On January 26, 1961, in Brantford, Ontario, a legend was presented to the world. Walter Gretzky and Phyllis Leone gave birth to their first child, naming him Wayne.
The Gretzkys had a vision, moving into a house on Varadi Avenue in Brantford seven months after the birth of their son.
Their reasoning behind choosing this specific house? The yard was flat enough to build an ice rink in the winter. Walter and Phyllis had no idea at the time how precious this decision would be.
Wayne was a natural on the ice, learning to skate at just 2 years old, eventually joining an organized league with the older boys at the age of 6.
Gretzky dominated the competition as a kid to a degree few have ever seen, racking up an incredible 378 goals in his final season of peewee hockey.
As a teenager, he was known across Canada. The high-profile prospect was selected third in the 1977 Ontario Major Junior Hockey League Midget Draft by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
Gretzky continued to build his legacy at the 1978 World Junior Championships in Quebec, where he played for Canada and led the entire tournament in scoring.
After demonstrating his abilities in Quebec, Gretzky wanted to head straight to the NHL. Sadly, he was turned down due to age restrictions imposed by the league at the time.
Wayne chose to sign with the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association, a move that would prove fortunate for the young center. The Racers closed early in their season and his rights were sold to the Edmonton Oilers.
Gretzky made his NHL debut in 1979, immediately taking the league by storm. He scored 51 goals and 86 assists, becoming the first player to win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s MVP in his debut season.
It was just the start.
Gretzky quickly became legendary in Edmonton, leading the Oilers to four Stanley Cup victories (1984, 1985, 1987 and 1988) while breaking nearly every scoring record imaginable.
He has organized several seasons that other players could only dream of, but his best is widely regarded as the 1986 campaign, in which he scored 52 goals and had 163 assists, an NHL record.
An elite strategist, Gretzky implemented his own ideas into the Oilers’ game plans. The results were about as effective as one would expect from the league’s top player.
Between ’82 and ’85, Edmonton averaged 423 goals per season. So far, no team had crossed the 400-goal mark.
With these incredible accomplishments came endless praise. Gretzky was nicknamed “The Great”. The Government of Canada even issued an official Gretzky dollar coin in 1983.
What separated Gretzky from other superstars was the fact that despite the constant adoration he received from his fans, he remained notoriously humble.
For nine years Edmonton was a powerhouse with Gretzky in the lead, and his love for the city never wavered. Many expected him to stay with the Oilers for his entire career.
Unfortunately, nothing good can last.
In 1988, the hockey world was stunned when Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for a series of draft picks and players.
To date, the exact reasoning behind this trade has not been revealed. There are many theories, from those that believe the NHL forced him to move Gretzky to a larger market, to those that believe he forced the decision to pursue the acting career of his wife Janet Jones.
Either way, Gretzky’s fairytale run in Edmonton was over.
He played in Los Angeles for the next eight seasons, maintaining his title as the league’s top player. That being said, the Kings have never won a Stanley Cup in that streak.
Gretzky bounced back a bit, playing St. Louis for a year, then ending his New York career with the Rangers.
After 20 years, Gretzky had established himself as the greatest hockey player of all time. He holds or shares 61 NHL records, including most career goals (894), most career assists (1,963) and most career points (2,857).
Gretzky was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame the following year.
After his retirement, Gretzky was determined to accomplish something he never could as a player: international glory.
He took over the general management of Canada’s Olympic men’s hockey team, guiding them to their first gold medal in 50 years in 2002.
After a few years with the Phoenix Coyotes as owner / front office member, he quit the game for good. His level of dominance over two decades is something the NHL will never see again.
If there was one player who deserved the title of “The Great One”, it is Wayne Gretzky.