Wayne and Me

11

While you are all busy tearing your hair out over the current state of the Rangers, I figured tonight’s meeting with the Wayne Gretzky Coyotes was a fitting time to share something I wrote upon the Great One’s retirement.

The piece actually ran on the day of Gretzky’s last game, back when I was still covering high school hockey. As it happened, earlier that week, my sports editor asked if I wanted to go to the Garden to write a sidebar on the event, but because I had already planned a trip to Vegas with my buddies, I couldn’t go.

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It’s always something I’ve regretted, not only because I think I lost about $900 in blackjack that weekend, but because it probably would have been the coolest thing I ever covered (as it is now, a couple of British Opens hold that distinction).

Still, I’m glad I at least got a chance to write this. Bear in mind I was a younger writer then, so it’s pretty schmaltzy, over-sentimental stuff. But it still holds true.

Hope you like it:

A REAL BRUSH WITH GREATNESS

Now that Wayne Gretzky is retiring, I suppose I can get on with my career. It was an issue for a while. Sports writers are not in the business of having heroes. That was my problem with Gretzky.

It was something that took root long before I had written anything of significance, when I was far more interested in playing hockey than writing about it. I was a center; Gretzky was the best the game had ever seen. Eventually, a religion was born. Pictures went up on my bedroom wall: Gretzky camped out behind the net; Gretzky hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head; Gretzky tangling the legs of another defenseman.

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Even now, a few years out of my parents’ house, the pictures are still there, attached to the walls by worn pieces of Scotch tape. The other day my mom said she’s thinking about painting the room, that the pictures, much like Gretzky, will have to move on. I suppose it’s only fitting.

The similarities between us are few. I too am 170 pounds after a good meal, not much to look at if you are a coach or an opposing player or anyone who knows skinny, slow guys don’t pose much of a threat on the ice. But history has shown Gretzky was the exception to almost every rule, that one especially. He saw everything before it happened. He’d bank the puck off the back of the net, shift to a side, then send it to a cutting forward. I’d try the same move and find myself pinned to the glass, cursing the man who made it look so simple.

Not that it stopped me. I’ve played hockey every winter since I was 3 years old and, if I’m lucky, will continue until I’m too old to tie my own skates. Most of that time will be spent trying to reach an unreachable standard, tucking my jersey into the side of my pants, carrying the puck into the zone then wheeling around to feed a streaking defenseman. Of course, there are reasons I am a writer and no longer a competitive player, and one is that, for me, the above is much easier said than done.

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Funny, but Gretzky’s arrival in New York coincided with my start at this paper. Because I’m little more than a cub reporter, our paths didn’t cross much. I covered a couple of Rangers games, a few more practices. When Gretzky spoke, I was part of a cluster of reporters around him, never saying anything, rarely looking up from my notebook.

There was one time that we exchanged words. It was in a tight passageway in the bowels of the Garden. He was walking toward me. I was nervous. Gretzky smiled. I smiled. Then we spoke. It’s been over a year, and I still remember the exact words.

“Excuse me,” he said.

“Sorry,” I said, letting him go by.

It’s too bad I didn’t say more. I guess I thought he’d be around a little longer, that the time would come when I’d be able to write a long feature about him. He and I would sit down by his locker, two hockey players talking hockey. Maybe I’d get around to telling him about the pictures – how just like my dad’s boyhood hero was Jackie Robinson, he was mine.

But that would be crossing the line as a journalist, I know. At some point, the boy has to become the reporter. With Gretzky, I’m glad it was a point I never had to reach.

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11 Comments

  1. This is absolutely rediculous. What youth movement are we watching, NONE..
    Pock never plays, Rosival and Malik are softer then cotton and make mistake after mistake and are rewarded.. Rachunek is terrible, you tell me you can’t get Baranka into the lineup.. I used to question Kaspar, but after seeing how the team collapsed without his physical element at the end of last year, he is an anchor we need. He taught Tyutin his only asset that I have seen this year, the hip check..
    It should look like:
    Tyutin-Kaspar
    A. Ward-Ozo
    Baranka-Pock
    -this would look more like a rebuild.. here we would have offense and defensive accountability on each pair..

    As far as the forwards go, Hossa, please…… Why must Dawes sit, he actually has a goal on the year.. Orr, puleeeez, he never see enough ice time.. Where is the rebuild??
    Straka-Nylander-Jagr(only Straka knows how to play defense)
    Shanahan-Betts-Cullen(Betts is underrated)
    Prucha-J. Ward-Hall(ward and prucha are misused and hall is way to soft, and misused)
    Hossa-Hollweg-Orr(they are going to get no ice time and waste all of Hollywoods potential)
    I likely speak for most Ranger fans when I say we would like to have heart and hustle and that last years Rangers were so good because of the 3rd and 4th lines and that us what was broken up this offseason..
    If that is the case:
    -bring up a center such as Immonen or Dubinsky to fortify the 3/4th lines and inject some youth like a Jessimen(he has size and grit)…. Make a statement. Maybe Montoya should come up.. What we are watching is the 97-2004 style of managment with sitting on veterans..
    WE DON’T WANT iT ANYMORE…

  2. Nice piece on Gretz, Sam. Thanks for sharing that. I for one will try that bank-off-the-goal move tonight during my hockey game, just for the occasion.

    Your blog is a wonderful read and way to follow the NYR.

  3. How in hell is Betts underrated?

    I miss those behind the net passes that Gretzky used to do. Hope he badly outcoaches Renney tonight.

  4. Sam,

    When people(on the internet) ask me who I think the greatest hockey player in the world is, I always answer with this…

    Stats and Facts
    Gretzky is the youngest player to score 50 goals.
    Marcel Dionne’s best single season point total in his career was 137 points. Gretzky matched that in his first year. In fact, Gretzky didn’t have fewer than 137 points in a season until over 10 years later in 1991-92 when he had 121.
    He was not considered a rookie in his first year, but he still holds the record for most points (137) in a season by a first-year player (second is Teemu Selänne with 132) and most assists (86). He also has the most points (8) and assists (7) in one game by a first-year player.
    Bobby Orr is one of the greatest players in NHL history. In Gretzky’s second season, he broke Orr’s record for most assists in one season (102) with 109. Gretzky did not have fewer than 102 assists until the 1991-92 season.
    In his second season, he broke the NHL record for most points (152) held by superstar Phil Esposito with 164. In doing so, he also became the first player to average more than two points a game in the modern NHL. Mario Lemieux is the only other player in the NHL to do that.
    In his third season, Gretzky did what many thought was impossible. First, he scored 50 goals in 39 games. Next, he broke Esposito’s record for most goals in a season (76). Then, he hit the 200-point plateau. He finished the season setting new records with 212 points, 92 goals, and 120 assists.
    After scoring 212 points the year before, he had what many people called a “disappointing” season in 1982-83 with only 196 points. Even though he had a “disappointing” season, he still set a new record for assists with 125.
    Gretzky is the only player to reach 200 points in a season. He did it four times in 5 years between 1981-82 and 1985-86.
    In 1983-84, Gretzky set a record with a 51-game point scoring streak. During that streak, he had 61 goals and 92 assists for 153 points. That is exactly three points a game, which is amazing considering that he had a separated shoulder for much of that streak. After that streak ended, he took 6 games off to rest his shoulder.
    Gretzky has scored the magical 50 goals in 50 games or less three times in his career, more than anyone else. Brett Hull did it twice.
    Considering that only one player besides Gretzky has ever averaged two points a game in a season, what he did in 1985-86 is truly astounding. He averaged over 2 assists a game that season. He had 163 assists in 80 games and still managed to score 52 goals.
    In 1989, he broke Gordie Howe’s record for most points in a career. It took Howe 26 years to get 1850 points. It took Gretzky only 10. Gretzky averaged over 180 points a season for those 10 years. His average was better than anyone else’s best (except for Mario Lemieux, who achieved over 180 points once in his career).
    Only two players besides Gretzky have ever had 100 assists in an NHL season. Mario Lemieux did it once with 114. Bobby Orr also did it once with 102. Gretzky did it 11 times consecutively. During that streak, his best season (1985-86) he had 163 assists and his worst season (1989-90) he had 102. He holds the top eight spots in the record books for most assists in a season.
    He had 1669 points in 696 games while playing in Edmonton.
    Wayne Gretzky scored more goals than anyone else in hockey history. Ignoring all of Gretzky’s goals, however, he still would have won the Art Ross Trophy for leading scorer four times and still would have more career points than anyone else. His 1963 career assists are more than Gordie Howe’s 1850 and Mark Messier’s 1887 points.
    Gretzky played a total of 1788 professional regular season and playoff games in the NHL and WHA, amassing 1072 goals and 2297 assists for a total of 3369 points. Gordie Howe is second in all three categories with 1071 goals, 1518 assists, and 2589 points.

    Awards
    He won nine Hart Trophies, the NHL’s most valuable player award, and eight of these were awarded in consecutive years from 1980-1987. In fact, Gretzky holds the record for most MVP awards of any player in American professional sports.

    Hart Memorial Trophy (most valuable player) -1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1989
    Art Ross Trophy (scoring champion) -1981, 1982 ,1983 ,1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1991, 1994
    Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff most valuable player) – 1985, 1988
    Lester B. Pearson Award (outstanding player, voted by the players) -1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987
    Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (most gentlemanly player) -1980, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1999
    NHL Plus/Minus Award (best plus-minus rating) -1982, 1984, 1985, 1987
    Chrysler-Dodge/NHL Performer of the Year -1985, 1986, 1987
    Lester Patrick Trophy (outstanding service to hockey in the United States) -1994
    NHL All-Star Game MVP-1983, 1989, 1999
    NHL First All-Star Team-1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1991
    NHL Second All-Star Team-1980, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1994, 1997, 1998

  5. Good write up, Sam.

    Good stats reply, “Spock” haha

    Anyways, Gretzky will always be the best in my book because he beat the game with his mind and smarts. He never took it for granted either as he always wanted to make himself better.

    Mario was the most physically gifted ever born, but did not have the commitment Wayne had and it showed at times. At the end of his career, Wayne even said that he wished he had the skills Mario had- which speaks volumes considering how much Gretzky accomplished.

    I think Orr changed the on ice game the most with his innovative style for a defensemen, but I still have to hold Gretzky above him.

  6. Didn’t Mario have serious health problems? I hear Wayne say that if Mario was healthy he might have scored more points than Gretzky. And I think he would as well.

  7. Dont make me hurt you Bauer :P

    Btw, as u know i left that place, if you still need tutoring you can email me. Ask michelle or tommy or spzito for the address.

  8. I have been very critical of the Rangers MAIN role players this year by comparing them to last years role players.
    MOH was light years better than any line combo put out this year to do the same job. Who are the players being used this year to do that job? Holliweg,Hall,Betts,Ward,Hossa,Dawes..in different combinations.

    None of them work so far. The line that serves the same purpose as the HMO line is responsible for grinding down the opposition night after night. Softening up the defense so to say. After they are done, The elite players are suppoed to have a marginally easier time at beating those same opposition players to lose pucks and find it easier to score a few goals. This years combinatios have not worked so far. Hossa looks and plays big on one shift then diisapears for the next three most nights. Ditto Hall,J.Ward,Orr. Dawes doesn’t belong period in my opinion, on a grind line. Holliweg does his job. Ortmyer is missed big time. Moore had a role thats all. He plays it well this year in Pit. and he did last year as a Ranger. That role is what benefits Malkin and Crosby today. But no longer for the Rangers.

  9. There’s something to be concerned about when your 2nd line center has scored a pathetic 11 points (9 goals, 2 assists) in 75 games during his Rangers career. This team right now is just pathetic.

    Please Feaster/Holland I’m begging you to make Lecavalier/Datsyuk available!

  10. Watching the Sabres/Thrashers game… and while the Sabres aren’t playing their best. The one remarkable thing about them is simple. They go to the net incredibly hard, with tons of speed and authority, putting tremendous pressure on opposing D and goalies. Rebounds, deflections, screens, a lot of loose pucks and chances. That, and they are plastering Holik every chance they get. As the game goes on, their style really wears down opponents. The Sabres achilles heal is their D. They are susceptible.

    Watching this game and several others besides the Rangers, it is clear that the new rules make D’s around the league look pretty bad. Way too many penalties on top of that.

    The main ingredients that win games… speed, grit and downlow cycling. Cutting down turnovers. Stellar goaltending. It’s almost as if there aren’t defenseman in the game anymore, but midfielders. Teams have to play as units of 5, good two-way hockey from the forwards.

    I would offer that the Rangers D could be younger… that guys like Malik and Kaspar, if they cannot pick up the pace at which they are playing, are obsolete. That being said, the forwards have got to bare responsibility for leaving the d out to dry time and time again. And for not finishing their checks.

  11. there are 5 weak teams in the west. Phoenix, LA, Chi., Colum., and St.Lou

    Phoenix is just atrocious. they are probably the slowest team I’ve seen in a long time.they make the Rangers look speedy.

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