Even trying to describe the impact Wayne Gretzky had on his teammates is tough. He’s the greatest player of all time and had a special aura around him whenever he stepped onto the ice or into a locker room. For many players in the NHL, it was a dream come true to even play against him at some point during a career, and to actually get to be his teammate was an even more significant happening.
Many of the players he played with grew up watching him every night, idolizing him, wanting to be like him. And that was the case for Sean Pronger, the brother of Chris Pronger, as well.
”To say I was a Wayne Gretzky fan as a child would be like saying that my brother has a small gap in his teeth. The Oilers were my team and Wayne was my idol. When Chris and I played hockey in the basement, I was always Gretzky and he was always Mike Bossy,” Pronger wrote in his book, ’Journeyman: The Many Triumphs (And Even More Defeats) of a Guy Who’s Seen Just About Everything in the Game of Hockey.’
Chris Pronger was a Norris Trophy-winning defenseman, but his brother Sean wasn’t as successful. He played 260 games in the NHL, but it didn’t matter to him because when he was traded to the New York Rangers in 1999, he became teammate with The Great One.
”What a weird feeling that was. And I’m not talking about being traded. Somehow the first few trades of my career somewhat numbed me to being dealt. I’m talking about Wayne going from idol to teammate. I felt like I was a fantasy camper,” he wrote.
Pronger said he took every chance he could to hang out with Gretzky, but he’s not so sure Gretzky knew that he was hanging out with Sean. He followed him around everywhere.
”I’m pretty sure he’d have had a solid case for filing a restraining order against me if he wanted to. I wasn’t exactly Glenn Close from Fatal Attraction, but then again, Wayne didn’t travel with a bunny rabbit,” he wrote.
Sean Pronger only played 14 games with the Rangers. He was a fifth-liner, basically a practice fill-in. So, he decided to take advantage of living in New York. He wrote that he and his wife ’threw their boundaries out the window one night.’ He had practice scheduled the next morning and came home from bars just hours earlier.
But when he got to practice, something was different. He had a different color of the jersey he always had for practice. As it turned out, Kevin Stevens had the flu, so Sean Pronger, who had slept no more than two hours and was probably still drunk, had to fill in on Gretzky’s line.
”I’M PLAYING ON GRETZKY’S LINE TODAY. Are you kidding me? I just got to bed three hours ago and now I have the (practice) opportunity of a lifetime? A million thoughts and questions rushed through my head,” he wrote.
In Pronger’s mind, he didn’t care that it was just practice. He was playing with Gretzky. For him, it was the all-star game. And he decided to approach The Great One and speak the truth.
“Gretz, I’m hungover. Maybe even a little drunk still. Can you keep the puck away from me today?”
To Sean Pronger’s big surprise, Gretzky was all cool about it.
“No problem, Prongs, I’ve been there myself.”
But as it turned out, Gretzky decided to have a little fun about it. Gretzky’s every pass was to Pronger, and it didn’t land well.
”I remember a three-on-two drill that started with sweat pouring off my face. I was busting down the right side fully aware a puck was heading my way. Sure enough, Gretz lobbed another wounded duck my way and the puck landed somewhere near my blade. Then the whistle blew and Muckler was starting the drill over again.”
“Where did the puck go?” Graves asked.
“In the stands!” someone replied.
Sean Pronger approached Gretzky and apologized for how he played. But Gretzky’s response was perfect.
“Prongs, don’t worry about it. I’ll try to give you better passes from now on!” Gretzky said, winking at Pronger.
As it turned out, Gretzky had been messing with Sean Pronger all along, and the hungover fifth-liner couldn’t have been more amazed about it.
”How awesome is that? The greatest player ever to lace them up went out of his way to thoroughly embarrass a hungover grinder. And you know what? That made me feel more included than if he had played it straight.”