'Gretzky of Gretzky collectors' gets inked with permanent portrait of hockey hero

Shawn Chaulk has one of the most extensive collections of Wayne Gretzky memorabilia in the world.

Now he has a tattoo to match.

Chaulk, who has been called the "Gretzky of Gretzky collectors," commissioned New Zealand-based artist Steve Butcher to ink a portrait of the Great One across his biceps.

The resulting piece is a hyper-realistic likeness of Gretzky dressed in orange and blue, an ode to his "heyday as an Oiler."

"The quality is so deep and rich that people are saying 'That's not real, that's airbrushed or Photoshop,'" Chaulk said in an interview Wednesday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.  

"It's mind boggling the images he puts on skin. It's unreal."

The tattoo has been making the rounds on social media and eliciting some strong reactions from friends, family and internet strangers.

Just thinking about the comments makes Chaulk laugh.

"Everything from 'What does your wife think?' to 'Holy cow!' kind of reaction," said Chaulk, president of a Fort McMurray-based contracting company. 

"Lots of people who know me from my collecting aren't surprised at all and some people are like, 'Oh my God, why would you put another man on your body?'"

Chaulk, 52, got the tattoo last week in Toronto where Butcher happened to be working temporarily as a guest artist.

Butcher is famous for his detailed sports portraits and Chaulk had been attempting to book an appointment with him for more than two years.

When he finally succeeded, Chaulk was happy to book a flight to Toronto.

"I had been hounding him. Well, not hounding him but inquiring for some time," he said.

"And then I finally got his manager on email and said, 'Come on, Google my name. I'm a Gretzky guy and I really need a Gretzky piece.'"

Shawn Chaulk

The image is Chaulk's seventh tattoo. His first was a small etching of Gretzky's number 99 on his shoulder.

This one required a different kind of endurance.

Chaulk sat under the needle for 14 hours over two days before the piece was finally complete.

He declined to say what he paid.

"That I don't want public but you don't get the number one guy in the world to come from around the globe for nothing."

Strange reactions aside, Chaulk has no qualms about putting an image of the famed hockey player on his flesh.

He's been a fan since he was 13 years old and has been collecting Gretzky's game-worn memorabilia for more than a decade.  

Since then, he's acquired dozens of Gretzky jerseys, sticks and other equipment worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

While his obsession for collecting has calmed in recent years, Chaulk said the tattoo is the perfect addition to his "hockey shrine."

And, according to a friend of a friend, the Great One himself approves.

"At least three people have messaged me saying, 'I'm going to see Wayne tonight, I'm going to show him your tattoo.'

"He has seen it for sure and he thought it was pretty amazing work."