Wayne Douglas Gretzky, the famous former professional ice hockey player, nicknamed "The Great One," has been called "the greatest hockey player ever" by many sportswriters, players, and even the National Hockey League (NHL). Here are some interesting facts about the former ice hockey player from Canada:
He was born Wayne Douglas Gretzky on January 26, 1961, in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, to Phyllis Leone and Walter Gretzky.
He was hooked on to ice hockey watching National Hockey League on the ‘Hockey Night in Canada,’ at his grandparent’s farm along with his family. By the age of two years andten months he started skating on the ice.
He honed his skill coached by his father Walter, playing ice hockey in the back yard nicknamed ‘Wally Coliseum’ along with his friend and siblings Keith, Glen, and Brent.
Gretzky was the classic prodigy whose extraordinary skill made him play with ten year olds when he was aged six, at the Novice ‘A’ Division with ‘Brantford Nadrofsky Steelers.’ He also scored a goal in his first season.
He was dubbed ‘the Great Gretzky’ by London newspaper Ontario, when he scored astonishing 378 goals and 139 assists in the 1971-72 season.
For the 1972-73 season, Gretzky moved over to Peewee League, playing for the Turkstra Lumber and by the age of 13, he had scored 1000 goals.
Hi popularity also brought with it, its share of negative attention from other player’s parents including those of his teammates with his style of play. He was often booed and was called ‘puck hog.’
At the age of 14, he moved over to Toronto, after obtaining permission from Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, legally. He played junior ‘B’ hockey with the Toronto Nationals and was named ‘Rookie of the Year’ in the Metro Junior ‘B’ Hockey League in 1975-76, with 60 points in 28 games.
Gretzky, first wore his famous jersey number 99, when playing for Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, the major junior ice hockey team in the Ontario Hockey League. He idolized Gordie Howe, and wanted to sport the number 9, but was offered 99 instead by his coach Muzz MacPherson.
He made his international debut for his country in the ‘1978 World Junior Championship,’ at Montreal, Quebec. He was youngest at 16 years and also led the tournament in scoring with 17 points.
On June 12, 1978, Gretzky turned professional at the age of 17 years, when he signed a seven year personal contract worth US$ 1.75 million, with Indianapolis Racers, to play in the World Hockey League. He scored his first professional goal in his fifth game against Edmonton Oilers.
After moving over to Edmonton Oilers, he signed ten years personal contract with Peter Pocklington worth C$ 3 million on January 26, 1979. He finished the league as the third highest with 110 points and was awarded the ‘Lou Kaplan Trophy’ as rookie of the year. He also made it to the 1979 WHA All-Star Game.
After NHL acquired the WHA, he carried his success over to 1979-80 season. He tied for the scoring lead with 137 points with 51 goals. He became the youngest to score 50 goals in NHL history and was awarded the Most Valuable Player.
In the 1980-81 season he had several records to his name. He won the ‘Art Ross Trophy’ with then record 164 points. He broke the goal assists record of Bobby Orr with 102 assists points and Phil Esposito’s record of 152 points in a season. He also recorded five single assists in a game against Montreal Canadians’.
He made his debut with the Canada’s men’s team at the ‘1981 Labatt Canada Cup,’ in September and seven month later he helped Canada win the Bronze medal at the ‘1982 World Championship’ in Finland, leading the tournament with 14 points in 10 games.
In 1982, Gretzky became the first hockey player and the first Canadian to be named ‘Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year,’ and Sports Illustrated ‘’Sportsman of the Year.’ In the season he recorded 92 goals, 120 assists and 212 points in 80 games, to become the only player in NHL to cross the 200 mark. He also broke 35 years record of 50 goals in 50 games and most goals in a season.
For his contribution to the sport of hockey, Gretzky was named an officer of the ‘Order of the Canada’ on June 25, 1984, which was invested on January 28, 1998. He was promoted to ‘Companion of the Order of Canada’ in 2009, as one of the best player of all time and role for countless young people.
Gretzky changed the way hockey was played in Canada, from being star player based to team based game. After the 1988-89 season a life-size bronze statue of Gretzky holding the Stanley Cup was erected outside Northlands Coliseum.
On August 09, 1988, hewas traded to Los Angeles Kings and was named their alternate captain. He led the NHL with 114 assists, with 54 goals for a total of 168 points and was awarded the ‘Hart Trophy,’ as MVP.
Suring 1994-95, NHL lockout, Gretzky formed a team ‘Ninety-Nine All-Stars’ and organized exhibition games in various countries. Each player was paid $ 4000 for a game.
On February 27, 1996, he was traded to St. Louis Blues, and scored 37 points in 31 games. His chemistry with winger Brett Hull didn’t work-out and was publicly criticized by the coach. He rejected a contract offer from Blues worth $ 15 million for three years.
On July 21, 1996, he signed a contract with New York Rangers, for two years, worth $ 8 million. Gretzky helped Rangers reach the 1997 Eastern Conference finals, where they were defeated by Philadelphia Flyers.
On April 18, 1999, Gretzky played his final game of his career against Pittsburgh Penguins, in Madison Square Garden. Though teams involved in the games are American, the national anthem of Canada and America was played with lyrics slightly adjusted in praise of Wayne Gretzky.
When Gretzky arrived on the big stage of NHL, he was considered too small, too wiry and too slow. He weighed 73 kg for his 183 cm frame. He had remarkable physical stamina and with his sneaky fast scoring shot was one of the most accurate scorers.
On November 22, 1999, he was inducted into the ‘Hockey Hall of Fame.’ He was the last player to awarded waiving three years waiting period. In 2000, he was inducted into International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame.
At the 2000 NHL All-Star Game, his jersey # 99 was retired by the league wide. The Edmonton honored him by renaming one of the busiest freeways, ‘Capilano Drive’ as ‘Wayne Gretzky Drive’ and local authority assigned a rush-hour bus route number 99 to run through it.
On October 05, 2005, Gretzky made his coaching debut with Phoenix Coyotes, and won his first game against Minnesota Wild.
Gretzky married actress Janet Jones on July 16, 1988, in a lavish ceremony costing over US$1 million dubbed by the media ‘The Royal Wedding.’ The couples have five children.
Apart from owning number of sports teams, he owns ‘Wayne Gretzky’ restaurant in Toronto. He has endorsement deal with The Coca-Cola, Domino’s Pizza, Sharp Corporation and Upper Deck Company among others.
The ‘Wayne Gretzky 99 Award’ has been created in his honor and is awarded annually to the Most Valuable Player in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs. Similarly the ‘Wayne Gretzky Trophy’ is awarded annually to the playoff champion of the OHL’s Western Conference.