It could be that the best thing that happened to Brent Gretzky in his first professional season was being on the same team as Manon Rheaume

Last season, Rheaume appeared in two games with the Atlanta Knights of the International Hockey League to become the first woman to play in a regular-season game in a major professional sport. This season, she's been dropped a level and is playing with the Knoxville Cherokees of the East Coast Hockey League, a team affiliated with the National Hockey League's Tampa Bay Lightning, the Knights, and the Las Vegas Thunder, also of the IHL. The media attention she received was good for Gretzky, who has a pretty famous older brother."The best thing about having Manon here was Brent was ignored and it let him develop as his own person," said Richard Adler, president and general manager of the second-year Knights. "It was great for him. It's his second year and everyone leaves him alone. He can just go out and be a player."

In Atlanta, Gretzky, 21, has been able to avoid some of the inevitable comparisons with his brother, Wayne, who is leading the National Hockey League in scoring and has been one of the game's greatest players.

Brent Gretzky was the third selection of the Lightning in the 1992 entry draft after playing three seasons with the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League and is in his second season with Atlanta, Tampa Bay's affiliate. Gretzky had 121 points in 62 games in his final season as a junior. He's always had quite a few more assists than goals and you can see why. He has the ability to fire an accurate pass to a teammate who's on the move.

"He has great passing skills," Adler said. "Good eyes, good hands. I think the only thing he has to overcome is his size (5-11, 182 pounds). There's only one Wayne Gretzky, so it's really unfair to compare Brent to him. I think he's got a real good shot at (the NHL)."

Last season, Gretzky scored 20 goals and had 34 assists in 77 games and had five more points in nine playoff games. He played 10 games earlier this season with the Lightning and had a goal and two assists before being returned to Atlanta on Nov. 7.

"I think he can play there (the NHL)," Adler said. "He's got the speed; he's definitely got the passing skills. Sometimes he'll dip back to some of the junior hockey stuff, some of these dipsy-doodle behind-the-back passes and stuff, and drives everybody crazy, but that's just the kid in him. He loves to play the game."

Gretzky is not sure what the Lightning has in store for him.

"The last time I talked to them was in Boston when they sent me back," he said.

"I have to play every game as well as I can and work on my defensive play as well. If I want to play up there I have to play consistently."

Although it's obvious he can't match his brother in ability - who can? - he does have a similar, diplomatic way of answering questions. And, of course, his brother is likely to be worked into those questions from time to time.

"You can't really compare me to him," he said.

Nor does he talk much to Wayne.

"He's on the road; I'm on the road; we don't talk a lot."

And when they do get a chance, the conversation usually does not have much to do with hockey.

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"Wayne has never talked to me about hockey. We don't get to talk very much, so we don't really talk about hockey when we do get the chance. That usually comes from my parents."

He's grown up following a legend and, if there's stress involved with that, he said he can't let it get the better of him.

"A lot of people talk about the pressure of following what he's (Wayne's) done. I can't worry about that. All I can do is play the way I can and do as well as I can. I can't really focus on being Wayne's brother. I just want to be myself."

It seems he's getting that chance in Atlanta more than he might have somewhere else.

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