Wayne Gretzky was a professional hockey played who played in the NHL until 1999. Nicknamed “The Great One”, he is arguably the most famous hockey player of all time, and most agree he is the best hockey player of all time. Outside of hockey, Gretzky has become infamous for his inspirational quote: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. Wayne Gretzky set 61 NHL scoring records through his 21 year career.
Originally from Brantford, Ontario, Canada, Wayne Gretzky began playing hockey when he was just three years old. His father, Walter Gretzky, dedicated his life to making sure Wayne had everything he needed to become a successful hockey player. Walter build a backyard rink full with boards and lights so he could help Wayne practice at night. Walter spent countless hours on the backyard rink with Wayne and his brothers and taught him important insights to the game. At the age of six, Wayne Gretzky was playing youth hockey in a league with boys a few years older than him. In 1977, Gretzky was the youngest player and leading scorer at the Junior World Cup tournament held in Montreal.
In the 1978 OHL entry draft, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds drafted a 16 year old Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky went on to score 182 points for them, only topped by 20 year old Bobby Smith with 192 points. Wayne Gretzky was clearly a breakout superstar player, but due to NHL draft rules, he would not be eligible for the draft until four years later. This led to him to sign with the Indianapolis Racers of the WHA, a professional hockey league competitor of the NHL. He was not long for Indianapolis and after just 8 games, his contract was sold to the Edmonton Oilers. In 1979, the WHA merged with the NHL and along with the Oilers, Gretzky entered the NHL. In his first season in the NHL, Wayne Gretzky became the youngest MVP in league history, as well as the youngest player to score over 50 goals and over 100 points in the same season.
Wayne Gretzky led the Edmonton Oilers to four Stanley Cup championships in 1984, 1985, 1987, and 1988. In one of the more controversial trades in sports history, Oilers owner Peter Pocklington dealt Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings. Pocklington was in financial trouble and dealing Gretzky away was his way of settling some personal debt. The trade was mired in controversy and Oilers fans still hold a bitter grudge against Pocklington for it. The trade was immortalized in the ESPN 30 for 30 Film “Kings Ransom”.
However, the trade to Los Angeles proved to be important to the long term growth of the NHL. Wayne Gretzky made hockey a popular sport in the warm climate of California and spurred a series of expansion and relocation teams to the US Sunbelt in the early 90s. After a run to the Stanley Cup finals in 1993, Wayne Gretzky would never get close to hockey’s ultimate prize again. Over the next decade, Gretzky would continue to rack up the points and NHL records while playing for the Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues, and New York Rangers.
Wayne Gretzky played his last NHL game in April of 1999 and was inducted to the Hall of Fame that same year, the only player to bypass the Hall of Fame’s usual three year waiting period for players to be induced. Gretzky’s number 99 is retired by every NHL team, the only number to be retired league wide.
Post retirement, Gretzky was involved with owning the Phoenix Coyotes, as well as coaching them for five seasons. Wayne Gretzky was also the Executive Director for Canada’s gold medal winning Men’s Hockey team at the 2002 Olympics.