: Montreal’s Classic Auctions closed out another big sale last week. Big-money items included a 1980 Miracle-On-Ice U.S.A. number-23 sweater worn by Rob McClanahan (sold for US$$86,220, including a buyer’s premium); four different gold-and-diamond Stanley Cup rings of Billy Smith’s (one of which went for US$ $36,563); a Herb Cain game-worn woolen number-four Bruins’ sweater (US$25,937); and one of Andy Warhol’s iconic 1984 “Wayne Gretzky #99” screenprints signed by both artist and subject (US$$8,249). Also on the block was this 1964 oil painting by brushtender Jacques Plante. Bidding started at US$300 with the final price climbing to US$2,014.

In The Paint: Montreal’s Classic Auctions closed out another big sale last week. Big-money items included a 1980 Miracle-On-Ice U.S.A. number-23 sweater worn by Rob McClanahan (sold for US$$86,220, including a buyer’s premium); four different gold-and-diamond Stanley Cup rings of Billy Smith’s (one of which went for US$ $36,563); a Herb Cain game-worn woolen number-four Bruins’ sweater (US$25,937); and one of Andy Warhol’s iconic 1984 “Wayne Gretzky #99” screenprints signed by both artist and subject (US$$8,249). Also on the block was this 1964 oil painting by brushtender Jacques Plante. Bidding started at US$300 with the final price climbing to US$2,014.

Carey Price is 6 foot 3, reported The Globe and Mail’s Sean Gordon, and his thighs are as stout as 50-year-old timber.

From Stan Butler, who coaches the OHL’s Brampton Battalion, came a tweet last week:

In hockey Choking equals Poor Preparation plus Low Self Confidence. #mentalpreparation

Evgeni Malkin told Sport Express about some of the keys to the success he’s been enjoying in his ninth NHL season. Language was one of them: as soon as English ceased to be a problem, he said, came “looseness and confidence.” Also, he has a good Russian cook now, who prepares soups and pancakes. His fridge, now, is filled with “tasty and familiar food, not the typical American chips and stuff.”

“Thank God,” said Malkin, “all is well and I am happy in life.”

When, last week, Philadelphia GM Ron Hextall traded a defenceman, Kimmo Timonen, to Chicago’s Blackhawks, he said that he was sending them not just a skilled and experienced player, “but a damn good person, too.”

“I’m comfortable and strong,” said Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf.

An entomologist who discovered a new species of wasp in Kenya’s Teita Hills of Kenya, being a Bruins fans, named it Thaumatodryinus tuukkaraski, writes Carolyn Y. Johnson of The Boston Globe. And so Tuukka Rask —

who won the 2014 Vézina Trophy as the best goalie in the National Hockey League — will have the unusual honor of a callout in the scientific journal Acta Entomologica Musei Nationalis Pragae.

“This species is named after the acrobatic goaltender for the Finnish National ice hockey team and the Boston Bruins, whose glove hand is as tenacious as the raptorial fore tarsus of this dryinid species,” the authors wrote in the paper, which has been accepted and will be published in April.

Robert S. Copeland, an entomologist at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi who grew up in Newton, said naming this particular wasp after Rask reflected his admiration for a player who has “had an outstanding career in one of the most difficult positions in sports.”

The name also fit for other reasons. The project that led to the discovery of the species was underwritten by the government of Finland, Rask’s home country. The wasp is yellowish and black, similar to the Bruins’ colors. The grasping front legs of the female have claspers that look vaguely like goalie gloves.

Alert: if you happen to be browsing Player Bios filed by the Detroit Red Wings, and you come across captain Henrik Zetterberg’s he does not, in fact, collect smoke-detectors. The actual wording is this:

OTHER: Hosts guests from local children’s hospitals at DRW home games in his Zetterberg Foundation Suite… Serves as the team spokesperson for the annual smoke detector collection…Scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal in 2008.

Last month, while Michal Neuvirth was still a goaltender for the Buffalo Sabres, he paid US$2,000 to dive and embellish his distress after Nashville’s Mike Santorelli took a penalty for running into him. Neuvirth, who was trade on Monday to New York’s Islanders, is the first goaltender to pay the price, apparently; he’ll pay more if he does it again, says the NHL, up to a maximum of $5,000.

Headline on an NBC Sports item ahead of Detroit’s game in Anaheim Monday last:

Zetterberg (Jamie Benn head punch) doubtful for tonight

Two days earlier in Dallas it happened, during the second period of a 7-6 win by the Red Wings. Benn took a roughing minor for the punch; Zetterberg played on until the end of the period and missed the third.

Of the game, Pavel Datsyuk said, “We play not really good today. We happy we win.”

Regarding Zetterberg, reporters in a scrum that included Mike Heika of The Dallas Morning News asked coach Mike Babcock whether his captain might have a concussion. “Yeah,” he said, “I don’t really know that. I didn’t talk to the guys. Let’s just say he’s got an upper-body injury and I don’t know if he’s fine tomorrow or not fine tomorrow, so we’ll see him tomorrow. We’ll practice tomorrow and then play the following day, so we’ll see where he’s at.”

“You go through this whole range of feelings when things aren’t going well,” said Cam Neely, president of the Boston Bruins, for whom he once used to skate the wing. The team’s season, if you haven’t been paying attention, has been lacklustrous. “I’ve been frustrated. I’ve had some anger tossed in there. And now, for the first time, I’ve landed on disappointed.”

Detroit GM Ken Holland: “He got punched in the head, didn’t feel great after the game, so anytime you have any kind of head injury, you don’t feel good and we’re not going to put you in the lineup.”

From Ken Dryden, writing in this month’s Walrus about Scotland’s referendum, tells of visiting the house in Harwick, in Scotland, that his ancestors left in 1834 to come to Canada. A man named Norman Huggan lives there now; afterwards, Dryden went to a local pub called the Waverley.

Longtime NHL referee (ret’d) Kerry Fraser wrote about Benn’s punch in his column on TSN.ca, specifically the question of why wasn’t the Stars’ captain punished with more than the merest minor penalty.

Historically and currently a punching motion with the hand or fist, with or without the glove on the hand, normally directed at the head of an opponent is roughing. Roughing is a minor altercation that is not worthy of a major penalty to either participant. (An altercation is a situation involving two players with at least one to be penalized). A minor penalty shall be imposed on a player who strikes an opponent with his hand or fist. (Rule 51.1)

In reviewing this altercation that resulted from a Detroit end zone face-off, the initial push-off and subsequent glove punch that Jamie Benn administered to the head/helmet of Henrik Zetterberg fell completely within the parameters of this roughing rule. The altercation began as a result of Zetterberg tying up Benn with a stick between the legs and a left-hand shoulder wrap after the Stars captain won the draw back toward the top of the face-off circle.

Benn attempted a ‘crow-hop’ to break free from Zetterberg’s restraint/interference to get to the front of the net without success. As the shot and eventual save was made by Jimmy Howard, Benn created separation with a forearm push and subsequent glove punch to the lower right side of Zetterberg’s helmet. Unless there is a change in the rule and operating procedure, this play will continue to be enforced as a minor penalty for roughing. Continue reading