The prime minister sent his regrets but most people would give up Stanley Cup tickets to attend Saturday's wedding of hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky and American actress Janet Jones, a lavish event Canadians are calling their "royal wedding."

Gretzky, matter-of-factly referred to as "The Great One," is Canada's most eligible bachelor - and not just because of the estimated $2.5 million a year he collects on and off the ice.The 27-year-old hockey wizard is regarded as a national treasure, a Mr. Clean who acts as ambassador-without-portfolio for the sport he loves and creates a role model that would put Babe Ruth to shame.

It's not surprising, then, that his decision to marry an actress from Missouri who posed for the March 1987 issue of Playboy magazine has set the nation abuzz.

"What I can't figure out is why he chose to marry a Playboy bunny when he could have the pick of the crop," complained one letter to the Edmonton Sun.

But Gordie Howe, a hockey hall of famer, described the bride as "OK, if you like them young and beautiful," and the Toronto Star heralded "the royal wedding of a Canadian prince and his starlet lady."

Canadians have learned all about Jones' former flings with tennis pro Vitas Gerulaitis and actor Bruce Willis, while Gretzky's former girlfriend, Vickie Moss, was tracked down in Los Angeles for comments.

Rumors got so out of hand that Gretzky intervened to assure reporters he did not pay more than $200,000 for Jones' three-carat wedding ring; Burt Reynolds was not invited; honeymoon plans do not include Lear jets and private yachts, and guests will drink Canadian champagne, not Dom Perignon.

"We want it to be as first-class as possible, but it is not a million-dollar wedding like everyone says. We're from sensible families," said the Edmonton Oilers star, who didn't deny buying his bride a $207,500 Rolls Royce as a wedding gift.