Wayne Gretzky : biography
Gretzky also excelled at baseball and box lacrosse, which he played during the summer. At age ten, after scoring 196 goals in his hockey league, he scored 158 goals in lacrosse. According to him, lacrosse was where he learned to protect himself from hard checks: "In those days you could be hit from behind in lacrosse, as well as cross-checked, so you had to learn how to roll body checks for self-protection." Gretzky, who weighed far less than the NHL average, adroitly applied this technique as a professional player, avoiding checks with such skill that a rumour circulated that there was an unwritten rule not to hit him. But Gretzky himself dispelled the rumor at the end of one grueling season with the Edmonton Oilers, in which he had suffered a mild concussion as a result of what writer Michael Benson called a "cheap shot" from Winnipeg Jets star centre Dale Hawerchuk. "People say there is an unwritten rule that you can’t hit Gretzky," he said, "but that is not true."
Still, Gretzky was a most elusive target. Fellow Hockey Hall of Famer Denis Potvin compared attempting to hit Gretzky to "wrapping your arms around fog. You saw him but when you reached out to grab him your hands felt nothing, maybe just a chill." The 205-pound (93 kg) Potvin, a three-time winner of the Norris Trophy for best defenceman, added that part of the problem in hitting Gretzky hard was that he was "a tough guy to dislike… what was there to hate about Gretzky? It was like running Gandhi into a corner."
Gretzky became known for setting up with the puck behind the net, an area that was nicknamed "Gretzky’s Office" because of his great prowess there. He could pass to an open teammate, jump out for his own shot on a wraparound, or even try to shoot the puck over the goal to bounce it off the goaltender’s back and into the net. Gretzky became accustomed to the position after watching and studying Bobby Clarke play in that zone. In honour of his abilities, a large "99" was painted on the ice behind the goal at each end of the rink for his final game.
- June 12, 1978 – Signed as a free agent with the Indianapolis Racers
- November 2, 1978 – Traded by the Indianapolis Racers, along with Eddie Mio and Peter Driscoll, to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for $700,000 and future considerations.
- August 9, 1988 – Traded by the Edmonton Oilers, along with Mike Krushelnyski and Marty McSorley, to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, Los Angeles’s 1989, 1991 and 1993 first round draft choices, and $15,000,000.
- February 27, 1996 – Traded by the Los Angeles Kings to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Roman Vopat, Craig Johnson, Patrice Tardif, St. Louis’s 1996 fifth round draft choice, and 1997 first round draft choice.
- July 21, 1996 – Signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers.
Edmonton Oilers (1979–1988)
After the World Hockey Association folded in 1979, the Edmonton Oilers and three other teams joined the NHL. The other three teams to join the NHL were the New England Whalers, Quebec Nordiques and Jets. Under the merger agreement the Oilers, like the other surviving WHA teams, were to be allowed to protect two goaltenders and two skaters from being reclaimed by the established NHL teams. Under normal circumstances, Gretzky would have been removed from the Oilers and placed in the pool for the 1979 NHL Entry Draft, but his personal services contract prevented this.
Gretzky’s success in the WHA carried over into the NHL, despite some critics suggesting he would struggle in what was considered the bigger, tougher, and more talented league. Gretzky ended his professional playing career with the New York Rangers, where he played his final three seasons and helped the team reach the Eastern Conference Finals in 1997. The Rangers were defeated in the Conference Finals in five games by the Philadelphia Flyers, despite Gretzky leading the Rangers in the playoffs with 10 goals and 10 assists. For the first time in his NHL career, Gretzky was not named captain, although he briefly wore the captain’s ‘C’ in 1998 when captain Brian Leetch was injured and out of the lineup. After the 1996–97 season, Mark Messier signed a free agent contract with the Vancouver Canucks, ending the brief reunion of Messier and Gretzky after just one season. The Rangers did not return to the playoffs during the remainder of Gretzky’s career.