Tribute bonanza: Wayne Gretzky celebrates his 50th birthday

Tribute bonanza: Wayne Gretzky celebrates his 50th birthday

The Great One hit the big five-oh today, and news media across the country are rolling out their tributes to the kid from Brantford who became a hockey icon and a Canadian hero. The Globe has a touching walk down memory lane by long-time hockey writer Eric Duhatschek, and the Sun put together a slide show of 50 great Great One moments. But the best—or at least the most fun—comes from the Star, which ran a playful collection of 50 things not many people know about Sir Wayne. For instance, did you know his restaurant serves three styles of poutine (Canadian, American and Tex-Mex)? That he did a cameo on the Young and the Restless? That he’s an Aquarius? And the list goes on.

On the ice, everybody knows Gretzky was one of a kind. He turned pro at the tender age of 17, and the entire country watched him grow up. It also watched him win four Stanley Cups, score 50 goals in just 39 games and tally a prodigious 200 points in four different seasons, and he did so in an era when clutching and grabbing was still the norm. The area behind the opposing goalie’s net remains, to this day, Gretzky’s office.

According to all of these tributes, Wayne Gretzky was just as great off the ice as he was on it. He married Hollywood starlet Janet Jones, and together they raised five children.  He treated the fans well and the media, too (hence “tribute bonanza”). He never shirked his star. He was part of Canadian history and a contribution to our national fabric. Remember when his trade to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988 was raised in the House of Commons by NDP House Leader Nelson Riis, who compared his importance to the beaver and Pierre Berton before urging Brian Mulroney’s government to block the move.

As Dallas Stars assistant coach Charlie Huddy, who played 664 games with the Great One and even coached him for a stint in New York, told Duhatschek:

People always ask, ‘What kind of guy was he?’ Because people are always going to think there’s something not right about him. I say, ‘You know what? You’re never going to meet a better person than him.’ At the rink and in the room. I spent lots of time with him and played on every team with him. It was great when I went to New York, I was able to coach him there and give him a little bag skate a couple of times.

But he treated everybody so well. The fans. He’d take guys out for dinner, no matter who it was, young guys coming up. He was just a decent, decent person.

Sure, today’s coverage is hyperbolic and bloated. But the Great One is a legend. And that’s the kind of stuff legends are made of.

50 things you didn’t know about Wayne Gretzky [Toronto Star]
Still the Great One [Globe and Mail]
• Memories of my hockey hero [Globe and Mail]
• 99 turns 50 [Globe and Mail]
‘The Kid Next Door’ [Globe and Mail]
• 50 great Great One moments [Toronto Sun]
Happy 50th, dear Gretzky [Edmonton Journal]
• 2 of my favourite Wayne stories []
• The Great One on and off the ice []
• After 50 years, Gretzky’s name still resonates with us [TSN]
A witness to Greatness [Sportsnet]
• Gretzky at 50: Superstar’s maturity matched skill [USA Today]
• The Great One of the game turns 50 [Vancouver Province]
• The Great One at 50: Wayne Gretzky reflects on career, future in NHL [ESPN]