Wayne Gretzky, hockey player (b at Brantford, Ont 26 Jan 1961). Gretzky was a hockey prodigy who, with his father's guidance, mastered the skills of the sport on a backyard rink. He played junior hockey for the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds and in 1978 turned professional with the WHA Indianapolis Racers and the EDMONTON OILERS. At age 17 he was the youngest athlete playing a major league sport in North America. He tied for the scoring lead in Edmonton's first season in the NHL (1979-80), won the HART TROPHY as the league's "most valuable player," won the LADY BYNG TROPHY, and began an assault on scoring records that is likely unprecedented in any sport.
In his second NHL season (1980-81) he scored 164 points, breaking Phil ESPOSITO's single-season record of 152 points and surpassing Bobby ORR's assist record of 102 with 109. The following year he scored 212 points, including 92 goals - shattering Esposito's previous record of 76 goals. Gretzky led the Oilers to 4 STANLEY CUP championships in 5 years before being traded by Oiler owner Peter Pocklington to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988 for cash and players. Though unable to recreate the team success with the Kings that he enjoyed with the Oilers, Gretzky raised the profile of hockey in the US dramatically, and his presence in Los Angeles is widely credited with the league's expansion throughout the US sunbelt in the early 1990s.
In 1991 Gretzky, along with partners comedian John CANDY and Kings owner Bruce McNall, purchased the TORONTO ARGONAUTS, who went on to win the GREY CUP that year. They sold the club in 1993. In 1993 Gretzky resumed play after a long absence owing to a back ailment and led the Kings to the Stanley Cup final, losing to the Montréal Canadiens but personally winning the playoff scoring title. He won his 10th scoring title in 15 NHL seasons in 1993-94 and scored his 802nd goal, breaking Howe's all-time goal scoring record. Financial difficulties with the Kings franchise, as well as Gretzky's own disenchantment with the club's lack of commitment to building a winner, resulted in his being traded during the 1995-96 season to the St Louis Blues. In July 1996 Gretzky changed teams again, this time to join his ex-Oiler teammate Mark MESSIER with the New York Rangers.
After 3 seasons with the Rangers, Gretzky announced his retirement at the age of 38. Amidst an immense public emotional outpouring he played his last game on 18 April 1999 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. His impact on hockey and the void that he left behind were symbolized by the declaration that no one will ever again wear his number in the NHL. Gretzky's accomplishments are arguably unparalleled in any sport: he won the Hart Trophy (most valuable player) 9 times, the Art Ross Trophy (scoring championship) 10 times, the Lady Byng Trophy 4 times, and the Conn Smythe Trophy (outstanding player in a playoff) twice. He is the all-time leading scorer in the NHL with 2857 points, and the only player to reach 2000 career points, needing only 11 seasons to pass the record that it took Gordie HOWE 23 years to compile. He holds or shares an amazing 61 NHL records, including most goals (894) and most assists (1963). He tallied 382 career points in the playoffs, almost 100 more than any other player. He was the leading scorer in 6 international tournaments, including all 4 CANADA CUP tournaments in which he played. On 23 June 1999, 2 months after he retired, he was selected for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was only the 10th player for whom the normal 3-year waiting period for induction after retirement had been waived. Other players who have received this special honour include Mario LEMIEUX (1997), Bobby Orr (1979), Jean BÉLIVEAU and Gordie Howe (1972), Henri RICHARD (1961) and Dit Clapper (1947).
Wayne Gretzky's mastery of his sport owed much to his agility, speed and accurate shot, and he was undoubtedly the greatest passer in hockey history. But it was his instinctive grasp of the flow of play - his sense of how opposing players and teammates would react to each situation - that made him such a creative player. His personal charm as well as his scoring feats have endeared him to the North American sporting public. Gretzky continues to be a strong advocate for the game of hockey. He became the managing partner of the Phoenix Coyotes in February 2001 and their head coach in August 2005, and was named Executive Director of Team Canada's Olympic Hockey Team for both the 2002 Olympics at Salt Lake and the 2006 Olympics at Torino. He also embarked on several entrepreneurial ventures following retirement, including his own winery on the Niagara Peninsula called No. 99 Estates Winery and, most recently, a restaurant in Toronto called "Wayne Gretzky's," which features some of his own personal sports memorabilia. Gretzky's prestige and leadership, and his insistence on securing a team that emphasized skill and speed, contributed greatly to Canada's first gold medal in men's hockey since 1952. Gretzky is a member of the ORDER OF CANADA.