Wayne Douglas Gretzky (January 26, 1961-) is generally considered the greatest hockey player in the history of the NHL and is the only player in the history of professional sports to have his number retired league-wide while he is still alive. (Jackie Robinson’s number 42 was retired by MLB in 1997.) Wayne grew up in Branford, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto, where his father, tired of freezing to death in the cold, built a rink in their backyard. Wayne spent hours upon hours practicing and skating, honing his skills in the backyard and became known as the “White Tornado” as he moved through the ranks of midgets and peewees, prior to joining juniors. Gretzky played above his age bracket and each year his skills improved, culminating in a 378-goal peewee season, his last. At an early age, Gretzky developed an extraordinary ability to see the entire ice and know instinctively where his teammates were on the ice, a skill that would suit his playmaking abilities for his entire career. Wayne played only one full year in the Ontario Major Junior Hockey League with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds scoring 70 goals and 112 assists for 182 points in 63 games before he joined the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association. He won the OMJHL’s Rookie of the Year and Most Sportsmanlike Awards as he smashed the single season scoring record. (He was ineligible to enter the NHL Entry Draft due to the NHL age limit of 20 years old.)
After playing only eight games in Indianapolis, Gretzky was traded to the Edmonton Oilers, also in the WHA, for the duration of the 1978-79 season. He scored 46 goals and 64 assists in his first professional season, winning the WHA’s Lou Kaplan Trophy awarded to the league’s Rookie of the Year. When the WHA folded, the Oilers were merged into the NHL with three other teams and Gretzky’s NHL career took off. Wayne made the Oilers a virtual instant contender as they built around their star center. In his rookie NHL season, Wayne led the NHL in assists for his first of 16 times and points for his first of 11 seasons including eight straight years. Wayne’s astonishing numbers with Edmonton culminated in the 1981-82 season when he scored a record 92 goals, surpassing Phil Esposito’s previous single-season record of 76, and 212 points, again surpassing Espo’s 152 points in a single season. This season he also surpassed the record of 50 goals in 50 games set by Rocket Richard and matched by Mike Bossy, when he scored 50 goals in 39 games. “The Great One’s” career was wrought with highlight after highlight and award after award. He won the Hart Trophy (NHL’s MVP) nine times, including eight consecutive times (1980-1987, 1989); the Art Ross Trophy ten times (NHL’s point scoring leader); the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy five times (gentlemanly conduct) and the Ted Lindsay Award five times (most outstanding player as chosen by the NHLPA).
The high-powered Edmonton Oilers of the mid-1980s won four Stanley Cup Championships (1984, 1985, 1987, 1988) and Wayne was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 1985 and 1988 as he scored 47 and 43 points, respectively. In 1988, Wayne was traded to the Los Angeles Kings where he led them to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1993, falling to the Montreal Canadiens in five games. Wayne played 22 professional seasons with the Pacers (1978), the Oilers (1978-1988), the Kings (1988-1996) the St. Louis Blues (1996) and the New York Rangers (1996-1999). Wayne was named to eight NHL All-Star First Teams and played in 18 NHL All-Star Games. Wayne Gretzky finished his career with 894 regular season goals and 1,963 assists for 2,857 points in 1,487 games while posting a +518 plus/minus. He also had 46 goals and 64 assists for 110 points in 80 WHA games. In the playoffs, the Great One scored 122 goals and 260 assists in 208 games capturing four Stanley Cup titles with Edmonton. Upon his retirement, Wayne owned or shared 61 NHL records. Wayne Gretzky was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1999, immediately following his retirement after the three-year waiting period was waved. The Hockey News named Wayne Number One on their 100 Greatest Players list in 1999. After his playing days ended, Wayne Gretzky became the owner of the Phoenix Coyotes and coached the Coyotes from 2005-2009 compiling a record of 143-161 in 328 games.