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Gambling scandal hounds Gretzky

Published Feb. 14, 2006

Wayne Gretzky sidestepped questions about the gambling investigation that has engulfed him and his wife and insisted Monday he won't distract the Canadian Olympic team.

Gretzky, in his first public appearance in Canada since the scandal broke, spoke for just 4 1/2 minutes during a news conference cut off by a Hockey Canada official after repeated questions about the integrity of the game.

"There are reports that you're a heavy bettor in Las Vegas," one reporter shouted before Team Canada's general manager turned away with an exasperated grin.

"How is your wife going to handle these questions?" asked another.

Gretzky's shoulders sagged at one point, and he nervously laughed a few times. Hockey Canada's Andre Brin interrupted five times to say Gretzky would take only game-related questions.

"There's no story about me," Gretzky said. "That's what I keep trying to tell you."

It was Gretzky's final media session before Team Canada left for Turin after the open practice. He and wife Janet Jones were scheduled to fly with the team.

Gretzky wanted to discuss Canada's defense of its gold medal, not a gambling ring authorities say was financed by Coyotes assistant Rick Tocchet and took bets from Jones.

"Not much really to add to what I said two days ago," Gretzky said. "I'm not involved. It's been a hard week for my family. The only focus I have right now is this hockey team getting ready for the Olympic Games."

Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock, an assistant for Canada, said the players are so focused on a gold medal, he doesn't believe they "would dare let something like this distraction get in their way."

Gretzky acknowledged the pressure on Canada to repeat as gold medalist.

"They're always under the microscope," he said. "We're a team that's always looked upon to winning gold medals."

New Jersey authorities announced charges last week against Tocchet, a New Jersey state trooper and another New Jersey man for running a nationwide gambling operation. State police said wagers, primarily on pro football, exceeded $1.7-million in the five weeks leading to the Super Bowl. Tocchet is on an indefinite leave from the Coyotes.

Jones has not been charged but is expected to be subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury, attorneys said.

Team Canada players backed Gretzky.

"He's put this team together, and we're excited he's coming," captain and Avalanche center Joe Sakic said. "I know people are trying to bring up, "What's going on with Wayne?' It's not an issue."

FORSBERG HEADS TO TURIN: Flyers center Peter Forsberg flew to Turin but remains questionable to play for Sweden. An MRI exam Sunday showed his strained groin has not healed.

"I'm going to rest a few more days and see how it goes," Forsberg said. "It's not definite I'm playing over there, but (Team Sweden wants) me to come over and see if it heals up."

SLOVAKIA: Flyers center Michal Handzus won't play for Slovakia because of a rotator cuff injury sustained Saturday against the Capitals.

DUCKS: Defenseman Scott Niedermayer had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and will miss at least a month. Toronto's Bryan McCabe replaced him on Canada's roster last week.

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