When I was a young man, I’d go to Oilers games with buddies or my wife and watch from the bleeders. Some think it’s a horrible place to watch the game but for me it was an education because of Wayne Gretzky. I’ve said this before, but the beauty of his game was knowing where the open spaces were and who could get there. Many of his passes looked seeing-eye or lucky, but he had this way of sending the puck to places where Kurri or some other player happened to be heading. I often wonder if he had set plays or they just got used to 99 making the “unheard of” play.
These were not low percentage passes, in fact just a few years before Gretzky’s arrival there was a tandem (Bobby Clarke and Reggie Leach) who played the game in similar fashion. But they did run counter to the coverage rules of the game and since offense always has the advantage because they know the play, all Sather had to do is find people smart enough to suss out what Gretzky was doing.
He was a beauty and it was a privilege to watch him play. Old guys like me are prone to sweeping statements like “we’ll not see his equal” but in a very narrow view (extreme offensive player who lets the puck do the work and the opposition strangle itself) it isn’t possible to see another one. Guys like Crosby and Ovechkin drive the play, attack the zone, rifle the puck. With Gretzky the opponent bled out and always seemed to be looking the wrong way.
One of the galling things about hockey is we don’t elevate these great men with nicknames and glorious stories. I know some 99 stories just from hanging around this town (the elevator story is my favorite) but we don’t tell them because the legend must be protected. It’s a shame, the best stories are usually about the human side of great players but no one has written down the hockey stories.
Baseball nicknames are so much better than hockey nicknames. Hammer, Catfish, the Babe, Georgia Peach, Fordham Flash, Big Train, Stan the Man, Fat Elvis, Little All Right, Rock. They’re beautiful nicknames, almost poetry.
What are Gretzky’s nicknames? 99, Gretz, The Great One, Brinks. Did you SEE him? That’s bloody horrible. If there’s one thing I’d love to see accomplished in my lifetime, it’s getting better nicknames in hockey. Smitty. Bucky. MacT. For Christ sakes, hockey isn’t filled with morons. There ARE people who can put two words together. Why does it have to be so pedestrian? Smitty is the nickname for 40% of the National Hockey League.
Here are my top 10 Wayne Gretzky nicknames. Feel free to add your own:
- What’s the Use
- Why Bother
- The Lip
- Death to Goalies
- Counter Trey