Gretzky surprised by support from Jets fans heading into Heritage Classic alumni game

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It’s Heritage Classic weekend in the NHL, which means that there will be an alumni game between the Jets and Oilers on Saturday afternoon.

The rivalry between these two teams has come down a few notches over the years (mainly because the Jets moved to Phoenix), but that doesn’t diminish how intense it used to be.

It was so intense that Wayne Gretzky, who will be dressing for the Oilers alum, was surprised when he was cheered during Friday’s practice at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg.

“I was kind of Public Enemy No. 1 back in the day,” Gretzky said, per NHL.com. “But, that is the way it should be. I was with the other team. When I was in Winnipeg, the people were great to me and they always treated me with respect. You have to cheer for your own team and I understand that.”

It’s not hard to figure out why Gretzky and the Oilers were so hated in Winnipeg during the 1980’s and early 90’s.

Edmonton won five Stanley Cups between 1984 and 1990 and they beat the Jets all six times they met in the playoffs, sweeping four of those.

Gretzky, who’s looking forward to playing against the Jets alumni on Saturday, hasn’t played much hockey since retiring in 1999.

“I don’t play a lot. I skate once a year. I just never really find the energy, the enthusiasm to grab my equipment and say I’m going to go play pickup hockey.

“I played in one outdoor game in Edmonton and it was fun and it was great for hockey. When Winnipeg talked to me about this game a couple years ago, playing in Winnipeg was always fun and when we get together as a team, it is always a unique situation.”

Here are the rosters for this afternoon’s game:

The alumni game gets going at 4:00 p.m. ET.