12 Facts About Hockey Legend Wayne Gretzky

Most people, young and old, know the name Wayne Gretzky despite the fact that he hasn't played a professional game for nearly 25 years. There's a reason Gretzky is known as "The Great One." He played hockey for 20 seasons and either created or smashed a number of records, including career points and goals scored. Many of his records haven't even been closely beaten, proving that his skills on the ice were unrivaled. Gretzky's career was quite magical, and his accomplishments were extraordinary. If you ask most people to name famous hockey players, Gretzky is likely the first to leave their lips.

Gretzky played his final NHL game on April 18, 1999. Considering he was number 99 on the ice, it was a fitting year for him to retire. Hockey is not as popular as football — an average of 17.1 million people tuned in to NFL games in 2021 versus 2.43 million viewers for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Yet, even those who aren't fans of hockey know there's a bit of reverence when Gretzky is part of the conversation, because he was just that good. You may know some stats about Wayne Gretzky, but there are some facts about the world's greatest hockey player that you may not be familiar with. 

Wayne Gretzky showed grit (and talent) at just 6 years old

Like many phenoms, Wayne Gretzky showed gumption at a young age. He was just six years old when he started playing ice hockey in his family's yard in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, on a rink that his father had created, according to Oilers Nation. And his talent was large for such a young boy. The grade schooler practiced frequently and worked on perfecting his skill set. He was so good at hockey, that he far exceeded the skills of other players in his age range. There was such a discrepancy in skill levels that people thought it was unfair when Gretzky played with kids his age.

As a result, Gretzky started competing against older children. When he was six years old, he played against 10-year-old boys. Before long, his skills outmatched theirs. When he was a Pee Wee player for the Brantford Steelers, Gretzky scored a staggering 378 goals. He earned the nickname "White Tornado," and every season, he went to the next level. He made playing the game look easy when he was just a little boy. But that little boy would grow up and make a huge impression.

He controversially signed a pro contract at age 17

Wayne Gretzky moved to Toronto in 1975 when he was 14 years old and played for the Metro Toronto Junior "B" League. Over the course of 28 games, he scored 60 points, according to Oilers Nation. During the 1977-78 season, he joined the OHA (now known as the OHL), where he was the second-highest scorer behind a 19-year-old named Bobby Smith. Due to his age, he wasn't eligible for the NHL draft for an additional three years, even though he was ready to play at a more advanced level. So, what do you do when you have a talented player who's stuck at the amateur level? 

Enter the World Hockey Association (WHA). In 1978, Gretzky signed a $1.75 million contract with Nelson Skalbania of the Indianapolis Racers. The decision was controversial because many objected to young players signing with professional leagues. Montreal Canadiens scouting director Del Wilson reportedly stated, "This is a complete disaster. He's a great hockey player, but he's not ready for the pros. He'll be playing against guys 30 years and older." Gretzky played his first season in Edmonton, and it proved that he was ready to take on that level of competition. He also backed it up with some serious skills.

Wayne Gretzky won MVP eight times in a row

Wayne Gretzky is known for making and breaking records. One of these is winning the Hart Trophy a whopping nine times. The Hart Memorial Trophy is the NHL's Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. Members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association from NHL cities choose the recipient at the end of the regular season, according to Pro Stock Hockey. The tradition started in 1924 and is named after Montreal physician David Hart, whose son Cecil Hart was the coach of the Montreal Canadiens for nearly a decade. 

Gretzky won the trophy a staggering eight consecutive times from 1980-81 until 1986-87. Before winning it again in the 1988-89 season, he was displaced by another hockey phenom, Mario Lemieux. Only a few other athletes have won the Hart Trophy multiple times, but they haven't come close to Gretzky's number: Gordie Howe (six), Eddie Shore (four), Howie Morenz, Bobby Orr, Bobby Clark, Mario Lemieux and Alexander Ovechkin (three), and Nels Stewart, Bill Cowley, Jean Beliveau, Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Phil Esposito, Guy Lafleur, Mark Messier, Dominik Hasek and Sidney Crosby (two).

He is known as The Great One

Wayne Gretzy deservedly earned the nickname "The Great One" because many considered him to be the GOAT (greatest of all time) when it came to hockey. One of his closest competitors for the title was Gordie Howe, a.k.a. Mr. Hockey, another hockey great from a different era. Gretzky complimented Howe after the athlete's death during a 2016 appearance on Conan. Gretzky gushed: "He was a really special man, and he was the greatest hockey player who ever lived, and he happened to be the nicest man." Like Howe, Gretzky, who was a powerhouse on the ice, did not have an ego when he was off of it. He was congenial and well-liked by his contemporaries.

According to Bleacher Report, Gretzky had humility and was very reserved and respectful of previous NFL players, such as Howe. His combined skills and easy-going manner outside of the sport earned him the "The Great One" label. Even those who were unfamiliar with hockey knew who Gretzky was. He was so popular that replica No. 99 Edmonton Oilers jerseys were sold in the United States before that type of merchandise was widely available. In addition, fans could purchase Wayne Gretzky dolls, and Canada produced a coin, which was legal tender, with his likeness on it.

Wayne Gretzky was shockingly traded to Los Angeles in 1988

By the age of 27, Wayne Gretzky had helped the Edmonton Oilers win four Stanley Cup championships over five seasons. He was the most well-known player in the league, and he was clearly superior to many of his colleagues. Gretzky was also regularly smashing records every season. So, it was shocking when he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988. While he had recently married an American woman, Gretzky claimed he wasn't the one behind the trade and preferred to retire in Canada, reports Bleacher Report.

However, the Edmonton Oilers owner at the time, Peter Pocklington, claimed Gretzky did, in fact, push for the trade. When Gretzky turned 31, he would be subjected to the free agency clause, so if he was traded earlier than that, at least the Oilers would get something out of the deal. But there's more — at the time of the trade, Pocklington was coping with some financial problems, so he may have released Gretzky in order to dig himself out of the hole. Pocklington eventually sold the team in 1998, filed bankruptcy a decade later, and was arrested by the FBI for fraud in 2009. Gretzky was traded for $15 million ($18.5 million in Canadian dollars) alongside defenseman Marty McSorley and center Mike Krushelnyski, according to the NHL.

He won the Art Ross Memorial Trophy 10 times

Wayne Gretzky scored a lot of points and was awarded for his efforts. He was the first person to average over two points per game, a feat he began in the 1980-81 season. The following season, he scored a record 92 goals, 120 assists, and 212 total points. He beat his own records in the 1985-86 season with 163 assists and 215 total points, according to Britannica. So, it's no surprise that he was awarded the Art Ross Trophy, which is presented "to the player who leads the NHL in scoring points at the end of the regular season," according to NHL

Gretzky won the trophy a total of 10 times, including seven consecutively. He was given the award from the 1980-81 season through the 1986-87 season, as well as the 1989-90, 1990-91, and 1993-94 seasons. Other players who won the award multiple times include Gordie Howe and Mario Lemieux, who each won it six times.

Wayne Gretzky's record for most career points hasn't been beaten

Some people believe that no one will ever surpass Wayne Gretzky's career points record. The athlete has more assists than others have points, and is the number-one goal scorer of all time, according to The Hockey News. His total career points? 2,857. That's over 900 than the second-place holder, Jaromir Jagr, who has 1,921 under his belt. It's also nearly more than 1,000 more than third-place player Mark Messier (1,887). Both of these men are retired players.

As for those who are still active, Gretzky is over 1,300 points ahead of Joe Thornton and almost 1,600 points over Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. How did Gretzky achieve this feat? He scored 200 points four times in four separate seasons. He's the only NHL star to do this. He scored 100 or more points in 15 seasons, 13 of which were his first seasons in the NHL. Mario Lemieux came close (sort of) with 10 seasons where he scored 100 or more points. Gretzky was the highest-scoring player in the 1980s and 1990s. As a result, it seems very unlikely that anyone will dethrone him when it comes to career points. 

He scored a record 50 goals in 39 games

On Dec. 30, 1981, Wayne Gretzky smashed the record for the 50 fastest goals. Several days earlier, the Oiler scored four goals against the Los Angeles Kings.  At that point, Gretzky had achieved 45 goals in 38 games. Then his team faced the Philadelphia Flyers at their home stadium in Edmonton. He was on track to beat Maurice Richard's and Mike Bossy's record of 50 goals in 50 games, according to the NHL. Not only did Gretzky shatter their record, he decimated it.

Gretzky made five goals in the game (helping the Oilers clinch a 7-5 victory), reaching the 50-goal benchmark. He scored two goals in the first period, one goal in the second, and a fourth goal at the beginning of the third period. At that point, the Oilers led 6-3. Halfway through the third period, the Flyers scored two goals, and in order to add more points as time was running out, they removed Pete Peeters from the goalie position in order to add another skater to the ice to increase the chances of scoring. However, that empty net enabled Gretzky to score his fifth goal of the game, helping him reach his 50 fastest goal attempt. At the end of the season, he scored 92 goals, a record that still hasn't been beaten.

60 is an important number from Wayne Gretzky's career

Wayne Gretzky's hockey career was remarkable, and one thing that played a significant role throughout his two-decade stint in the NFL was the number 60. First, he scored 60 hat tricks — 10 in the playoffs and 50 in the regular season — according to TSN. This is defined as scoring three goals in one game. In addition, between March 13, 1983, and Jan. 27, 1984, Gretzky scored a point in 60 consecutive games (he made 70 goals, 111 assists, and 181 total points). Nine of these games occurred in the 1982-83 season, and 51 occurred in the 1983-84 season, the NFL's longest official point streak.

The number 60 also comes into play when it comes to the number of assists in a season (32 games in 1985-86) and the fewest games to 60 goals in a season (49 games in 1981-82). Not related to the number 60 but still interesting is that on Gretzky's birthday, January 26, he experienced some good luck early on in his career. On that day in 1985 and 1991, he recorded hat tricks at the age of 24 and 30.

His stint as a coach following his retirement didn't go too well

You may have heard the old adage: "Those who can't, teach." But what about those who CAN? Wayne Gretzky's storied career made him one of the world's most famous athletes, so who wouldn't want him as their coach? He retired in 1999 after scoring 2,857 points and 894 goals. Surely, he could teach others how to do the same (or at least strive to)? In 2000, he became a minority owner of the Phoenix Coyotes. Five years later, he was the head coach. And, no, it didn't go well, according to Britannica.

The team had a difficult time with Gretzky in charge. In 2009, he lost his ownership stake after the Coyotes filed for bankruptcy. The NHL bought the team, and Gretzky resigned. It appears like his skills on the ice weren't easily transferable to the players under his wing. In 2016, he returned to his roots. Gretzky became a partner and vice chairman of the Oilers, a stint that lasted until 2021. He then took a gig as a TV analyst.

Wayne Gretzky has been with his wife for over 30 years and has 5 kids

Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988, shortly after getting married to American actress Janet Jones. He later joined the St. Louis Blues before retiring with the New York Rangers, according to Gretzky.com. He and his wife have five children together: daughters Paulina and Emma and sons Ty, Trevor, and Tristan. Paulina is a fairly famous model and actress, who is married to a pro golfer, Dustin Johnson, and Trevor plays baseball. None of Wayne's children picked up his hockey torch.

When Wayne and Janet tied the knot, it was a big deal, so much so that it was compared to a royal wedding. Janet got some pushback for what people interpreted as her tempting Wayne away from Canada. During an interview with CBS Sunday Morning in 2021, Janet said about their relationship: "They also said our marriage wouldn't work, and here we are, 33 years later." She added that people were a bit rude about their relationship, but Wayne kept her by his side throughout his career. 

Trevor said one of the best pieces of advice his father gave him and his siblings while growing up was to love what you do: "He taught us, is if you love something, and you work hard, good things are going to pay off. So, that's all that matters."

No other NHL player will ever wear his number

You know you've made it when an athletic association retires your number. It's a practice that's reserved for only the best of the best. On Oct. 1, 1999, the Oilers raised Wayne Gretzky's number, 99, to the rafters during the season opener against the New York Rangers. Family, former teammates, former coach Glen Sather, and 17,000 fans were there for the event, which produced a five-minute standing ovation, according to the NHL.

Gretzky was a big fan of Gordie Howe, whose number was 9. In 2016, Gretzky expressed a desire to get Howe's number retired league-wide. He told ESPN: "I'm pretty biased. If I had my way, I would do it. But that's for the league." He added that Howe was a special athlete who deserved such an honor. Howe was very important to hockey and promoted and supported it in a way that Gretzky believed deserved special recognition. "The Great One" may have broken more records than others in the game, but has always supported those who blazed the trail before him.