The Great One
Born in Brantford, Ontario, on January 26, 1961, hockey star Wayne Gretzky celebrates his fiftieth birthday this year.
Gretzky first started skating at the age of two years and ten months, at his paternal grandparent’s farm. His father Walter Gretzky made the family a back yard rink, nicknamed the “Wally Coliseum.” Along with his brothers, Keith, Brent, and Glen, his father taught them how to follow the puck. The sport was a family affair with his mother and sister Kim joining in and all gathering around the television to watch Hockey Night in Canada. It soon became apparent that in spite of his stature Wayne excelled and exceeded others of his age and older.
Gretzky played on his first team at the age of six with a group of ten-year-olds. It was then that he started his trademark of tucking his sweater into the right side of his pants, as the jersey was far too big for him. By age ten he had scored 378 goals and 139 assists in one season with the Brantford Nadrofsky Steelers. By thirteen he had scored well over one thousand goals. All of the attention made young Wayne unpopular with his teammates and their parents. When Gretzky was fourteen, his parents challenged the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association for the right for him to play elsewhere.
His family won and Gretzky moved to Toronto to play Junior B hockey with the Toronto Nationals, earning him Rookie of the Year honours in 1975-76, with 60 points in 28 games. The next year he made 72 points in 32 games with the Seneca Nationals, played three games with the Peterborough Petes and signed with his first agent, Bob Behnke.
In 1977 the sixteen-year-old Gretzky was selected third pick with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. With the team’s heavy traveling schedule, the young Gretzky was required to live with a local family in the northern Ontario city. It was with the Greyhounds that he first wore the number 99 on his jersey. He had wanted to wear number 9 for his hockey hero Gordie Howe; however, it was already taken by his teammate Brian Gualzazzo. That year he won Rookie of the Year and Most Sportsmanlike awards at the major junior level.
Wayne Gretzky’s career highlights:
World Hockey Association (WHA) – 1978-1979
- Indianapolis Racers (1978-1979)
- Edmonton Oilers (1978-1979)
National Hockey League (NHL) 1979-1999
- Edmonton Oilers (1979-1988)
- Los Angeles Kings (1988-1996)
- St. Louis Blues (1996)
- New York Rangers (1996-1999)
Gretzky’s final game of his professional career was played at Madison Square Garden on April 18, 1999, at the age of thirty-eight. His team, the New York Rangers, lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins 2–1 in overtime.
But winning was not everything to Gretzky, as was apparent in his comment to Canadian sports journalist Scott Morrison: “My last game in New York was my greatest day in hockey … Everything you enjoy about the sport of hockey as a kid, driving to practice with mom and dad, driving to the game with mom and dad, looking at the stands and seeing your mom and dad and your fiends, that all came together in that last game in New York.”
- Bronze medal – World Junior Championships, Team Canada (1978)
- Silver medal – Canada Cup, Team Canada (1981)
- Bronze medal – World Championships, Team Canada (1982)
- Gold – Canada Cup, Team Canada (1984)
- Rendez-vous ’87, NHL All-Stars (1987 – medal n/a)
- Gold – Canada Cup, Team Canada (1987)
- Gold – Canada Cup, Team Canada (1991)
- Silver – World Cup, Team Canada (1996)
- Winter Olympics – Team Canada (1998 - no medal)
Gretzky retired from international play holding the records for most goals (20), most assists (28), and most overall points (48) in Best-on-best hockey.
In the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Gretzky was named Special Advisor to the Canada men’s national ice hockey team and the final torchbearer of the games.
On November 22, 2003, Gretzky put on his skates to help celebrate the Edmonton Oiler’s 25th anniversary as an NHL team. Known as the Heritage Classic, it was the first NHL game to be play outdoors. The Mega Stars game heralded the occasion, where Gretzky and many of his Oiler teammates played against a group of retired Montreal Canadiens to a crowd of 57,167. Several million viewers also watched the game on television. The Edmonton team beat the Megastars 2–0.
Official website for Wayne Gretzky
CBC digital archives
Legends of hockey
Read “99 Great Moments” of Wayne Gretzky’s career