Childhood & Early Life
Wayne Douglas Gretzky was born on 26 January 1961, in Ontario, Canada, to Walter Gretzky and Phyllis Leone. His father worked for ‘Bell Telephone Canada.’ The family had five children and they all played hockey as toddlers. When he was two years old, Wayne picked up the hockey stick for the first time at his grandfather’s house. By the time he turned six, he was playing alongside the teenagers in his locality. His coach Dick Martin once said that he sometimes played better than the boys more than twice his age.
In his first junior season, where Wayne played with boys much older than him, he gave a phenomenal performance. Soon, he became obsessed with the game and would always insist on playing against older team members. In his very first junior season, Wayne scored 378 goals, which was a magnificent feat for a boy of his age.
As he embarked into his teenage years, his popularity crossed the local borders and the Wayne-wave started blowing across Canada. At the age of 14, his family took him to Toronto to improve his game and provide him with better facilities. In 1977, Wayne was the third pick in the midget draft for the ‘Ontario Major Junior Hockey League’ (OMJHL) where he played for ‘Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.’ His impressive performance at the ‘World Junior Championship’ in 1978 helped him reach the big league.
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Professional NHL Career
Despite age restrictions, Wayne played his first official NHL season in 1979. He proved his critics wrong with a memorable performance and went on to receive the ‘Most Valuable Player’ of the league honor, scoring a magnificent 137 points. He barely missed the ‘Calder Memorial Trophy,’ which is given to the NHL rookies, due to his previous experience at the ‘World Hockey Association’ (WHA). In the next season, Wayne got his hands on the ‘Art Ross Trophy’ for his performance.
During the 1981-82 season, he set a new record after scoring 50 goals in the 39 matches that he played. He ended the season with a record 92 goals along with 120 assists and 212 points. It did not take long for his team to become the strongest NHL team, thanks to Wayne’s presence in the team. ‘Oilers’ got their hands on the ‘Stanley Cup’ in 1984, 1985, 1987, and 1988, and Wayne’s contribution towards the team’s success was immense. As he continued playing, records kept tumbling.
By 1986, Wayne had become one of the best players in terms of scoring goals and points. He ended the season with a record 52 goals and 163 assists, which placed him in the elite group of best ice hockey players in the world. Canada being a hockey crazy nation, celebrated Wayne’s scintillating performance. His abilities on the hockey field earned him a celebrity status among his countrymen and the Canadian government didn’t shy away from showering Wayne with honors and awards. He was honored with the ‘Officer of the Order of Canada,’ which is counted among the highest Canadian civilian honors.
Wayne continued performing well for ‘Oilers.’ However, in mid-1988, ‘Oilers’ traded Wayne to ‘LA Kings’ for some cash and a few players, which came across as a shocker to many. There were speculations claiming that Wayne himself had asked ‘Oilers’ to go ahead with the trade, so that he could help his wife who was a struggling actress. Another theory suggested that it was a deliberate move made by the NHL, so that the sport could gain more popularity in Southern California.
Wayne made his debut for the ‘Los Angeles Kings’ during the 1988 season. He was named the alternate captain for the first season. Although his performance wasn’t up to the mark, he was still considered one of the best players of the league. In 1993, he performed well to lead his team to the ‘Stanley Cup’ finals, but his team eventually lost to the ‘Montreal Canadiens.’
Wayne had to leave ‘LA Kings’ to join ‘St. Louis Blues’ in 1996. He just played one season for them. By now, he had lost his magic touch. The following year, he joined the ‘New York Rangers’ where he played for three more seasons before finally announcing his retirement from the game. He helped his team reach the ‘Eastern Conference Finals’ in 1997, but eventually lost to ‘Philadelphia Flyers.’ In his last season in 1998-99, he broke the goal scoring record of 1071 goals, which was previously held by Goldie Howe.
After announcing his retirement in 1999, he remained connected to the game and his team. As expected, he was inducted into the ‘Hockey Hall of Fame.’
In 2000, he bought a 10% stake in the 'Phoenix Coyotes' and took on the roles of head of hockey operations and managing partner. He served as the head coach of ‘Phoenix Coyotes’ from 2001 to 2009. He ended all his ties with the team in 2009 after the team’s abysmal performance in the previous few seasons.
In October 2016, he became the vice-chairman and partner of the Oilers' parent company, 'Oilers Entertainment Group.' He then started working closely with the group's CEO Bob Nicholson and owner Daryl Katz on the business side of the group's operation.
Presently, Wayne operates his own restaurant business in Canada.
His broad list of career achievements includes ‘Art Ross Trophy’ (10 times), ‘Hart Trophies’ (9 times), and ‘Ted Lindsay Award’ (5 times). Several awards and honors have been started in his name.
Wayne Gretzky has appeared on television many times, including his stint as a judge on a show titled ‘Dance Fever.’ He has also made appearances on many talk shows over the years.
Wayne has also written many books, including ‘99: Stories of the Game’ which was co-authored by Kirstie McLellan Day and published in 2016.