Facebook Twitter

THE GREAT GRETZKY NAMED AP’S MALE ATHLETE OF DECADE
MONTANA A DISTANT 2ND IN VOTING; MAGIC 3RD; LEWIS 4TH

SHARE THE GREAT GRETZKY NAMED AP’S MALE ATHLETE OF DECADE
MONTANA A DISTANT 2ND IN VOTING; MAGIC 3RD; LEWIS 4TH

On one of their goodwill tours of Canada a couple of years ago, Soviet hockey officials were ushered into a Hall of Fame exhibit at Quebec City.

As they moved through the displays of hockey memorabilia, the Soviets were suitably impressed. Then they got to the case holding Wayne Gretzky's first pair of skates, a spartan set of kid's skates with a small boot, a strap over the top and wide blades. There, they became mesmerized."The expression on their faces was one of wonder," Scotty Morrison, president of the Hall of Fame, said. "They seemed amazed that these simple skates could have belonged to Gretzky. They looked at them as if they expected to find tiny rockets on the backs of them."

They did not, of course. Gretzky supplies his own propulsion.

His accomplishments are not built on speed, size or brawn. Other players are faster, bigger and stronger. Gretzky thrives instead from a sort of sixth sense about the game, an innate intelligence about where to be, when to be there and what to do when he gets there. He is a Rembrandt on skates, an artist excelling at a most demanding craft.

Even on the other side of the hockey world, Gretzky is the best known player in his sport, a man who dominated the game from the moment he first stepped on the ice. He is honored now as The Associated Press Male Athlete of the Decade.

Gretzky received 307 votes in balloting by a panel of sports writers and broadcasters to far outdistance quarterback Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers, who had 85. Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers was third with 59, followed by Carl Lewis (12), Nolan Ryan (11), Larry Bird (5), Bo Jackson (4), and Walter Payton (3).

There were some doubts about Gretzky when he first arrived in pro hockey, a callow teen-ager from Brantford, Ontario, equipped with a fistful of press clippings from a brilliant junior hockey career. He was just 17, a lanky kid, thrust into the final season of the World Hockey Association, playing against men twice his age.

Gretzky played just eight games with an expiring Indianapolis franchise before he was shipped to Edmonton for some much-needed capital. He finished the season with 46 goals and 110 points and the next season the Oilers and their heralded teen-age star were admitted to the NHL.

Gretzky had an assist in his first NHL game and a goal in his third. By age 20, he had broken the NHL single-season scoring record. He's been scoring in bunches ever since and, as the decade ends, he holds or shares 10 career, 15 playoff and 20 regular-season records.

And he's not callow anymore.

How good is Gretzky?

Well, there is the matter of hat-tricks, scoring three goals in a game. Marcel Dionne, who retired this season after 18 years in the league, had 25 of them. Gretzky in his first 10 seasons had 32, as well as nine four-goal games and four five-goal games.

That's how good.

Perhaps Gretzky's most cherished record came in the first days of the current season when he passed Gordie Howe to become, at age 28, the highest scorer in NHL history. Howe had scored 1,850 points in 26 seasons and 1,767 games. Gretzky passed him in his 11th season and 780th game.

Consider that. The highest scorer in history. More points than any other player in the history of the game. More than legends such as Rocket Richard and Bobby Hull. More than Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito. More than anybody.

Gretzky starred for 10 years in Edmonton before being traded to Los Angeles before the 1988 season. The move south hardly disturbed his production. He led the league in assists for 10th consecutive year and won his ninth MVP trophy.

He is the only player in history to score 200 points in a season, a plateau he has reached four times. He set the record for goals with 92 in 1981-82, and then set the record for assists with 163 in 1985-86.