The Complete World Hockey Association

Wayne Gretzky Wayne Douglas Gretzky

Height: 5-11
Weight: 165
Shoot: L
Born: 26 Jan 1961, Brantford ON


Regular Season & Playoff Scoring Record (key)

year team
1978-79 Indianapolis
Totals (2 teams)

• Winner, Lou Kaplan Trophy (Rookie of the Year), 1978-79.
• Member, Canada Olympic Team, 1998.
• Member, Hockey Hall of Fame


(left) Box summary of Gretzky's first two career goals; (right) Narrative of the game, and of a possible deal with Edmonton, October 1978.


Excerpts from Zander Hollander's Guide to Pro Hockey, 1978-79 (by Reyn Davis)

More highly-touted than any junior in Canada since Bobby Orr ... Signed a personal services contract by Nelson Skalbania for $1.75 million for 7 years ... Youngest player ever signed by the WHA, and most definitely against the wishes of the Canadian government ... Neither big nor especially fast but extremely handy with the puck ... Finished No. 2 in Ontario Major Junior Hockey League scoring derby with 70 goals and 112 assists for 182 points ... The puck seems to follow him.

(Narrative) Back in Sault Ste. Marie the sportswriters have a theory about Wayne Gretzky and his immediate future in pro hockey.

"He'll be eaten alive," they say, sounding a bit bitter that someone so young should be making so much money so soon.

Gretzky is only 17 and he's being cast to the Bilodeaus and Brackenburys and Troys and Semenkos who terrorize the meek. It's ludicrous that the WHA should jeopardize its stars this way, but that's the law of this frozen jungle.

Indianapolis fans will soon find out what Gretzky is all about, for his kind of talent is in stark contrast to what the Racers have had in the past.

... Gretzky is going to be a superstar unless he's spoiled young or scared silly. At 17, however, it's early to expect results. But his presence alone gives Indianapolis an exciting new dimension.


The Great Gretzky's WHA-NHL Saga (excerpt) • by Reyn Davis • Complete Handbook of Pro Hockey 1980, edited by Zander Hollander

...This splendid splinter of an athlete has all the markings of a superstar. "Watching him is surely like it must have been a long time ago watching a young Mozart tinker with the piano," said John Short, the Oilers' Director of Public Relations.

Gretzky reduced teammates to gawking spectators. But, graced with the greatest gift of all, he makes those around him better period. He uses people well.

"One of the biggest things about him is his intense desire to be one of the greats," said his coach, Glen Sather. "Nothing seems to bother him. At 18, he's already exceeded our wildest expectations."

Statistics support the story of the Great Gretzky. In 80 games in his rookie season, he compiled 46 goals and 64 assists for 110 points, finishing third in the World Hockey Association's individual scoring race, and led the Oilers to a long-awaited first place finish in the WHA's final year.

He was even more devastating in the playoffs, setting a WHA record for points in a seven-game series with eight goals and seven assists.

"He's one of those rare individuals who seems to improve with every game," said Tom McVie, the coach of the Winnipeg Jets. "You wonder when he's going to stop."

Gretzky was five years old when the people began to fuss over him. Even then, he was an All-Star among 10-year-olds. When he was ten, finally playing against boys his own age, he scored 378 goals in 68 games, and national magazines in Canada began to carry stories about the wunderkind from Bradford, Ontario.

The pros were watching him tear up the best of Junior League in Canada as a 16-year-old when he was signed to a personal services contract by Vancouver businessman Nelson Skalbania.

Pros and amateurs alike screamed blue murder. Politicians lamented the laws that allowed a rich man to buy a child prodigy.

It seems totally incongruous that Gretzky should leave the junior incubator to play professional hockey for a scheming businessman who owned a lackluster, notoriously weak WHA franchise called the Indianapolis Racers.

Skalbania imagined full houses watching his team with the brightest young star since Bobby Orr. But he might as well have had Joe Bisplick from Nome, Alaska. No one in Indianapolis had ever heard of Wayne Gretzky. The fans stayed away in droves as the Racers struggled out of the gate — and at it, too.

Eight games into his rookie season, Gretzky and two teammates, Peter Driscoll and goaltender Ed Mio, were sold to Peter Pocklington and the Edmonton Oilers for $850,000.

"I knew the trade would better me," said Gretzky, "it wasn't unwelcome."

Instantly, Gretzky was a hit in Edmonton. In his first game, he brought a big, inquisitive crowd to its feet as the spindly 17 year old, teetering on one leg to avoid a check, unleash a 40-foot shot that carried over the shoulder of the surprised Winnipeg goaltender, Joe Daley.

There would be more in the people could hardly wait.

"This place is insane," said Gretzky, the torch that set a city's hockey passions ablaze.

Opponents were suitably impressed too.

"Based on what I've seen so far, this kid has shown me he has all the necessary tools to be a true superstar," said John Ferguson, General Manager of the Jets. "I would compare him with Jean Beliveau. He's smooth, he has a great shot and he is a wizard when it comes to puck control."

When the WHA opted for a three-game series against a Russian club team in lieu of an All Star game, the league's best players were assembled in Edmonton in January 1979.

Gretzky, 17, was put on a line between 51-year-old Gordie Howe and his brilliant son, Mark. They dazzled Moscow Dynamo. Three great hockey minds met on the same wavelength. Their senses led them and the result was three classical performances.

Gretzky reminded Gordie of another kid who had turned pro as a 17-year-old.

"I broke in at that age," said the Great One, "and I was mostly worried about hanging on. I think you fight yourself a lot, which he isn't doing. It scares me how good he could become. I only hope nothing happens to him."

Tall, and light as a feather, with not a mean bone in his body, Gretzky raised fears in some quarters that he would be overmatched in pro hockey. "He's too young," they warned. "He'll be eating alive by those goons in the WHA. The kid could be ruined."

But he survived, looking better than ever.

"I don't feel I got a cheap shot all year," he said. "But I found out that when you get hit you get hit. It seemed the higher you are hockey the cleaner it gets. There is more hitting and less slashing and high-sticking than in junior.

He was involved in one fight with John C. Stewart, a rather polite center with the Birmingham Bulls. No damage was done.

Once, however, Gretzky was hit by a train called Gordie Roberts of the New England Whalers. He made the fatal mistake of lowering his head in full flight. Roberts hit him so hard there were groans on the Oilers bench.

Slowly he picked himself up and wobbled to the bench. But he was more mad than hurt, mad at himself for leaving himself so vulnerable. It was a sore lesson.

Fitting Gretzky with linemates was not a big problem, but the results were glistening when Glen Sather put his brilliant rookie between hard-working, close-checking Blair MacDonald and Brett Callaghan, a swift left-winger with a penchant for hitting and becoming involved.

"As they go, we go," said Sather.

Totally perplexed was the New England coach, Don Blackburn.

"That Gretzky," said Blackburn, "he's like a water bug. He slithers. He's so tough to hit. You can't let him inside your blue line because you can't hit him. He has a natural touch around the net. He can lay the puck on his teammates stick at different speeds. I hate to see how good he'll be in seven years."

The Trio Grande was ground to a halt in the Avco Cup finals against the Winnipeg Jets. But Gretzky seemed to have the puck all the time, with no one to pass it to. The Jets covered his wingers and kept him wide.

But it isn't enough to know that Gretzky likes to be able to trade give-and-go passes with his teammates, while he wriggles free. Ludicrous as it may seem, the time he spends without the puck is when he must be watched most carefully. However, knowing what he likes to do and stopping him can be a fitfully frustrating experience.

Veteran goaltender Dave Dryden has played against the best throughout his career, but he knows he's seeing a great one in Gretzky, his teenage teammate. "Can't really compare him to anyone," said Dryden. "He's totally unique. With his talent and with the personality he has shown us so far, the sky is the limit. I've seen a lot of guys with talent who never put it to use. But I'm convinced that this is one kid who has all sorts of talent who is going to put it to use."

This will be Gretzky's fifth year as a rookie (first in the National Hockey League) and, if he should win the Calder Trophy, it will become his fifth consecutive Rookie-of-the-Year award.

Gretzky was among the invited guests in the huge banquet hall of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal when the NHL held its glittering awards presentation ceremonies on June 12, 1979. Frank Mahovlich, the 1958 winner of the Calder, presented the trophy to the winner — Bobby Smith, the 6-foot-4 center of the Minnesota North Stars. Gretzky was a runaway winner of the WHA's rookie award, announced at the conclusion of the league's last season.

"Each year I've had to prove myself," he told Edmonton Journal columnist Terry Jones. "Each year they've told me the checking would be tighter, I'd get hit more and wouldn't score. Every year I've been told that I'm going to be run out of the rink. Next year I'll have to prove myself all over again."

Undoubtedly, there are some people in the NHL who still resent the fact that Edmonton has Gretzky, the kid they stole from hockey's cradle. But if there was one issue that could have blocked a merger, it would have been the NHL's insistence that Gretzky, like all the other first year pros, would have to be put up for the draft.

The NHL bent, largely due to the altered position of the Montreal Canadiens who, under tremendous public pressure, assumed the role of champions of expansion.

Now a new league awaits, anxious to welcome the most heralded young star since Guy Lafleur.

And the kid, who left home at 14 to play and live in Toronto and feel the majesty of Maple Leaf Gardens on a Saturday night, is excited about going to the 62-year-old league that has been the gnawing ambition of every Canadian youngster who cut his teeth on a hockey stick.

"It's always a thrill to play in the NHL for the first time, whether you are 18, 23 or 28," said the Great Gretzky.

But, rest assured, as thrilled as he is, the greatest thrills will be shared by those who watch him for the next 20 years.



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