Wayne Gretzky

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Wayne Gretzky : biography

January 26, 1961 –

In 1997, prior to his retirement, The Hockey News named a committee of 50 hockey experts (former NHL players, past and present writers, broadcasters, coaches and hockey executives) to select and rank the 50 greatest players in NHL history. The experts voted Gretzky number one. Gretzky said that he would have voted Bobby Orr or Gordie Howe as the best of all time.

The 1998–99 season was his last season. He reached one milestone in this last season, breaking the professional total (regular season and playoffs) goal-scoring record of 1,071, which had been held by Gordie Howe. Gretzky was having difficulty scoring this season and finished with only nine goals, contributing to this being the only season in which he failed to average at least a point per game, but his last goal brought his scoring total for his combined NHL/WHA career to 1,072, one more than Howe. As the season wound down, there was media speculation that Gretzky would retire, but he refused to announce his retirement. His last NHL game in Canada was on April 15, 1999, a 2–2 tie with the Ottawa Senators, the Rangers’ second-to-last game of the season. Following the contest, instead of the usual three stars announcement, Gretzky was named as all three stars. It was only after this game, after returning to New York that Gretzky announced his retirement, before the Rangers’ last game of the season.

The final game of Gretzky’s career was a 2–1 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 18, 1999, in Madison Square Garden. Although the game involved two American teams, both national anthems were played, and with the lyrics slightly adjusted to accommodate Gretzky’s departure. In place of the lyrics "O Canada, we stand on guard for thee", Bryan Adams ad-libbed, "We’re going to miss you, Wayne Gretzky". The Star-Spangled Banner, as sung by John Amirante, was altered to include the words "in the land of Wayne Gretzky". Gretzky ended his career with a final point, assisting on the lone New York goal scored by Brian Leetch. At the time of his retirement, Gretzky was the second-to-last WHA player still active in professional hockey, Mark Messier, who himself attended the game along with other representatives of the Edmonton dynasty, being the last.

Gretzky told Scott Morrison that the final game of his career was his greatest day. He recounted: {}

Madison Square Garden photographer George Kalinsky’s image of Gretzky waving to the crowd at the Garden, like his image of Messier after the Rangers won game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals five years earlier, would become an iconic image to the Rangers and their fans, documenting one of the greatest moments at the Garden, and even to hockey fans.

Notes

Early years

Prior to World War I, Gretzky’s paternal grandfather Anton (Tony) Gretzky immigrated along with his family to Canada via the United States from the Russian Empire (what is now Grodno, Belarus). Following the war, Anton would marry his wife, Mary, who immigrated from Pidhaitsi, interwar Poland (now Ukraine). Tony and Mary owned a cucumber farm in Canning, Ontario where Walter Gretzky was born and raised and where he met Wayne’s mother, Phyllis Hockin. They married in 1960, and lived in an apartment in Brantford, Ontario, where Walter worked for Bell Telephone Canada. The family moved into a house on Varadi Avenue in Brantford seven months after Wayne was born, chosen partly because it was flat enough to make an ice rink on every winter. Wayne was joined by a sister, Kim (b. 1963), and brothers Keith, Glen and Brent. The family would regularly visit Tony and Mary’s farm and watch Hockey Night in Canada together. By age two, Wayne was trying to score goals against Mary using a souvenir stick. The farm was where Wayne skated on ice for the first time, aged two years, 10 months.