Man who stopped collecting after his Gretzky memorabilia was stolen says Connor Bedard brought him back | CBC News

A man whose large collection of Wayne Gretzky memorabilia was stolen says he had given up on the hobby until rookie NHL star Connor Bedard brought him back.

Aron Gratias of Emma Lake, Sask., said the items of his collection that were stolen included 19 autographed Gretzky jerseys from every team the hockey legend played for since the age of 12.

Signed pictures, hockey sticks, pucks and close to 10,000 hockey cards — including 2,200 of Gretzky, some autographed — were also stolen, along with other items.

The theft from a rural property near Shellbrook, Sask., about 120 kilometres north of Saskatoon, was discovered in April, 2022. The collection had been in a locked storage container.

Almost a year later, RCMP announced they recovered a “large quantity” of the memorabilia from a Shellbrook home. A 41-year-old man was arrested and charged with possession of stolen property obtained by crime over $5,000.

But Gratias said it was only a small percentage of his collection and mostly lesser-valued items, such as key chains, game ticket stubs and posters.

Police find memorabilia investigating other crimes

All of his most precious memorabilia remained missing until just before last Christmas, when police produced one of his autographed Gretzky hockey sticks. Gratias was told it was found in an abandoned vehicle north of Shellbrook as part of an unrelated criminal investigation.

Then two months ago, police in Prince Albert, about 40 kilometres east of Shellbrook, recovered three of Gratias’s signed Gretzky jerseys in another unrelated investigation. Gratias was told that during a search of a suspect’s home, officers came across the jerseys in the living room.

The backs of signed Wayne Gretzky Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers hockey jerseys lined up side by side.
Autographed Wayne Gretzky hockey jerseys recovered by police in Prince Albert, Sask., in an unrelated investigation. (Aron Gratias)

“I was kind of giving up hope. It was just over a year that we were turning over rocks and not finding anything,” he said.

“It started to give me a little bit more hope that maybe this stuff didn’t move as far as I thought it was moving.”

Gratias said about 75 per cent of his collection remains missing — but with these recent discoveries, he’s feeling “very positive.”

Nagging question about theft

Because the Gretzky collection was “selectively removed” from one of two storage containers in the yard — with expensive household and garage items left behind — people were telling Gratias it had to be someone close to him.

Gratias said he doesn’t know the accused, but he believes someone he knows tipped off whoever was responsible or told the wrong people.

“Just the whole timing of the yard being plowed, access to that sea can — very few individuals knew that it was accessible during a certain time,” he said.

However, Gratias admits this theory is unproven.

A photo signed by Wayne Gretzky of a young man in a blue and orange Edmonton Oilers hockey jersey sitting next to two children also wearing jerseys.
One of several family photos in Gratias’s collection signed by Wayne Gretzky. (Aron Gratias)

Meanwhile, he said he appreciates how collectors and other strangers continue to send him messages, asking him how he is doing. He adds he is available on social media if anyone spots an item that might be his.

Bedard brings him back

Over the last couple of months, Gratias has returned to collecting hockey memorabilia after giving it up.

“It’s been a long time since I had that energy and drive to collect again. Losing my collection kind of threw me off, kind of turned me against a little bit of that collecting world. A little bit of frustration and some anger still,” he said.

“But with this youngster Connor Bedard coming into the league, and the whole card fanatic of going after some of his memorabilia, [it] has really sparked a little bit of that interest in me.”

WATCH | Sask. collectors line up for shot at rare Bedard rookie card:

Sask. collectors line up for shot at rare Bedard rookie card

In March, stores started selling the 2023-24 Upper Deck Series Two collection, which contains the Connor Bedard “Young Guns” rookie card — what collectors say is his official rookie card. An American company has put a $1-million bounty on one particularly rare version.

Gratias said his Gretzky collection was never intended to be sold, but to be passed down to his children and grandchildren — and collecting Bedard memorabilia is about rebuilding that legacy.

Crown prosecutor MaryAnne Larson said discussions between the Crown and defence related to the case against the accused in the Gretzky memorabilia theft are ongoing.

Larson said the matter is likely headed to trial next fall or winter, at the earliest.

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