Many Canadians have fond memories and stories of meeting Walter Gretzky, whether it was in a hockey arena, at a charity event or perhaps somewhere in Brantford, Ont. Mark Messier is no different.
The six-time Stanley Cup champion got to know Walter and the Gretzky family while he played with Wayne Gretzky on the Edmonton Oilers in the 80s. Walter, known as Canada's beloved hockey dad, passed away at the age of 82 on Thursday.
To Messier, Walter was a good friend to everyone.
"Walter always had a way of making you feel good about yourself," Messier told Arash Madani and Stephen Brunt on Friday's edition of Sportsnet Today. "Even after we’d be down on ourselves after a tough loss, he had a nice way of keeping things in perspective. He’d always turn the page and [be] looking forward to the next game."
There was a big focus on family in Edmonton, Messier said, with not only teammates becoming great friends but also the players' parents forging their own relationships with each other.
Messier said that Wayne and Walter had a "beautiful relationship," noting that Walter along with wife Phyllis Gretzky were instrumental in making The Great One the person he is today.
"Walter and Phyllis did an amazing job of keeping Wayne grounded, protecting him when they needed to, exposing him when it was needed," Messier said. "But I think the life lessons that Walter and Phyllis passed down to Wayne has shone through his career. Wayne had time for everybody."
Just like many other Canadian families, Messier said the Gretzky family was hard-working and always made an effort to be good citizens.
“They didn’t lose sight of the fact that the most important things were keeping your integrity and being honest and being truthful, and I think those are the Canadian characteristics that we all can recognize in great people, and Wayne had it because of his parents.”
With Wayne's massive success in the NHL, Walter quickly became a public figure and a Canadian icon on his own. In hindsight of the celebrity status he developed during his life, Messier said Walter was “pretty shy” when he first got to know him and that Walter tried to stay out of the spotlight.
“It became evident to him later on—he became a celebrity in his own right," Messier said. "He was on the speaking circuit, the charity circuit, watching youth hockey games, being invited to events. I think he really embraced it after a while.
“I think he actually really felt responsibility to give back. He understood the gravity of the situation where he could be helpful to young boys and girls."