FALKLAND, BC -- First Michael and now Gretzky have retired with their
memories intact and rooms for their silver and gold collections.
Wayne Gretzky received waves of thunderous applause Sunday afternoon
as he left the National Hockey League for good as its greatest player.
There was only one disappointment all day because the Pittsburgh Pens
edged his New York Rangers 2-1 in overtime. The sadness showed on his
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No more will that smile beam after scoring against his NHL opponents
and his sweater won't appear like a misplaced hankie hanging from his
Where are you going, Wayne?
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Being modest, he'd probably say he was going to Disneyland, but to
those in the know, he'll go directly into the Hockey Hall of Fame in
While countless sportswriters from around the world will cite his
magical skill on the ice and his impeccable manners off it, for me it's
more personal -- for I first met him when he was only 10 years old and
have followed his illustrious career ever since.
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I could feel his pain for leaving the game he was so much in love with
-- after 21 years in the Big Show and as he said the other day, it's
really 35 years, since he's been playing since he was three.
As a Canadian kid growing up on the ice ponds of Nova Scotia and
later in Alberta, I tried to match my goalie skills in the manner of
Toronto Maple Leafs' great, Turk Broda. I failed miserably.
But I never knew what hockey skills were until I saw the likes of
Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull and Bobby Orr. However, Gretzky was in a league
I've known Gretz since he was 10 years old. That's right. Ten years
old when he scored a record 378 goals in atom play for Brantford,
At the time, I was an editor/sportswriter with the now defunct
Toronto Telegram. A colleague, John Iaboni, and I were in charge of the
minor hockey statistics and handed out trophies and certificates every
week for the top minor-league players. Wayne's name seemed to always be
at the top of the list. We should have handed him a permanent trophy and
a gold-engraved certificate.
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Even as a pee wee, 14-year-old Wayne was mobbed by autograph seekers
during the illustrious International Quebec tournament and then went on
to star, as usual, in Tier II and then turned to the Major Junior.
Hockey scouts, NHL players, including Gordie Howe, and fans knew the
quiet and thin youngster was destined for greatness.
The media crowded around him as he joined the strong Sault Ste. Marie
Greyhounds. He first donned the number "19," but quickly changed to
"99." Number 9 had been his first choice, but Howe already had that one
At 17, Gretz turned pro with Nelson Skalbania and the nearly bankrupt
Indianapolis Racers of the WHA. That marriage lasted a few games and
then he was sold to Peter Pocklington and the newly formed Edmonton
Oilers. During the 1978-79 season, he scored 46 goals and 110 points as
the WHA's rookie of the year.
In 1978, I reacquainted myself with Gretz for I'd just arrived in
Edmonton only a few months before as the sports editor of the brand-new
tabloid, the Edmonton Sun. Both of us were at the start of our new
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He, Kevin Lowe and Mark Messier were best buddies, leasing a
magnificent condo near mine and also the old Sun building. The family
atmosphere was present throughout the oil capital of Canada. "This is
Gretzky Country" was the common cry throughout the city.
The arrogance of today's athletes wasn't prevalent.
The entire city was hockey hungry and the Oilers were invited to
various homes for dinner, supper and breakfast. Wives of various people
made cookies, perogies and soups, for "their boys." They were doted on
like proud grandparents.
There wasn't any us or them; it was they're "us."
The "gang" would meet in a sports bar for drinks and laughs. The
owner was a former pro player named Mike Barnett, who has an uncanny
resemblance to Gretz and would eventually take over as his agent.
Barnett was extremely competent in helping Gretz make all the correct
During those early days of the Oilers' dynasty, I had an opportunity
to see Gretz up close and personal and remember his most endearing
personality trait was his consistency. Always smiling and gentle, his
treatment of both the young and the old was evident. Such credit has to
go to his family for his upbringing.
Sunday, he showed his class once again -- he paid particular
attention to the kids in Madison Square.
He was also a media favorite: in Edmonton, in Los Angeles, in New
Saturday night, he phoned up a number of his sportswriter pals and
asked them how they were doing and what he might do for them.
The man has class.
Three of my most treasured possessions from his Edmonton days are: 1)
A television tape of the two of us on an Edmonton show, "Mr. C's
Country;" 2) a photograph of the two of us, grabbing a hockey stick with
this gigantic bearded man (me) towering over a thin, blond-locked kid
(Gretz), and 3) An autographed coffee table hockey book he brought back
from one of the early Canada-Russia series.
Little did I know that he would become the most dominant player in
the sport with the likes of Maurice (The Rocket) Richard, Syl Apps,
Teeder Kennedy, Bobby Orr, Dionne, and even Mario Lemieux fading in
However, he did have one flaw. He couldn't carry a tune worth a plug
How do I know? On an October 1981 TV show, he tried to warble "Mommas
Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys."
I've watched it over and over again and turn down the sound whenever
Gretz's rendition comes on.
Well, everyone can't be perfect in every way.
On Retirement Sunday, the National Hockey League put together a
summary of his career, entitled, "99 Reasons Why Wayne Gretzky is "The
1. At the age of 10, Gretzky scores 378 goals in Brantford's atom
league -- still an age group record.
2. While playing in the prestigious International Pee Wee Hockey
Tournament in Quebec City's Le Colisee, the 14-year-old Gretzky is
frequently besieged by autograph seekers.
3. As a teenager, young Wayne often competes against players much
older. At 14 he plays in Tier II junior and major junior at 15.
4. Wayne first dons his now famous No. 99 jersey as a member of the
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Originally wanting to wear No. 9 like his
idol Gordie Howe, Gretzky settles on his trademark number after wearing
No. 19 for a few weeks.
5. In May 1978, Gretzky turns pro at 17 with the Indianapolis Racers
of the World Hockey Association.
6. The financially strapped Indianapolis franchise trades Gretzky to
the Edmonton Oilers of the WHA in May of 1978.
7. In his first season with the Oilers, Gretzky registers 46 goals
and 110 points on his way to capturing WHA rookie of the year honors.
8. The Edmonton, Hartford, Quebec and Winnipeg franchises join the
NHL for the 1979-80 season. Gretzky makes his NHL debut on Oct. 10 and
registers his first career NHL point, an assist on Kevin Lowe's goal
9. His first NHL goal does not come until three games into the season
on Oct. 14 against Glen Hanlon of the Vancouver Canucks.
10. Gretzky wins his first of eight consecutive Hart Trophies in
1979-80 as the MVP of the League.
11. With the 51 goals in 1979-80, Gretzky becomes the youngest player
(19 years, two months) to score 50 goals in a single season.
12. Sets an NHL record for most assists in one game by a first-year
player, with seven on Feb. 15 vs. Washington.
13. As a first-year player, No. 99 is named as the NHL's Second Team
All-Star at the age of 18.
14. In his sophomore season, Gretzky wins his first of seven
consecutive Art Ross Trophies as the NHL's leading scorer, setting NHL
records for assists (109) and points (164) in a single season.
15. Named the NHL's First Team All-Star Center in 1980-81.
16. Ties an NHL mark for most goals in one period, netting four
against St. Louis on Feb. 18, 1981.
17. On Dec. 30, 1981 against Philadelphia, Gretzky scores his 50th
goal in an unimaginable 39 games. The previous mark was 50 goals in 50
games by Maurice Richard and Mike Bossy.
18. In 1981-82, he wins the first of five Lester B. Pearson Awards
as the NHL's outstanding player as voted by the players.
19. Captures his second League scoring title in 1981-82 after
becoming the first player in NHL history to record over 200 points,
20. Sets an NHL record for most goals in one season with 92 in
1981-82, breaking Phil Esposito's record of 76, set with Boston in
21. Breaks his own mark of most assists in a single season with 120
22. Nets 10 hat tricks in 1981-82 to garner yet another record.
23. Surpasses his own mark for most assists in a single season with
125 in 1982-83.
24. Gretzky earns MVP honors in the 1983 NHL All-Star Game at Long
Island after netting four goals.
25. Notches an NHL record with a 30-game scoring streak during the
1982-83 season, surpassing Guy Lafleur's record of 28 in 1976-77.
26. Finishes the 1982-83 season having played in 310 consecutive
27. Sets NHL Stanley Cup Playoff records during the 1983 post-season
with 26 assists and 38 points.
28. Establishes a new record by notching at least one point in 51
consecutive games, tallying 61 goals and 92 assists for 153 points
during the streak in 1983-84. The next longest streak is held by Mario
Lemieux, who had a 46-game scoring streak in which he scored 39 goals
and 103 points.
29. During the 1983-84 regular season and playoffs, Gretzky scores a
combined 100 goals (87 regular season, 13 playoffs).
30. Sets an NHL record with 12 shorthanded goals and ties his own
mark with 10 hat tricks during the 1983-84 season.
31. Captains the Edmonton Oilers to their first Stanley Cup
championship in 1984 over the New York Islanders in five games.
32. Success continues to find Gretzky during the 1984-85 season. He
wins the Hart Trophy for the sixth consecutive year, the Art Ross for
the fifth, the Lester B. Pearson for the fourth and makes his fifth
First Team All-Star appearance at center.
33. Leads the NHL in 1984-85 with a plus-98 rating.
34. In 1984-85, Gretzky ranks first in goals, assists, points,
shorthanded goals, shots on goal and consecutive-game point streak.
35. Breaks his own single season record with 135 assists in 1984-85.
36. During the 1985 postseason, Gretzky rewrites the record books,
with 30 assists and 47 points in one playoff year.
37. Gretzky keeps raising the bar for points in one season, including
playoffs, registering 255 in 1984-85.
38. Records his 1,000th career point on Dec. 19, 1984 vs. Los
39. Captures the 1985 Conn Smythe Trophy while leading the Oilers to
their second consecutive Stanley Cup.
40. Gretzky makes a habit of breaking his own records, when in
1985-86 he sets new marks for assists (163) and points (215) in a single
41. Ties an NHL record for most assists in a road game with seven on
Dec. 11, 1985 at Chicago, and also tallies seven assists at home on Feb.
14, 1996 vs. Quebec.
42. Notches a point in 77 of the 80 games in the 1985-86 season.
43. Gretzky scores his 37th career three-goal-game on Jan. 8, 1986,
tying Mike Bossy's career mark.
44. In Rendez-Vous '87 against the Soviet Union, Gretzky is named
Team NHL's Player of the Series.
45. At the tender age of 25, Gretzky scores his 500th NHL goal on
Nov. 22, 1986 vs. Vancouver goaltender Troy Gamble, becoming the 13th
player to reach that plateau.
46. Establishes a new mark for career hat tricks during the 1986-87
season when No. 99 has four three-goal-games to lift his career total to
47. On April 9, 1987, Gretzky tallies his 177th career playoff point
vs. Los Angeles, surpassing Jean Beliveau as the all-time leading scorer
in Stanley Cup playoff history.
48. Leads the League in postseason scoring with 34 points, helping
the Oilers win their third championship in four years.
49. Gretzky notches his 1,000th career assist vs. the Rangers on Nov.
50. On Mar. 1, 1988, Gretzky becomes the NHL's all-time leader in
assists, notching his 1,050th vs. Los Angeles.
51. His 31 assists during the 1988 Stanley Cup playoffs remain the
most by any player in a single postseason.
52. Gretzky captures his second Conn Smythe Trophy as the Edmonton
Oilers win their fourth championship in five years.
53. On Aug. 9, 1988, Gretzky is traded to the Los Angeles Kings along
with Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski in exchange for Jimmy Carson,
Martin Gelinas, a 1989 first round pick (Martin Rucinsky), a 1993 first
round pick (Nick Stajduhar) and cash.
54. Makes his Kings debut on Oct. 6, 1988 vs. Detroit and records his
first point on his first shot.
55. Captures the Hart Trophy for the ninth time in 1989, becoming the
first Kings player to ever win the award.
56. Registers his 600th NHL goal on Nov. 23, 1988 vs. Detroit.
57. Notches seven points, including his 1,800th career point, with
two goals and five assists on Feb. 18, 1989 vs. Quebec.
58. Earns MVP honors of the 1989 NHL All-Star Game in Edmonton.
59. Sets a Los Angeles club record for assists (114) and points (168)
in a single season during the 1988-89 campaign.
60. Moves past Marcel Dionne into second place on the all-time
scoring list in a game at Hartford on Jan. 21, 1989.
61. Becomes the all-time leading scorer on Oct. 15, 1989 vs. his
former team, the Edmonton Oilers, surpassing Gordie Howe's total of
62. His 1,850th point comes on a goal tying the game with 53 seconds
remaining in regulation. He also scores the game-winning goal in
63. Tallies his 1,900th point with an assist on Dec. 10, 1989 vs.
64. Garners his eighth Art Ross Trophy and leads the League with 102
assists in 1989-90, extending his own record of consecutive 100 or more
assist seasons to 10.
65. During the 1990 Stanley Cup Playoffs, "The Great One" ties a
Kings record for points in a single playoff game with five (one goal,
66. The 1990-91 season sees Gretzky win his second consecutive Art
Ross Trophy and ninth all-time.
67. His 122 assists leads the League in 1990-91 and sets a Kings club
mark for helpers in a single season.
68. Becomes the only player in NHL history to register 2,000 career
points after recording an assist on Oct. 26, 1990 at Winnipeg.
69. During the 1990-91 season, Gretzky has four games in which he
accumulates five or more points, increasing his career total to 90.
70. Becomes the fourth player in NHL history to tally 700 goals in a
game against the Islanders on Jan. 3, 1991.
71. Moves into first place on the all-time playoff goal-scoring list,
surpassing Jari Kurri, with 93.
72. Tallies a pair of game-winning goals during the 1991 Stanley Cup
Playoffs, tying Maurice Richard's NHL record of 18.
73. Wins his second consecutive and third overall Lady Byng Trophy in
74. Notches his 13th consecutive 100-point season. Mario Lemieux, Guy
Lafleur, Peter Stastny, Mike Bossy, Steve Yzerman and Bobby Orr are tied
for second with six consecutive 100-point seasons.
75. Scores his 732nd goal on Dec. 21, 1991 vs. Detroit and moves past
Marcel Dionne into second on the all-time scoring list.
76. Gretzky records his 2,200th point on Jan. 10, 1992 vs. Washington
and his 1,500th career assist on March 4, 1992 at San Jose.
77. Becomes the only player in NHL history to register 300 career
playoff points in Game Two of the Smythe Division Finals in 1992.
78. Totals 40 points in the 1993 playoffs to lead the League as the
Los Angeles Kings make their first ever Stanley Cup Finals appearance.
79. Gretzky scores his 100th career playoff goal on May 17 in Game
Three of the Smythe Division Finals vs. Vancouver.
80. Sets a record for most postseason hat tricks with his eighth in
Game Seven of the Conference Finals against Toronto on May 29, 1993. The
previous record was held by Maurice Richard.
81. Gretzky becomes the NHL's all-time leading goal scorer,
surpassing Gordie Howe. His 802nd comes against Vancouver goaltender
Kirk McLean on March 23, 1994.
82. Wins his 10th Art Ross Trophy in 1994 to become the oldest
player, at age 33, to win the scoring title in 31 years (Gordie Howe won
the title at 35 in 1963).
83. Registers his 1,600th career assist on Nov. 30, 1993 vs. Winnipeg
and his 2,400th career point on Jan. 12, 1994 vs. Hartford.
84. Records his 2,500th career point with an assist on April 17, 1995
85. On Feb. 27, 1996, Gretzky is traded to the St. Louis Blues and
finishes the season as the Blues leading scorer with 102 points. It
marks the 15th time in his career he reaches the 100-point plateau.
86. The New York Rangers sign Gretzky to a free-agent contact on July
21, 1996, reuniting him with former Edmonton teammate Mark Messier.
87. Versus Montreal on Dec. 1, 1996, he becomes the only player in
NHL history to reach the 3,000-point plateau (including regular season
88. Collects his 2,700th NHL career point vs Boston on April 3, 1997.
89. On Oct. 26, 1997, Gretzky earns his 1,851st assist, giving him
more assists than any player has total points.
90. Registers his League-leading 10th career playoff hat trick on May
18, 1997 in Game Two of the Conference Finals against Philadelphia.
91. Collects a pair of assists at the 1998 All-Star Game to become
the all-time leading scorer in All-Star history (12 goals, 10 assists,
92. Picks up his 50th career regular season hat trick to pad his
overall lead on Oct. 11, 1997 at Vancouver. Mike Bossy is second with
93. Notches a power-play goal on March 7, 1998 at New Jersey for his
1,000th career goal, combining regular season and playoffs.
94. On Jan. 9, 1998, Gretzky is named the Greatest Hockey Player of
All-Time as selected by The Hockey News.
95. Gretzky tallies three points (one goal, two assists) in the North
America All-Stars' 8-6 victory over the World All-Stars on Jan. 24,
1999, increasing his record career points total in All-Star Game play to
25 (13 goals, 12 assists) in 18 games.
96. Gretzky puts his stamp on hockey history once again on March 29,
1999, scoring the 1,072nd goal of his professional career. Between his
NHL and WHA career, Gordie Howe tallied 1,071.
97. Gretzky won nine Hart Trophies in 10 seasons as the NHL's most
valuable player. Gordie Howe's six Hart awards represent the
second-highest total. The highest number of MVP honors earned in other
sports are: NBA - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 6; Major League Baseball, many
98. A 10-time NHL scoring leader, Gretzky would have won three Art
Ross Trophies strictly on the basis of assists and tied for a fourth.
99. Gretzky recorded four 200-point regular seasons: 212 in 1981-82;
205 in 1983-84; 208 in 1984-85 and 215 in 1985-86. No other player has
recorded a 200-point season. Mario Lemieux scored 199 in 1988-89.
(Sources: NHL, Edmonton-Toronto Suns).