Born in Brantford, Ont., on Jan. 26, 1961. Resident in Edmonton where, as centre and captain of the NHL’s Oilers, he is widely regarded as the world’s best hockey player.
In a decade when public heroes rise and fall under the pressures of popular acclaim, few have maintained supremacy in any field as completely as Wayne Gretzky has in hockey. From the time that he turned professional as a stripling of 17 in 1978—first with Indianapolis and then Edmonton in the World Hockey Association’s final season—Gretzky began to earn his popular alias, “The Great One.” He was the WHA’s rookie of the year that season with 46 goals and 64 assists. Every year since then, with the Edmonton Oilers in the National Hockey League, Gretzky has been voted the league’s most valuable player by sportswriters who cover the NHL’s 21 teams. He has scored goals and set up scoring plays at a more prolific rate than any other professional player, past or present—an average of 17 goals and 31 assists for every 20 games in his career to date. But even for the amazing Gretzky, 1987 stood out as special.
During the year, his 10th as a professional, Gretzky led the team he captains to its third Stanley Cup championship in four years. He amassed the league’s top combined total of goals and assists both in the 80-game regular season (183) and in 21 play-off games (34). Along the way he collected five personal awards. But what set the year apart were two exciting international tournaments. In February Gretzky led the NHL all-stars in a twogame split decision against the Soviet national team in Quebec City’s Rendez-Vous 87 festival. He was voted his team’s most valuable player. Then, last September, Gretzky captained Team Canada through the six-nation Canada Cup tournament to victory against the Soviet Union. Again he led in points, with three goals and 18 assists in nine games.. Many spectators rated the three play-off games against the Soviets the greatest hockey ever played.
In that unofficial world championship, in which all three play-off games ended in 6-5 scores—the first two in overtime—Gretzky’s playmaking was decisive. With less than 90 seconds left in the final game, the super centreman placed a pass onto the stick of teammate Mario Lemieux for the winning goal. “The Canada Cup was my greatest thrill,” says Gretzky. “I didn’t want to think about hockey after that Stanley Cup. I needed time to rest, to relax. But going to the rink for that last Russian game, I was wishing the series wasn’t over.”
It is his dedication that has carried Gretzky to supremacy in his field. He has remained pre-eminent not only by his grace on skates and his uncanny playmaking skill, but also because the multimillionaire star handles heroism, its rewards and its pressures with the same easy aplomb that he displays on the hockey rink. “Lots of times I wished I’d gone to university,” he says. “But I’ve lived a great life, been to lots of places, and I owe it all to hockey. You can’t have it all.” But if anyone can, the amazing Gretzky is a prime candidate to achieve it.
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