by Joe Harris
Very few athletes ever rise above their sport, let alone transcend the whole sports world. When one of these special athletes comes along, fans flock to them, the media flock to them, and nobody ever seems to be able to let go.
Wayne Gretzky was one of these special athletes. He, like Michael Jordan in basketball, raised his sport to another level. Unfortunately, sports fans now have to say goodbye to Gretzky as they did to Jordan just three months before.
Dubbed "The Great One" at age nine, Gretzky burst on the scene as a 17-year-old phenom for the Edmonton Oilers. He scored 51 goals and recorded 86 assists in 80 games as a rookie, but the best was yet to come.
He would go on to lead the Oilers to four Stanley Cups, and he scored over 200 points in four out of five seasons from 1981-1986. During that span, he averaged over 207 points a season. No other player in the history of sports has put up those kinds of numbers, and no other player in NHL history has ever scored 200 points in a season. This would be like Jordan averaging over 50 points per game during a five-year span.
He was traded (sold) to the Los Angeles Kings prior to the 1988 season.
Gretzky brought hockey from the snow belt of Canada to the sun belt of the United States. His popularity made it possible for teams to be successful in markets such as Anaheim, Phoenix, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Miami, and Nashville.
Before Gretzky moved to Los Angeles, who would have ever thought of the possibility of a heated rivalry between Dallas and Phoenix?
In 1993, Gretzky guided the Kings to the Stanley Cup finals where they would lose to the Montreal Canadiens. Along the way, Gretzky played what is arguably his best game in the Western Conference finals against the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was game seven in a packed Maple Leaf Gardens, when Gretzky silenced the crowd with a hat trick and willed his Kings into the finals.
In 1997, Gretzky and Mark Messier (one of his old Edmonton teammates) led the Rangers into the Eastern Conference finals. It would be the last time Gretzky would see the playoffs.
Gretzky played in 1,485 regular season games. He scored 894 goals and recorded 1,962 assists. Not only does he hold the record for most goals ever scored in the NHL, he has more assists than any other player in the history of hockey has points.
Gretzky was also an exceptional playoff performer. In 208 playoff games he scored 122 goals and had 260 assists for 382 playoff points. Aside from the four Stanley Cup titles with Edmonton, Gretzky also won the Conn Smythe Trophy (Stanley Cup playoffs MVP) twice.
However, Gretzky is more than just a player who achieved greatness through awards and championships. Some of his records may never be broken, and the memories he has given a generation will never be forgotten.
No hockey fan will ever forget where they were when they saw him break Gordie Howe's goal scoring record or his unforgettable performance at this year's All-Star game when he took MVP honors.
In retirement Gretzky is more than just a superstar. He is Mr. Hockey.