When Wayne Gretzky got a phone call he just couldn’t ignore, hours before announcing his retirement from hockey

It’s a day hockey fans will never forget. April 18, 1999. Wayne Gretzky’s last NHL game.

Gretzky announced late that it would be his last ever season. He didn’t want every road game to be a circus, and he wanted his teammates to focus on what’s important: playing hockey.

But when Gretzky finally announced that he was playing his final game, that the greatest hockey career of all time was ending, everyone wanted to be there.

Not a single fan at Madison Square Garden was sitting during the pre-game ceremony. Fans chanted his name, some cried, and Mario Lemieux was there. So was Mark Messier and celebrities like Jerry Seinfeld and Christopher Reeve.

Before puck drop, Gary Bettman revealed that No. 99 would be retired across the league. Some words in the Canadian national anthem were changed to, ”We’re gonna miss you, Wayne Gretzky.”

Although he didn’t announce his departure from hockey until two days prior to the game, word has spread about it. On April 15, he played his last game in Canada against the Ottawa Senators.

Later that night, he announced he was quitting.

Canadian hockey player Wayne Gretzky, forward of the New York Rangers, walks back onto the ice for an encore after his final professional hockey game, Madison Square Garden, New York, New York, April 18, 1999. (Photo by Jim Leary/Getty Images)

But the day building up to his announcement was special, and there were a lot of people trying to get in touch with him.

”It was overwhelming,” said Mike Richter, then-goalie for the Rangers, to Sporting News. “It was like a national day of mourning and we sat after lunch and told stories and Wayne just wanted to hang out and tell more stories. … [But] John Rosasco, our head of PR, kept saying, ‘Hey Wayne, you’ve got a call.’ He said, ‘John, you know, I’m going to address the press tonight, I just want to stay here, my last meal, have conversations with the guys.’

Source: Wikipedia

But Wayne Gretzky soon had to change his mind about not speaking with anyone when a call he couldn’t ignore came in.

“He just kept telling stories after our meal and John came and said, ‘No, there’s another call here for you.’ He’s like, ‘John, I’m not speaking to anybody.’ [Rosasco responded], ‘Well, it’s the Prime Minister of Canada.’ [Gretzky said] ‘I’d better take that one.'”

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