Wayyne Gretzky is his Edmonton Oilers jersey

Wayne Gretzky: History of the Canadian Ice Hockey Legend

Wayne Douglas Gretzky (born January 26, 1961 in Brantford, ON) is a former professional ice hockey player, coach and entrepreneur. Gretzky is regarded as one of the greatest hockey players of all time. His nickname, “The Great One,” refers to his on-ice abilities and impact on the sport. He was a part of four Stanley Cup-winning teams with the Edmonton Oilers and holds 61 incredible National Hockey League records. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on November 22, 1999. His name is synonymous with number 99, which he made iconic throughout the years of his career.

This article tells the story of how a young Canadian boy living in Brantford turned out to be one of the most famous, well-respected hockey players in the world.

Early life of Wayne Gretzky

A young Wayne Gretzky, age 6, on the Nadrofsky Steelers hockey team
Source: The Hamilton Spectator

Wayne Gretzky is the oldest son of Walter and Phyllis Gretzky. He has four younger siblings – Kim, Keith, Glen, and Brent. He first started skating when he was three years old on the Nith River near his grandparents’ farm in Canning, Ontario. With his father’s help, Wayne mastered the skill of skating on a backyard rink in his home in Brantford, Ontario. He spent countless hours on the ice, honing his talents as a skater, shooter and passer. His passion for the sport grew stronger and stronger as he aged, and it became his all-time favourite hobby.

Minor Hockey League

Wayne Gretzky and his father, Walter Gretzky
Source: Biography.com

Gretzky started playing minor hockey at six years old. He played for the Brantford Atom League with the Nadrofsky Steelers team. Gretzky was undersized as he was playing with boys who were four years older than him, but his skill level and talent made up for his small size. It soon became clear that young Gretzky was a hockey prodigy.

The following season, he scored 27 goals at the age of seven. The next year, he quadrupled his goal output to 104 goals. However, Gretzky proved his skills during the 1970-1971 season when he scored 196 goals and racked up 120 assists in 76 games. As a result, Gretzky gained lots of attention for his natural talent. Unfortunately, a lot of other team members did not like him and called him a “puck-hog” and a “show off.” The jealous teammates made him unhappy, and he decided to switch leagues and play junior hockey instead.

Junior Hockey League

Wayne Gretzky (pictured in middle of the photograph) joined the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 1977.
Source: SooToday.com

In 1975, Gretzky moved to Toronto and started playing Junior B hockey with the Vaughan Nationals of the Metropolitan Toronto Hockey League (MTHL). The following year, he played with the Seneca Nationals of the MTHL, but he also played a brief three-game stint with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).

In the 1977-1978 season, Gretzky started playing full-time in the OHL, with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. In his inaugural season, he scored 70 goals and 112 assists in 64 games. It was also in Sault Ste. Marie, where Gretzky first became number 99.

Wayne Gretzky’s Professional Debut

Wayne Gretzky on the Indianapolis Racers
Source: Sports Illustrated

In 1978, Wayne Gretzky became a professional hockey player, signing with the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association (WHA). At 17 years old, he was the youngest athlete playing a major league sport in North America. However, he only played eight games with the Racers until he switched to the Edmonton Oilers (then part of the WHA). By his second season with the Oilers, the WHA had merged with the National Hockey League (NHL). It was not long before Gretzky took the league by storm.

Edmonton Oilers

Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier win the Stanley Cup together in 1988
Source: ESPN

In Edmonton’s first season in the NHL (1979-1980), Gretzky tied for the lead in scoring. He also won the Hart Trophy as the league’s “most valuable player,” as well as the Lady Byng Trophy.

In his second season with the NHL, Gretzky scored 164 points, breaking Phil Esposito’s season record of 152 points and surpassing Bobby Orr’s assist record of 102 with 109. A year later, he scored 212 points, including 92 goals – beating Esposito’s previous record of 76 goals. It was during this season that Gretzky set another NHL record by scoring 50 goals in just 39 games. He achieved this feat with a five-goal performance against the Philadelphia Flyers on December 30, 1981. This record, like many of his others, is unlikely to be beaten by another player in today’s game. Because of Gretzky and his natural skills in the game, the Edmonton Oilers won four Stanley Cup Championships in five years before he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988.

Los Angeles Kings

Wayne Gretzky on the Los Angeles Kings
Source: NHL.com

Though he was unable to recreate the team success with the Kings that he shared with the Oilers, Gretzky raised the profile of hockey in the United States dramatically. His presence in Los Angeles is widely credited with the league’s expansion throughout the southern states of America in the early 1990s.

In 1993, Gretzky resumed play after missing the first half of the season due to a back problem. He led the Kings to the Stanley Cup final, losing to Montreal Canadiens, but still winning the playoff scoring title. He won his 10th scoring title in 15 NHL seasons from 1993 to 1994 and scored his 802nd goal. Gretzky played with the Kings until February 27, 1996 when he was traded to St. Louis Blues.

New York Rangers

Wayne Gretzky's number 99 jersey on the New York Rangers
Source: Ezra Shaw from Getty Images

In the 1996 off-season Gretzky switched teams again, this time to join his ex-Oiler teammate Mark Messier on the New York Rangers. Even in the last few years of his career, Gretzky still reached impressive numbers. In his first season with the Rangers, he scored 97 points and was the team’s leading scorer in the 1997 playoffs, helping the team get as far as the Conference Finals. The Rangers did not appear in the post-season again for nearly 10 years.

Retirement

Wayne Gretzky played his last game on April 18, 1999, at Madison Square Garden in New York City
Source: ESPN

After three seasons of playing with the Rangers, Gretzky announced his retirement at age 38. Everybody, including his team members and coaches, were saddened by the announcement of his departure. He played his last game on April 18, 1999, at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The game ended with a 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but Gretzky still referred to it as his “greatest day in hockey.” Not long after, the NHL retired his number in recognition of his impact on the sport – no player would ever wear number 99 again.

Coaching the Phoenix Coyotes

Retired hockey player Wayne Gretzky coaches the Phoenix Coyotes
Source: NPR

Following his retirement, Gretzky became a minority owner and alternate governor for the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes. He later became the team’s head coach in August 2005 and signed a five-year contract extension in May 2006. In his four seasons with the club, he coached the team to a 143-161-24 record.

In May 2009, the Coyotes encountered significant financial troubles and the team owner Jerry Moyes was eager to sell the franchise for cash. Amidst all of this, Gretzky resigned from his role with the club in September. After filing for bankruptcy, Moyes had hoped to sell the Coyotes to Blackberry magnate Jim Balsillie, who had plans to move the team to Hamilton, Ontario. The league, however, intervened and purchased the team from Moyes in November 2009, temporarily taking over the franchise until a suitable buyer could be found.

Following his departure from Phoenix, Gretzky had a bitter relationship with the NHL, as they still owed him money from his time of working with the Coyotes. This issue was not resolved until October 2013.

International Competition

A 16-year-old Wayne Gretzky relaxes during a break at the 1978 World Junior Hockey Championship in Montreal
Source: The Montreal Gazette

Wayne Gretzky first appeared on the international stage in the 1978 World Junior Championship in Montreal. At age 16, Gretzky was the youngest player in the tournament and led all scorers with 17 points. Canada placed third, behind the Soviet Union and Sweden.

Gretzky was part of the Canada Cup team in 1981 and the World Championship team in 1982, winning silver and bronze. He later won three gold medals at the Canada Cup in 1984, 1987 and 1991. He also played in the inaugural World Cup of Hockey tournament in 1996, where Canada came in second to the United States.

Olympic Hockey

Canada loses in the 1988 Winter Olympic Games.
Source: ESPN

Due to restrictions against professional hockey players, Gretzky was unable to play in the Olympic Winter Games until 1998. The Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, were the first in which NHL players were allowed to participate. Gretzky was a part of the Canadian squad. However, the team did not live up to high expectations and failed to win a medal in the tournament.

Gretzky was named executive director of Team Canada’s Olympic Hockey Team for the 2002 Games at Salt Lake City, Utah. Gretzky’s great leadership and his insistence on securing a highly skilled and speedy team contributed to Canada’s first gold medal in men’s hockey since 1952. He was again named executive director for the 2006 Olympic Games in Torino, Italy, but the team did not perform well enough to make it to the podium.

Records and Honors

Wayne Gretzky was inducted into the Hockey Fall of Fame in 1999.
Source: ESPN

Wayne Gretzky’s accomplishments are arguably unmatched in any sport: he won the Hart Trophy (most valuable player) nine times, the Art Ross Trophy (scoring championship) ten times, the Lady Byng Trophy four times and the Conn Smythe Trophy (outstanding player in the playoffs) two times. He is the all-time leading scorer in the NHL with 2,857 points, and the only player to reach 2,000 career points, needing only 11 seasons to surpass the record that took Gordie Howe 26 years to complete. He holds a total of 61 NHL records, including most goals (894) and most assists (1963). Gretzky’s assists alone are enough to make him the leagues all-time leading scorer. He earned 382 career points in the playoffs, almost 100 more than any other professional player. He was also the lead scorer in six international tournaments, four of them being the Canada Cup tournaments in which he played.

Two months after his retirement, in June 1999, he was selected for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Most retired players had to wait a three-year period to be inducted, but for Gretzky that rule had been waived. Other players who have received this special honour include Mario Lemeux (1997), Bobby Orr (1979), Jean Beliveau and Gordie Howe (1972), Maurice Richard (1961), and Dit Clapper (1947).

Gretzky was chosen as Officer of the Order of Canada on June 25, 1984, but was not invested until January 28, 1998. In 2009, he was promoted to Companion of the Order. Three years later, in 2012, he was among the first people to receive the Order of Hockey in Canada. In September 2016, the NHL named Gretzky its official ambassador for the league’s centennial celebrations in 2017.

Business Ventures

Wayne Gretzky at the No. 99 Estates Winery
Source: Niagara Vintage Wine Tours

Aside from his passion for hockey, Gretzky also had a love for business. On August 7, 1985, he bought the Hull Olympics of the Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). In his first season as owner, the Olympiques, coached by Pat Burns, won the QMJHL championship in 1992.

In 1991, Gretzky and his business partners John Candy (comedian) and Bruce McNall (owner of Los Angeles Kings) purchased the Toronto Argonauts. The Toronto Argonauts went on to win the Grey Cup that same year. They sold the club in 1994.

He later embarked on several business ventures following his retirement, including the No. 99 Estates Winery in the Niagara Peninsula and a restaurant in Toronto called “Wayne Gretzky’s”, which features photographs of his best memories in the sport.

Personal Life and Family

Wayne Gretzky and family at the 2014 Kings vs Ducks game at Dodger Stadium
Source: ESPN

Despite all of these accomplishments, however, Gretzky’s proudest role is as a father and a husband. Him and his wife Janet Jones have five children together: daughters Paulina and Emma, and sons Ty, Trevor, and Tristan. They currently reside in Southern California.

Final Thoughts

Wayne Gretzky’s mastery of his sport owed much to his agility, speed and accurate shot. Without a doubt, he was one of the greatest passers in the history of hockey. His impact on hockey and the void he left behind were symbolized by the retirement of his number (99) in the NHL. His personal charm as well as well as his great scoring achievements have made him one of the most loved, highly-respected hockey players amongst millions of sports fans in North America. He always has, and always will be, the greatest hockey player of all time.

Wayne Gretzky’s official site: https://www.gretzky.com/ 

Leave a Reply