Making the pilgrimage to Brantford, Ont., to see the modest home where The Great One learned to play in the backyard had always been a dream of mine.
It’s not overstating it to say that our impromptu visit to Walter Gretzky’s house in 2015 was one of the greatest days of my life – and not for the treasures inside, but for the treasure that was Canada's Hockey Dad.
We were in town with my son Caleb's minor hockey team for a tournament and had some idle time between games.
One of the dads on our team knew one of Walter’s neighbours, who had a standing offer to bring friends through the Gretzky family shrine in the basement.
When we first arrived, “Wally” as he was affectionately known – the man with a reserved parking spot at every hockey arena in town – wasn’t even home. But we were given a tour of the Canadian landmark anyway.
It never felt like we were trespassing, even though our entire team – 17 players plus parents and siblings – were trudging through Walter’s man cave.
There was jaw-dropping memorabilia everywhere – a stick rack with relics that had literally helped produce some of hockey’s greatest moments, game-worn gloves and equipment, signed and framed magazine covers.
When Walter arrived back home, he made it clear that this was a museum he wanted you to treat like anything but a museum.
I was a nervous wreck. At one point, I turned to Caleb, who was slapping the stick Wayne had used to become the NHL's all-time leading scorer in 1989 on the floor.
"That's what they're there for!" Walter said to my other son, Ethan, encouraging him to try on one of Wayne's game-used Los Angeles Kings jerseys.
I was ready to have a heart attack. But Walter wanted everyone to touch and feel, to experience it all. Nothing was off limits in a house that he made feel never had a lock on the door.
Sometimes when you get to live out a dream in real life, it disappoints. But that visit exceeded every expectation I ever had because Walter took the time to spend with us.
After our tour, Walter took a photo with our entire team in the driveway. Then he asked if the kids wanted autographs.
One by one, they went to the door and Walter individually personalized every glossy photo from a stack that Wayne had already signed. Walter didn’t just scribble his name quickly and move on; he asked each kid their name, then asked if their siblings or parents wanted an autograph, too.
Every kid felt so special.
It was the greatest little slice of Canadiana on Varadi Ave.
And because of Walter, that day has become one of my most treasured moments with my boys. Hockey's ultimate father showed us all how to act like a Great One.
Mike Lane is a senior producer at TSN.