Hockey player and NHL Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky was born in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, in 1961. He started skating at age 2 and by the age of 6 was regularly playing with older boys. He played his first full NHL season in 1979-80 for the Edmonton Oilers. Over the next two decades, he dominated the sport, setting a host of league records. He retired in 1999 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame that same year.
Widely considered hockey's greatest player, Wayne Douglas Gretzky was born on January 26, 1961, in Brantford, Ontario, Canada. A precise and hard-working player, Gretzky was just 2 years old when he first started skating.
The young Gretzky spent countless hours on the ice, honing his talents as a skater, shooter and passer. As a result, Gretzky often played in leagues that catered to older boys. The age and size differences between Gretzky and his competition mattered little. In his final year of peewee hockey he scored an improbable 378 goals.
By the time he was a teenager, Gretzky was making waves across Canada with his play. He was selected third in the 1977 Ontario Major Junior Hockey League Midget draft, and displayed his impressive skills that season for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. His future status as an NHL star was furthered at the 1978 World Junior Championships in Quebec City, where Gretzky played for his home country and led the entire tournament in scoring.
Eager to turn professional but barred from leaping to the NHL because of the league's age restrictions, Gretzky signed with the Indianapolis Racers of the fledgling World Hockey Association in the fall of 1978. But not long after Gretzky arrived, the franchise closed its doors and sold its young asset to the NHL's Edmonton Oilers.
In the fall of 1979, Gretzky embarked on his first full NHL season. As he had at every other level, he quickly started to dominate the competition, racking up an astonishing 51 goals and 86 assists, on his way to winning the league's Hart Memorial Trophy, an award recognizing its most valuable player. It was the first time a first-year player had ever been honored with the award.
Soon enough, Edmonton came to be a championship juggernaut. With Gretzky leading the way, the Oilers finished as Stanley Cup champions in 1984, 1985, 1987 and 1988. As his team won, Gretzky blazed through the record books by posting unfathomable numbers. In 1982, he cracked the 200-point barrier for the first time, setting a single-season record with 92 goals, while also collecting 120 assists. His finest year may have been 1986, a season in which he totaled 52 goals and an NHL single-season record, 163 assists.
With the big numbers came plenty of adoration from Canadian hockey fans. Nicknamed The Great One, Gretzky captivated Canadian sports fans as few sports stars ever had. On toy store shelves, the Wayne Gretzky doll was a part of the inventory, and in 1983 the government of Canada even issued an official Wayne Gretzky dollar coin. Helping the player's celebrity status was his quiet, humble attitude, which helped ensure he wouldn't do anything off the ice to tarnish his image.
Trade to L.A.
In late summer of 1988, however, the unthinkable happened when the Oilers traded Gretzky to Los Angeles for a slew of players, draft picks and cash. Speculation has swirled around the exact reason for the trade. Popular opinion has long suggested that Gretzky, who'd recently married the actress Janet Jones, had pushed for the trade in order to further his wife's career.
But another theory banks on the idea that the NHL, fearing that its greatest asset was being wasted in Edmonton, forced the move. If Gretzky was in Los Angeles, the reasoning went, hockey's best player could greatly help the league become relevant in southern California.
Regardless of why the trade happened, in the fall of 1988, Gretzky donned a Kings jersey for the first time. Over the next eight seasons he led the franchise, not quite dominating the league as he once had, but still making his case as the NHL's best player. In 1993, he even steered the franchise to the Stanley Cup finals, where the club lost to the Montreal Canadiens in five games.
Final Playing Years
In 1996 Gretzky left L.A. to play for the St. Louis Blues. After just one season with the franchise, he was on the move again, this time to the New York Rangers, where he played three more years and finished out his career in 1999.
By almost every measure, Gretzky is hockey's most dominant scorer and quite possibly its greatest player. In all, he holds or shares 61 NHL records, including most career goals (894), most career assists (1,963) and most career points (2,857).
"Not only am I mentally ready to retire, I'm physically ready to retire," he said after his last game. "It's hard. This is a great game, but it's a hard game. I'm ready."
Not long after hanging up his skates, Gretzky was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. In addition, he continued to stay in close contact with the game and the league.
With Gretzky at the helm as the program's executive director, Canada's men's Olympic hockey team ended its 50-year drought and took home the gold medal at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002.
Shortly after assuming his Olympic duties, Gretzky also came aboard as the managing partner of the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes in early 2001. Over the course of several seasons, Gretzky served in the front office and as the team's head coach.
Despite the excitement surrounding his association with the club, coach Gretzky was never able to lead the club to the playoffs, much less fill the arena with fans. In September 2009, after four tough seasons, he stepped down as coach. He eventually relinquished his ownership of the team.
Gretzky, who's become involved in both the restaurant business and the wine business over the years, lives with his family in California.
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