Gretzky's Awkward Arrival

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Wayne Gretzky is surrounded by media during the Team Canada practice in Toronto, on Tuesday

"I wasn't involved. I've said that for seven days, and it's over and done with," Gretzky told more than 200 media members at a press conference, following Team Canada's first practice at the Palasport Olimpico arena prior to the Torino Winter Olympics hockey tournament.The defending Gold Medalists play their first game Wednesday against Italy.

Once again, Gretzky responded to questions about his possible link to a gambling ring allegedly financed by his assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes, Rick Tocchet. New Jersey authorities have accused Tocchet, a New Jersey state trooper and another New Jersey man with running the multimillion-dollar operation. Gretzky's wife Janet is reported to have waggered more than $100,000 on football games through the ring. Gretzky indicated that he did not know about Janet's alleged sports gambling. "I've said what I said a week ago I'm not involved, and quite frankly, it's the last time I'm going to talk about it," Gretzky said. "I'll talk hockey all day long. Any questions anybody wants to ask about the hockey team, or the Olympic Games, no problem."

Gretzky, executive director of Team Canada, was flanked by assistant Kevin Lowe, Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson, head coach Pat Quinn, and director of player personnel Steve Tambellini. Asked about a wiretap which reportedly had him speaking with Tocchet about how to keep his wife Janet from being named as a participant, Gretzky refused to "go over what I said a week ago. It just doesn't make any sense." The press conference was terminated after about 15 minutes.

To a man, players and team officials defended Gretzky and dismissed media suggestion that the controversy would be a distraction."Over here it turns back to Team Canada and his leadership on the team and that's what excites us," says Colorado defenseman Rob Blake, a former teammate of Gretzky's with the Los Angeles Kings. "He walked in just like he did four years ago when we won the gold (at the Salt Lake Winter Games). He's the greatest player ever to play the game and he wears that crown into retirement. He walks in the room and everybody looks up to him."

Still, even Gretzky understands the potential downside of choosing to come to Torino in spite of the media storm."If we don't win the gold medal, I'll get blamed, but I've been blamed for losses before," Gretzky said. Just not necessarily for something so far afield from the game being played on the ice.