Growing up in Canada, hockey is part of who we are and there’s no greater Ambassador to the game than Wayne Gretzky. While many of us grew up watching the Edmonton Oilers dominate and Gretzky setting numerous scoring records, another generation will be aware of his prolific records, but see him as a coach developing the new stars of today. While the young and talented Phoenix Coyotes embark on a four game road trip that begins in Raleigh, NC, I had a chance to speak with Gretzky about the past success of the Oiler’s, a new era of teams, Kevin Lowe and the growth of hockey in the South.
The Edmonton Oilers won four Stanley Cup’s with Gretzky in the 80’s and have six Hockey Hall of Famer’s which include Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey and newly inducted Glenn Anderson. When asked if that type of team success is possible in the future, Gretzky replied” Oh sure they’ll be another team like that! Pittsburgh is well on their way and Detroit is close to it or already there. There are always eras where people come along and good things happen and people say wow that team is good or that player is good, so it’s positive for the game.”
“Looking back on it and we had tremendous players and we’re very proud that guys are in the Hall of Fame, whether it’s myself, Messier, Kurri, Coffey, Anderson, Fuhr we all felt a part of that. We’d like to see Kevin Lowe get in, we believe he deserves to be in,” Gretzky stated. “He’s won six championships and statically he might not be up there with the Bobby Orr’s or the Paul Coffey’s of the world, but what he brought to the team and what the Hall of Fame stands for success, winning and championships, I’d really like to see him be a part of that history.”
While being a strong part of hockey history in Canada, Gretzky has also played a significant role in the U.S. that has contributed to fan development as well as growth in youth hockey.Canadians will never forget August 9th, 1988, the day Gretzky was traded to the LA Kings. A day that was sad for many Canadians, proved to be a celebration for hockey in California. In his 20 years living in the U.S. as a player and a coach, he was asked if the fan base has been growing in markets like L.A. or Phoenix. “Sure, but I see more than just that, he replied. Where I really notice it is youth hockey. Twenty years ago if you put 15 kids together in Phoenix at any age, they would get destroyed by any team in Canada. Today, I can put together 15 year old kids who can compete with the best Detroit teams, the best Toronto teams, the best Edmonton teams. So youth hockey has come so far in Anaheim, LA, Phoenix, that’s where I really notice the big difference. You’ll see more kids playing Junior hockey, college hockey and eventually make the NHL from places like Florida, Texas, California and Carolina.”
Today, whether you live in Canada or the U.S., Gretzky’s impact on the game can be felt and appreciated.