Wayne Douglas Gretzky, CC LLD (hc) (pronounced /ˈɡrɛtski/; born January 26, 1961) is a former Canadian professional ice hockey player. Nicknamed "The Great One," Gretzky is generally regarded as the best player in the history of the NHL, and has been called "the greatest hockey player ever" by many sportswriters, players, and the NHL itself. Upon his retirement on April 18, 1999, he held forty regular-season records, fifteen playoff records, and six All-Star records. He is the only NHL player to total over 200 points in one season—a feat he accomplished four times. In addition, he tallied over 100 points in 16 WHA/NHL seasons (15 in NHL and 1 in WHA), 14 of them consecutive. Gretzky's jersey number, 99, has been retired by all teams in the National Hockey League. He was voted one of six players to the International Ice Hockey Federation's (IIHF) Centennial All-Star Team in a poll conducted by a group of 56 experts from 16 countries.
Born and raised in Brantford, Ontario, Gretzky honed his skills at a backyard rink and regularly played minor hockey at a level far above his peers. Despite his unimpressive stature, strength and speed, Gretzky's intelligence and reading of the game were unrivaled. He was adept at dodging checks from opposing players, and he could consistently anticipate where the puck was going to be and execute the right move at the right time. Gretzky also became known for setting up behind the net, an area that was nicknamed "Gretzky's office" because of his skills there.
In 1978, he signed with the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association (WHA), where he briefly played before being traded to the Edmonton Oilers. When the WHA folded, the Oilers joined the NHL, where he established many scoring records and led his team to four Stanley Cup championships. His trade to the Los Angeles Kings on August 9, 1988, had an immediate impact on the team's performance, eventually leading them to the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals, and is credited with popularizing hockey in California. Gretzky played briefly for the St. Louis Blues and finished his career with the New York Rangers. In his career, Gretzky captured nine Hart Trophies as the most valuable player, ten Art Ross Trophies for most points in a season, five Lady Byng Trophies for sportsmanship and performance, five Lester B. Pearson Awards, and two Conn Smythe Trophies as playoff MVP.
After his retirement in 1999, he was immediately inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, and is the most recent player to have the waiting period waived. He became Executive Director for the Canadian national men's hockey team during the 2002 Winter Olympics, in which the team won a gold medal. In 2000 he became part owner of the Phoenix Coyotes, and following the 2004–05 NHL lockout he became the team's head coach. He also holds citizenship of the United States.[12
Gretzky's paternal grandfather Anton (Tony) Gretzky immigrated to Canada via the United States from Belarus, with his wife Mary of Pidhaytsi, Ukraine. In interviews, Gretzky's father Walter has stated that his parents were Belarusians, while on other occasions he has mentioned his family's Polish ancestry, and has described his father as being born in Russia with "Ukrainian forebears". Though described as Polish and Belarusian, "the only Slavic language spoken in the family [was] Ukrainian".
Tony and Mary owned a 25-acre (10 ha) vegetable farm in Canning, Ontario, while Wayne's parents, Phyllis (née Hockin) and Walter, had an apartment in Brantford where Walter worked for Bell Telephone Canada. Seven months after Wayne was born, Walter and Phyllis moved into a house. Wayne was joined by a sister, Kim (b. 1963), and brothers Keith, Glen and Brent. The family would watch Hockey Night in Canada at Tony and Mary's. By age two, Wayne was trying to score goals against Mary using a souvenir stick. The farm was where Wayne ice skated for the first time, aged two years, 10 months.
Walter taught Wayne, Keith, Brent, Glen and their friends hockey on a rink he made in his back yard, nicknamed the "Wally Coliseum". Drills included skating around Javex bleach bottles and tin cans, and flipping pucks over scattered hockey sticks to be able to pick up the puck again in full flight. Walter's advice included to "skate where the puck's going, not where it's been". Wayne was a classic prodigy whose extraordinary skills made him the target of jealous parents.
Gretzky's first team, at age six, was a team of ten-year-olds, starting a pattern where Gretzky always played at a level far above his peers through his minor hockey years. His first coach, Dick Martin, remarked that he handled the puck better than the ten-year-olds. According to Martin, "Wayne was so good that you could have a boy of your own who was a tremendous hockey player, and he'd get overlooked because of what the Gretzky kid was doing." The sweaters for ten-year-olds were far too large for Gretzky, who coped by tucking the sweater into his pants on the right side. He continued doing this throughout his NHL career.
By the age of ten he had scored 378 goals and 139 assists in just one season with the Brantford Nadrofsky Steelers. His play now attracted media attention beyond his hometown of Brantford, including a profile by John Iaboni in the Toronto Telegram in October 1971. By age 13, he had scored over 1,000 goals. His play attracted considerable negative attention from other players' parents, including those of his teammates, and he was often booed. According to Walter, the "capper" was being booed on "Brantford Day" at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens in February 1975.
When Gretzky was 14, his family arranged for him to move to and play hockey in Toronto, partly to further his career, and partly to remove him from the uncomfortable pressure he faced in his hometown. The Gretzkys had to legally challenge the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association to win Wayne the right to play elsewhere, which was disallowed at the time. The Gretzkys won, and Wayne played Junior B hockey with the Toronto Nationals. He earned Rookie of the Year honours in the Metro Junior B Hockey League in 1975–76, with 60 points in 28 games. The following year, as a 15-year-old, he had 72 points in 32 games with the same team, then known as the Seneca Nationals. That year, he also played three games with the Peterborough Petes in the Ontario Hockey Association as an emergency call-up, and even then the Great One impressed scouts with his abilities despite his small stature and youth. In addition, he signed with his first agent, Bob Behnke.
Despite his offensive statistics, two teams bypassed him in the 1977 OMJHL Midget Draft of 16-year-olds. The Oshawa Generals picked Tom McCarthy, and the Niagara Falls Flyers picked Steve Peters second overall. With the third pick, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds selected Gretzky, even though Walter Gretzky had told the team that Wayne would not move to Sault Ste. Marie, a northern Ontario city that inflicts a heavy traveling schedule on its junior team. The Gretzkys made an arrangement with a local family they knew and Wayne played a season in the Ontario Hockey League at the age of 16 with the Greyhounds. It was with the Greyhounds that Wayne first wore the number 99 on his jersey. He originally wanted to wear number 9—for his hockey hero Gordie Howe—but it was already being worn by teammate Brian Gualazzi. At coach Muzz MacPherson's suggestion, Gretzky settled on 99.
At 16, in his single year at the major junior level, Gretzky surpassed the OMJHL single-season scoring record, winning the OMJHL Rookie of the Year and Most Sportsmanlike awards.