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Prominent Poles

Wayne Douglas Gretzky, a retired Polish-Canadian professional ice hockey player; head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes of the National Hockey League (NHL); introduced to The Hall of Fame in 2000.

Photo of Wayne Gretzky, hockey player

Born:  January 26, 1961, Branford, Ontario, Canada

Summary. After his retirement in 1999, he was immediately inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, being the last player to have the waiting period waived. Gretzky was called "the greatest player of all time" in Total Hockey: The Official Encyclopedia of the NHL. He 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 coaches.

Early years. Gretzky's paternal Polish grandfather Antoni (Tony) Gretzky immigrated to Canada via the United States from Grodno Governorate (Russian partition of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, now Belarus), with his wife Maria of Podhajce (now Pidhaytsi, Ukraine). They owned a 25-acre vegetable farm in Canning, Ontario, Canada. Seven months after Wayne was born, his parents Walter and Phyllis and their children- Wayne, Kim, Keith, Glen, and Brent- moved to the farm. The farm was where Wayne ice skated for the first time, two months before his third birthday. 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. By the age of ten he had scored 378 goals and 120 assists in just 85 games with the Brantford Nadrofsky Steelers. His play now attracted media attention beyond his hometown of Brantford, including a profile in the Toronto Telegram in 1971. By age 13, he had scored over 1,000 goals. When he 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 honors in the Metro Junior B Hockey League in 1975�76. The following year he had 72 points in 32 games with the same team, then known as the Seneca Nationals. In addition, he signed with his first agent, Bob Behnke. 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. 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. At that time he surpassed the OMJHL single-season scoring record, winning the OMJHL Rookie of the Year and Most Sportsmanlike awards. He was selected to play for Canada at the 1978 World Junior Championships. The youngest player in the tournament, he finished as the top scorer, was voted to the All-Star team, and was named Best Forward.

World Hockey Association. In 1978 WHA Racers signed Gretzky to a seven-year personal services contract worth 1.75 million US dollars. Gretzky only played eight games for Indianapolis when he was offered a choice between Edmonton and Winnipeg. He picked Edmonton and was sold to the Edmonton Oilers for $700,000. In 1979 the owner of the Oilers, Pocklington, signed him to a 10-year personal services contract (the longest in hockey history) worth 3 million Canadian dollars, with options for 10 more years. He captured the Lou Kaplan Trophy as rookie of the year.

NHL career. The World Hockey Association folded in 1979. Gretzky's success in the WHA carried over into the NHL. Under normal circumstances, Gretzky would have been removed from the Oilers and placed in the pool for the NHL Entry Draft. The league decided to make an exception due to his importance to the success of the Oilers and the league at large.

Edmonton Oilers (1979�1988). In his first NHL season, 1979�80, Gretzky was awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy as the League's Most Valuable Player. In his second season, he won the Art Ross and won his second Hart Trophy. He ended the 1981�82 season with 212 points in 80 games, becoming the first and only player in NHL history to break the 200�point mark. He became the first hockey player and first Canadian to be named Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year. He was also named 1982 "Sportsman of the Year" by Sports Illustrated. By the time he finished playing in Edmonton, he held or shared 49 NHL records. Gretzky was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 1984 for outstanding contribution to the sport of hockey.

"The Trade." In 1988 the Oilers traded Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings. "The Trade", as it came to be known, upset Canadians to the extent that New Democratic Party House Leader demanded that the government block it. Gretzky himself was considered a "traitor" by some Canadians for turning his back on his adopted hometown, his home province, and his home country. After the 1988�89 season, a life-sized bronze statue of Gretzky was erected outside the Northlands Coliseum, holding the Stanley Cup over his head.

Los Angeles Kings (1988�1996). The Kings named Gretzky their captain. He led the Kings to a shocking upset of his old squad, the Oilers, spearheading the Kings' to win the series 4�3. In 1990, the Associated Press named him Male Athlete of the Decade. Gretzky was sidelined for much of the 1992�93 regular season with an upper back injury. In 1996, Gretzky joined the St. Louis Blues in a trade. He scored 37 points in 31 games. He then signed with the New York Rangers as a free agent, for a two-year $8 million contract. In 1997, prior to his retirement, The Hockey News named a committee of 50 hockey experts to select and rank the 50 greatest players in NHL history. The experts voted Gretzky number one. He participated in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. The 1998�99 season was his last. He reached one milestone in this last season, breaking the professional total goal-scoring record of 1,071.

Post-retirement. He was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2000. Edmonton honored Gretzky by renaming the highway that passes by the Oilers arena, Capilano Drive, one of Edmonton's busiest, to "Wayne Gretzky Drive" in October 1999. In 2002, the Kings erected a life-sized statue of Gretzky outside the Staples Center. His hometown of Brantford, Ontario, renamed Park Road to "Wayne Gretzky Parkway".

Phoenix Coyotes. In 2000, he agreed to buy a 10% stake in the Phoenix Coyotes. In 2005 Gretzky agreed to become the new coach of the Coyotes. In he agreed to a new five-year contract to remain as head coach. He remains a minority owner and managing partner.

Winter Olympics. Gretzky was Executive Director of the Canadian men's hockey team at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Canadian team won the gold medal, its first in 50 years. Gretzky again acted as Executive Director of Canada's men's hockey team at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. Gretzky also served as an ambassador and contributor in Vancouver winning the bidding process to host the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

Off the ice. Gretzky has made over 40 movie, network television and video appearances as himself, according to IMDB, as of May 1 2008.

Family. It was when Gretzky was celebrity judge on Dance Fever that he met his future wife, American actress Janet Jones. They were married in 1988. Gretzky obtained American citizenship, and has resided in the United States ever since. The Gretzkys have five children: Paulina, Ty Robert, Trevor Douglas , Tristan Wayne, and Emma Marie.

Business ventures. Forbes estimates that Gretzky earned US$93.8 million from 1990�98.

Gambling controversy. On February 7, 2006, Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet was charged for operating an illegal New Jersey-based gambling ring. Bets were allegedly taken from NHL players, Janet Gretzky and Coyotes GM Michael Barnett, who confirmed to police he placed a bet on Super Bowl XL with Tocchet. Tocchet brought an end to the case by pleading guilty to the gambling charges on May 2, 2007. Gretzky and Jones were never charged with any wrong-doing.

This article is an abbreviated version of the Wikipedia article "Wayne Gretzky" licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. :

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