Canadian hockey player
The dominant figure in the National Hockey League (NHL) during his twenty-year career in the majors, Wayne Gretzky more than lived up to his nickname, "The Great One." After making his debut in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers in 1979, Gretzky earned the league's Most Valuable Player honors nine times over the next ten seasons. The top scorer in the NHL every season between 1981 and 1987, Gretzky also won top scoring honors three more times between 1990 and 1994. From 1984 to 1988 the Oilers dominated the NHL, winning four Stanley Cup championships; on the way to two of those victories, Gretzky picked up the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' Most Valuable Player. In addition to these achievements, Gretzky also helped to expand the popularity of hockey into America's growing Sunbelt cities after he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988. Although the Kings never reached the heights that the Oilers had attained, Gretzky remained, by consensus opinion, the top player in the NHL as well as one of its most popular personalities in the 1990s. In his retirement as a professional athlete, Gretzky has retained the respect
of his peers and the public by directing Canada's men's hockey team to its first Gold Medal in fifty years in the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games in 2002. His other challenges included managing the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes, a team that he partly owned, and raising a family with wife Janet Jones, whom he married in 1988.
Early Success in Hockey
Born on January 26, 1961, Wayne Donald Gretzky was the second child and eldest son of Walter and Phyllis (Hockin) Gretzky. The Gretzkys raised their five children—one daughter and three other sons in addition to Wayne—in a small, three-bedroom home on Varadi Avenue in Brantford, Ontario, Canada. The elder Gretzky had played junior-league hockey in his youth and started to give his sons informal lessons in the sport as soon as they started skating. The Gretzkys even transformed their backyard into a hockey rink every winter and opened it up to the neighborhood's kids. The Gretzkys enjoyed having their sons play hockey where they could keep an eye on them, even if it meant having the kitchen floor marred by the constant exposure to skate blades.
Gretzky also played hockey on the frozen surface of the River Nith, which ran through his grandparents' farm in nearby Canning, Ontario. He even practiced some of his shots with his grandmother with a rubber ball and toy hockey stick. From his parents and grandparents, who were hard-working immigrants of Belarusian and Polish heritage, Gretzky also learned self-discipline, perseverance, and humility. As Walter Gretzky explained in his 1984 memoir Gretzky: From the Back Yard Rink to the Stanley Cup, "We've made it clear that once you started something, you finished it. School project, sport, hobby, it made no difference. You finished what you started, like it or not, because if you do it early in life you'll do it later, too. We wanted them to learn early: in everything you do, you follow through." This ingrained attitude would eventually prove crucial to Gretzky's long-term success in the NHL.
Joining his first hockey team at age six—a full four years before the minimum age requirement for the league—Gretzky scored just one goal in the first season. His improvement in subsequent years was astounding, particularly because he remained one of the youngest and smallest players in the league. In his fifth year of league play Gretzky racked up 378 goals in a sixty-nine-game season, a feat that made him a local, and increasingly national, celebrity. With the success also came criticism from some of the parents of other players, who accused Gretzky's father of pushing his son's career at the expense of their sons. Walter Gretzky, who worked at Bell Canada, was indeed active in guiding his son through the junior ranks, but the charges seemed motivated by simple jealously. As he later wrote in his memoir, "There was just this small minority of parents trying to chop Wayne down to their size. They razzed him, they insulted him, they complained to coaches that he was getting too much ice time. Some of them would sit there at games with pencil and paper, marking the times Wayne came on and off the ice and when their own kids did, and taking the lists over to the coaches as soon as the game ended." It also seemed incomprehensible that a player of such small stature—even in his NHL days Gretzky, at six feet tall, weighed in at just 185 pounds—could outplay opponents much larger than himself.
|1961||Born January 26 in Brantford, Ontario, Canada to Walter and Phyllis Gretzky|
|1967||Begins playing hockey with local team|
|1975||Moves to Toronto to play for Young Nationals|
|1977||Plays for Sault-Sainte Marie Greyhounds in Ontario Hockey Association|
|1978||Plays for Indianapolis Racers and Edmonton Oilers in World Hockey Association|
|1979||Becomes NHL player when Edmonton Oilers are absorbed into the league|
|1984||First Stanley Cup victory (with Edmonton Oilers)|
|1988||Marries Janet Jones on July 16|
|1988||Begins playing for Los Angeles Kings|
|1996||Begins playing for New York Rangers|
|1999||Retires as professional athlete|
|2002||Serves as executive director of Canadian men's hockey team at Salt Lake City Olympic Winter Games|
Rapid Ascent Through the Ranks
Dismayed by the negative reaction of some of the parents of other Brantford players, the Gretzkys arranged to have their son move to Toronto, about sixty miles away, to play in the junior league's Toronto Young Nationals team when he was fourteen. The move proved controversial when the Ontario Minor Hockey Association attempted to block the transfer, citing Gretzky's plan to live with the family of the team's manager and not his own family. Eventually he got clearance to play for the Nationals in the junior division against players who were as much as six years older. Even though the challenge was a greater one than he had anticipated when he left Brantford, Gretzky stayed in Toronto for two years and continued to make headlines for his outstanding accomplishments.
Gretzky's next move was also controversial. Although his parents had a gentleman's agreement with the teams in the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA) that Gretzky would not be drafted by any team further than 100 miles away from Brantford, the Sault Sainte Marie Greyhounds drafted the sixteen-year-old anyway. The Gretzkys were outraged, but the team's managers arranged for their son to live with a family that they had previously known in Brantford, which allayed some of their fears. With seventy goals and 112 assists in sixty-four games, Gretzky earned Rookie-of-the-Year honors in the OHA. He also took on the number that would remain on his jersey for the rest of his career: ninety-nine. Although Gretzky wanted to adopt the number nine in honor of his hero, the Detroit Red Wings' Gordie Howe , the number was already taken, so his coach suggested that he take on two number nines.
Makes NHL Debut in 1979
Gretzky spent just one year with the Greyhounds; as a seventeen-year-old, he jumped to the World Hockey Association's (WHA) Indianapolis Racers in 1978. The WHA had been stared in 1972 as a competitor to the NHL and, unlike the older league, did not exempt players younger than eighteen years of age from playing. Like the other teams in the WHA, the Racers were on the brink of bankruptcy and were forced to trade Gretzky to the WHA's Edmonton Oilers after just eight games. He finished the 1978-79 season with a total of 104 scoring points to again take the Rookie-of-the-Year title, this time for the WHA. The following year Gretzky became an NHL player when the WHA disbanded and the Oilers were one of the few teams to be absorbed into its rival.
Because he had played in the WHA, Gretzky was ineligible for the NHL's Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year in his first season. If he had been eligible, he almost certainly would have won the honor. Instead, with fifty-one goals and eighty-six assists, Gretzky had to be satisfied with the Hart Trophy as NHL's Most Valuable Player and the Lady Byng Trophy as Most Gentlemanly Player. He would go on to win the Hart Trophy every year through 1987. In 1981 he started a five-year string of Lester B. Pearson Awards as Player of the Year, given by the National Hockey League Players Association, and a seven-year run as the as NHL's top scorer, symbolized by the Art Ross Trophy. In terms of his string of successes in the 1980s, Gretzky had no rival in the NHL.
First Stanley Cup Victory in 1984
Along with center Mark Messier , Gretzky transformed the Oilers into one of the best-ever teams in the history of hockey. Although the team was disappointed in a four-game sweep by the New York Islanders in the 1983 Stanley Cup finals, the Oilers returned the favor in a five-game series the following year. The Oilers emerged as champions again in 1985, 1987, and 1988, with Gretzky gaining honors as the playoffs' Most Valuable Player in 1985 and 1988.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1980-87, 1989||Hart Trophy as NHL's Most Valuable Player|
|1980, 1992, 1994, 1999||Lady Byng Trophy as Most Gentlemanly Player in NHL|
|1981-85, 1987||Lester B. Pearson Award as Player of the Year, National Hockey League Players Association|
|1981-87, 1990-91, 1994||Art Ross Trophy as NHL's top scorer|
|1984-85, 1987-88||Stanley Cup as NHL champion (Edmonton Oilers)|
|1985, 1988||Conn Smythe Trophy as Most Valuable Player in Playoffs|
|1999||Induction into Hockey Hall of Fame|
The Great One
A role model on and off the ice, Gretzky transcended the sport. He was a magician who conjured virtually anything he pleased—and Canadians love him for it.
Hollywood will no doubt make a movie about Wayne Gretzky some day, and it will have to include the scene where he plays his last game in Canada, in Ottawa against the Senators. It happened like this last week: Gretzky and his New York Rangers, who had already been eliminated from playoff contention, were playing the home team to a draw, thus denying the Senators a chance to boost their own playoff position. Yet with 4:45 left in the third period, during one of Gretzky's shifts, the crowd began to chant 'One more year! One more year!' Then, minutes later during a stoppage in play, the big-screen scoreboard above centre ice replayed highlights from Gretzky's career, and the PA system played Carly Simon's 'Nobody Does It Better.' The crowd rose in tribute, and players on both benches stood, too, banging their sticks against the boards and on the ice in the quintessential hockey salute.
Source: James Deacon, Maclean's, April 26, 1999.
The Stanley Cup victories, along with Gretzky's seemingly endless series of individual awards, made him into the best-known player in hockey by the mid-1980s. In a country that favored hockey as its national sport, Gretzky became a uniquely Canadian hero: despite his awesome accomplishments, he remained resolutely down-to-earth, without a hint of scandal to tarnish his wholesome image. This humility and approachability made him into a favorite of fans and players alike. From 1981 to 1985 and again in 1987, Gretzky won the Lester B. Pearson Award as Player of the Year, given by the NHL Players Association.
Marries and Moves to Los Angeles in 1988
On July 16, 1988, Gretzky married actress Janet Jones in Edmonton, an event that the media dubbed "Canada's Royal Wedding." The media soon heaped scorn on Jones in the months after the wedding when the Oilers announced that they had traded Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings. Oilers owner Peter Pockington insinuated that Jones had pushed for the trade because she wanted to be closer to her acting jobs; the couple countered with the fact that the Oilers were in financial trouble and that Pockington had come up with the possibility of trading Gretzky on his own, pocketing $15 million and other considerations for the deal. As the controversy died down, Gretzky prepared to join the Kings and revive a team that rarely enjoyed sold-out games. With his star power as the draw, sports fans in southern California indeed began following the team's fortunes.
It was with the Kings that Gretzky attained one of his most significant records on October 15, 1989: the alltime points record of 1,850 held by Gordie Howe. Gretzky eventually racked up 2,857 points in the course of his career, yet he never claimed another Stanley Cup. The closest he came was in 1993, when the Kings lost in the finals to the Montreal Canadiens in a five-game series. His level of play remained superior throughout the 1990s, however, and he claimed his tenth Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer in 1994.
Retires in 1999
Gretzky was traded late in the 1995-96 season to the St. Louis Blues and jumped to the New York Rangers the following year. He stayed with the Rangers for the final three seasons of his twenty-year NHL career and surprised many fans by announcing his retirement in 1999. When he concluded his career, Gretzky was the holder or co-holder of sixty NHL records. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1999.
Although his achievements as an athlete were legendary, Gretzky made a smooth transition into a career as a business owner in the years after his retirement as a player. As part-owner of the Phoenix Coyotes, he took an active role in rebuilding the team and popularizing hockey in another Sunbelt city. He also remained a national hero in Canada by helping the men's Olympic hockey team win a Gold Medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.
|Blues: St. Louis Blues (NHL); Kings: Los Angeles Kings (NHL); Oilers: Edmonton Oilers (NHL); Rangers: New York Rangers (NHL).|
A dynamic competitor on the ice, Gretzky's self-effacing attitude in public made him into one of the most respected and even beloved figures in the sport's history. Without peers in terms of his achievements, he nevertheless retained an almost personal connection with hockey fans. The dominant player of his generation, Gretzky also helped to expand the NHL's popularity into markets that had not previously supported winter sports. It was this accomplishment that Gretzky focused on in his retirement, as he told Ashley Jude Collie of Hockey Digest in January
2002. "From my point of view, hockey's on the upsurge. It's heading in the right direction and I expect big things. It's always going to be extremely strong in the traditional U.S. cities and Canada. But our popularity is also extremely strong in Europe…. Over the next ten years, I think you'll find more and more kids in the U.S. will become hockey players. It's a wonderful sport and I just see more kids wanting to participate in the NHL."
Where Is He Now?
In early 2001 Gretzky became an owner of the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes franchise. With his management team he worked to stem the Coyotes' massive financial losses in the previous season and began trading players to come up with a younger, more aggressive lineup. He emphatically denied any rumors that he himself might return to active play. As he told Ashley Jude Collie of Hockey Digest in January 2002, "I miss [hockey] tremendously. But I don't even have a pair of skates at home, and that's OK. When it's time to retire, it's time to move on. I may skate a little bit with the guys during the season. But my playing days are behind me. Believe me, I'm done."
In 2001 Gretzky agreed to serve as the executive director of the Canadian men's hockey team at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. The challenge put him squarely back in the public eye in Canada, which had not won a Gold Medal in the event in fifty years. In a country that considered hockey its national sport, the pressure was intense on the team to sweep the event. After an early round loss, the Canadians rebounded to make it to the final medal round against the United States and came away with the victory. Gretzky was given much of the credit for keeping the team focused throughout the competition.
Gretzky has been married since 1988 to actress Janet Jones, who continues to make film and television appearances. After being knocked out by a pane of plexiglass during a New York Rangers game in 1997, Jones offered the memorable and widely reported quote: "I kind of stopped the impact with my face." The Gretzkys are the parents of three children, Paulina, Ty, and Trevor.
Diamond, Dan, ed. Total Hockey: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Hockey League. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1998.
Gretzky, Walter and Jim Taylor. Gretzky: From the Back Yard Rink to the Stanley Cup. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1984.
Sadowski, Rick. Los Angeles Kings: Hockeywood. Champaign, IL: Sagamore Publishing, 1993.
Taylor, Jim. Wayne Gretzky: The Authorized Pictorial Biography. Buffalo: Firefly Books, 1994.
Collie, Ashley Jude. "He's Not Like Mike—Or Mario." Hockey Digest (January 2002): 18.
Deacon, James. "The Great One." Maclean's (April 26, 1999): 16.
Deacon, James. "How Sweet It Is!" Maclean's (March 11, 2002).
Deacon, James and Susan McClelland. "Wayne's New World" Maclean's (November 22, 1999): 62.
Farber, Michael. "The Great Ones." Sports Illustrated (March 4, 2002): 42.
Jones, Terry. "Telling It Like It Is." Edmonton Sun (August 12, 1988).
"Biography for Janet Jones." Internet Movie Database Web site. http://us.imdb.com/Bio?Jones,+Janet (November 7, 2002).
"October-November 1997." BBS Hockey Quotes Web site. http://www.bbshockey.com/quotes/quote17.htm (November 9, 2002).
"Wayne Gretzky." Internet Hockey Database Web site. http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/pdisplay.php3?pid=2035 (November 9, 2002).
Sketch by Timothy Borden
Wayne Gretzky, known by hockey fans simply as "The Great One," became the first player to win the Hart Trophy for eight years in a row and beat hockey legend Gordie Howe's (1928–) all-time point record of 1,850.
Showed early talent
Wayne Gretzky was born on January 26, 1961, in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, of Russian and Polish descent. He was the first of five children born to Walter and Phyllis Gretzky. His father had hoped himself to become a hockey player but was discouraged because of his size. Gretzky received his first pair of skates when he was three years old and displayed an early interest in skating. He learned to skate on the Ninth River near his grandfather's farm in Canning, Ontario, Canada, and at public rinks on weekends. But it was the rink his father built for him behind the little house on Varadi Avenue in Brantford that became known as the birthplace of his skating skills.
Gretzky was only six years old when he saw his first year in organized hockey. He scored one goal, the lowest yearly total of his career. Already Gretzky had mastered a unique skating stride. His dad's advice to "skate to where the puck's going to be" helped him score 196 goals in seventy-six games at the age of nine. Gretzky's father pushed his son to succeed and told him that the years of hard work would pay off when he became a successful hockey player.
As a sixteen-year-old in the Junior "A" league, Gretzky continued his high scoring and packed the arenas with fans eager to witness his skills. He wore number 99, because number 9 was still being worn by his idol, Gordie Howe. His slight build led one junior coach to suggest he pick an offensive position, where he could avoid body contact. This was the beginning of Gretzky's trademark spot: behind the opponent's net.
In 1975 Gretzky moved to Toronto to play for the Young Nats, where he won the league's rookie of the year award. Two years later the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds drafted him, and he again won rookie of the year honors. Gretzky had gone to school in Brantford and continued high school classes in Sault Ste. Marie but left before graduating.
In 1978 Gretzky turned pro with the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association (WHA). Less than two months later the Edmonton Oilers of the same league purchased his contract, signing Gretzky to a twenty-one-year contract. In the 1979–80 season the Edmonton Oilers were admitted to the National Hockey League (NHL). In his first year in the NHL Gretzky scored fifty-one goals, eight more than he had scored in the WHA, and he made the second All-Star team. He won his first Hart Trophy for most valuable player, and he won the Lady Byng Trophy for his sportsmanship and skating ability. Taking the public by storm, Gretzky's polite charm was the perfect foil to the traditional rough-edged hockey player. He went on to become the first player to win the Hart Trophy for eight years in a row, from the 1979–80 season through the 1986–87 season.
Despite Gretzky's talents, the struggling Oilers remained at the bottom of the league. In his second year he led the league in assists and points, made the first All-Star team, and won his second most valuable player trophy award, but the Oilers lost in the quarter-finals to the New York Islanders. During the 1981–82 season he continued to break records, including some of his own. He scored fifty goals in thirty-eight games, breaking Maurice Richard's (1921–2000) record. And on February 24, 1982, he broke Phil Esposito's (1942–) single season scoring record. But the Oilers had not yet made it past the first round of the playoffs. In the 1983–84 season, however, the Oilers won their first Stanley Cup. The two subsequent seasons ended with the Oilers taking the Stanley. In the summer of 1988 Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings. He quickly turned that weak team into one of the best.
Broke Howe's record
Gretzky, a left-handed shooting center, developed a style that was as distinctive as it was exciting to watch. Listed in the program as 6 feet and 170 pounds, he always stayed away from fights, preferring to drift and glide around the ice. Some fans believed that he viewed the rink as a chessboard and that he had the ability to sense where the puck was going to end up, thus skating to that position. Others believed that his greatest asset was his ability to move sideways across the ice at full speed. But it was his assists that made him especially valuable to his team. In becoming the leading scorer in NHL history he set a new record for assists (more than thirteen hundred) in just twelve seasons. In 1989 he passed his idol Gordie Howe's all-time point record of 1,850.
Such achievement brought Gretzky numerous commercial endorsements for companies as different from one another as General Mills and Nike. Consumers found his personality appealing, and he only endorsed products he used. Advertising Age Magazine called him "an ideal athlete to endorse products."
Traded to the Blues
Gretzky continued breaking records and winning awards in the 1990s. Late in the 1993–94 season he broke another Howe record of 801 career goals, accomplishing this in 650 fewer games than Howe played. Gretzky began to get frustrated with the unsuccessful attempts of the Kings, and he wanted to be traded. Gretzky was traded to the St. Louis Blues in the 1995–96 season.
New York Ranger
Gretzky's career with the Blues was brief. He had not yet officially signed with the team when they lost the first two games in the playoff series. The coach and general manager of the Blues blamed Gretzky for the losses, but Gretzky had already decided not to sign with St. Louis. Instead, he signed with the New York Rangers for the 1996–97 season.
Gretzky retired from hockey in New York in April 1999. He left the game after twenty years as a professional in the sport, with sixty-one NHL records held or shared. His number 99 jersey was permanently retired at ceremonies during Gretzky's final game with the Rangers. Gretzky was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in November 1999.
The crowning achievement in Gretzky's hockey career came at the Winter Olympics of 2002 as executive director of Canada's hockey team. A Canadian ice worker embedded a lucky "loony," Canada's one-dollar coin, in the hockey arena's ice. Perhaps that's why the Canadian team won over the United States, 5 to 2. It was the most watched game in the history of hockey, with thirty-eight million homes tuned in. The final goal was scored with the sound of "O Canada," Canada's national anthem, in the background. Currently Gretzky is part owner of the Phoenix Coyotes. He lives with his wife and four children in the United States.
For More Information
Gretzky, Walter, and Jim Taylor. Gretzky. Toronto, Canada: Random House Canada, 2001.
Podnieks, Andrew. The Great One: The Life and Times of Wayne Gretzky. Toronto, Ontario: Doubleday Canada, 1999.
Rosenthal, Bert. Wayne Gretzky: The Great Gretzky. Chicago: Children's Press, 1982.
Wilker, Josh. Wayne Gretzky. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1997.
Wayne Gretzky (born 1961), known by hockey fans simply as "The Great One," showed great talent even in the junior leagues in Canada. He went on to become the first player to win the Hart Trophy for eight consecutive years and beat hockey legend Gordie Howe's all-time point record of 1,850.
Wayne Gretzky was born on January 26, 1961, in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, of Russian and Polish descent. His father, Walter, had hoped himself to become a hockey player but was discouraged because of his size. Wayne displayed an early interest in skating and received his first pair of skates when he was three years old. He learned to skate on the Ninth River near his grandfather's farm in Canning, Ontario, and at public rinks on weekends. But it was the rink built for him by his father behind the little house on Varadi Avenue in Brantford that received the acclaim of being the birthplace of his skating skills.
Showed Early Talent
He was only six years old when he saw his first year in organized hockey, scoring one goal, the lowest yearly total of his career. As a nine-year-old in 1970-1971 he scored 196 goals in 76 games, with 120 assists. The next year he scored 378 goals in 82 games. In 1972-1973 he scored 105 goals in the major pee wee league, and in 1974-1975 he scored 90 goals in the major bantam league. As a 16-year-old in the Junior "A" league he continued his high scoring and packed the arenas with fans eager to witness his skills. He wore number 99, because number 9 was still being worn by his idol, Gordie Howe. In 1975 he moved to Toronto to play for the Young Nats, where he won the league's rookie of the year award. Two years later he was drafted by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, where he again won rookie of the year honors.
In 1978 he turned pro with the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association (WHA). Less than two months later Peter Pockington, owner of the Edmonton Oilers of the same league, purchased his contract from the financially troubled Racers and signed Gretzky to a 21-year contract. In 1979-1980, the Edmonton Oilers, along with the New England (Hartford) Whalers, the Quebec Nordiques, and the Winnipeg Jets, were admitted to the National Hockey League (NHL). In his first year in the NHL Gretzky scored 51 goals, 8 more than he had scored in the WHA, and he made the second All-Star team. He won his first Hart Trophy, for being the most valuable player in the league, and the Lady Byng Trophy for his sportsmanship, gentlemanly conduct, and skating ability. He went on to become the first player to win the Hart Trophy for eight consecutive years, from the 1979-1980 season through the 1986-1987 season.
Turnaround for the Oilers
Despite Gretzky's talents, the struggling Oilers remained at the bottom of the league. In his second year he led the league in assists and points, made the first All-Star team, and won his second most valuable player trophy award, but the Oilers lost in the quarter-finals to the New York Islanders. During the 1981-1982 season he continued to break records, including some of his own. He scored 50 goals in 38 games, breaking Maurice Richard's record. And on February 24, 1982, he broke Phil Esposito's single season scoring record with a goal against the Buffalo Sabres. But the Oilers had not yet made it past the first round of the playoffs. Although Gretzky had won the most valuable player award for each year that he had been in the NHL, fans began to wonder who really was the best player. While Gretzky had all the records, Brian Trottier of the New York Islanders owned four Stanley Cup rings. In 1983-1984, however, the Oilers won their first Stanley Cup. They won their second in 1984-1985, and repeated in 1986-1987.
In the summer of 1988 what was to have been a 21-year contract with the Oilers came to an end when Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings. He quickly turned that team from a weak one into one of the best. A knee injury kept him out of several games, and his consecutive league's most valuable trophy string came to an end. However, he did win the Conn Smyth trophy for being the most valuable player in the playoffs. He also won the Hart trophy again.
Broke Howe's Record
During his career Gretzky, a left-handed shooting center, developed a style that was as distinctive as it was exciting to watch. Listed in the program as 6 feet and 170 pounds, he always stayed away from fights, preferring to drift and glide around the ice. He combined mental and physical skills to transform himself into a scoring machine. Some fans believed that he viewed the rink as a chess board and that he had the ability to sense where the puck was going to end up and skated to that position. Others believed that his greatest asset was his ability to move laterally across the ice at full speed. But it was his assists that made him especially valuable to his team. In becoming the leading scorer in NHL history he set a new record for assists (more than 1,300) in just 12 seasons. In 1989, he passed his idol Gordie Howe's all-time point record of 1,850. Howe supported Gretzky, according to Maclean's and called Gretzky "a great kid," and "great for hockey."
Such accolades brought Gretzky numerous commercial endorsements for companies as diverse as General Mills and Nike. Consumers found his personality appealing, and he only endorsed products he used. Advertising Age Magazine called him "an ideal athlete to endorse products."
Traded To the Blues
Gretzky continued breaking records and winning awards in the 1990s and in the late 1993-1994 season broke another Howe record of 801 career goals, accomplishing this in 650 fewer games than Howe played. Then Gretzky began to get frustrated with the unsuccessful attempts of the Kings. Although in 1995 he said his "life is in L.A." and he intended to "end my career as an L.A. King," he now wanted to be traded. Richard Hoffer of Sports Illustrated said Gretzky demanded that the Kings "either acquire top-notch talent to make a run at the cup immediately or trade him."
Gretzky was traded to the St. Louis Blues in the 1995-1996 season. He received some criticism for what seemed to be his selfishness and lack of loyalty to the Kings, because of his desire for another Stanley Cup. Gretzky defended his actions. He told Sports Illustrated, "I want to win … for people to accept losing in life, that's not right."
Gretzky's career with the Blues was brief. He had not yet officially signed with the team when they lost the first two games in the play-off series with the Detroit Red Wings. Mike Keenan, the coach and general manager of the Blues, blamed Gretzky for the losses. Keenan later apologized and the Blues won the next three out of four games with Detroit, but Gretzky had already decided not to sign with St. Louis. Instead, he signed with the New York Rangers for the 1996-1997 season. Gretzky fully intended to sign with St. Louis, but, as he told Sports Illustrated, "you want to play for people who believe in you."
Gretzky (1984) by Walter Gretzky, Wayne's father, and Jim Taylor, is an affectionate look at the entire Gretzky family, written before the trade to Los Angeles.
Hockey: Twenty Years (1987), an official publication of the National Hockey League, covers the years 1967 to 1987. A heavily illustrated volume, it traces Gretzky's career and his effect on the success of the Edmonton Oilers.
Younger readers will enjoy: Wayne Gretzky: The Great Gretzky (1982) by Bert Rosenthal; Sports Star: Wayne Gretzky (1982) by S. H. Burchard. A good pictorial history of Gretzky's life is Jim Taylor's Wayne Gretzky (Opus Productions, 1994).
Articles about Gretzky's trade to the Blues: Michael Farber, "Less Than Great," Sports Illustrated, (March 6, 1995); Richard Hoffman, "King No More," Sports Illustrated, (March 11, 1996).
A look at Gordy Howe when Gretzky neared his record: Joe Chidley, "Still Mr. Hockey," Maclean's (March 21, 1994).
Gretzky's trade to the New York Rangers: E.M. Swift, "The Good Old Days," Sports Illustrated (October 7, 1996). □