- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
It has been that way pretty much for Gretzky since he was five. That year he made the Brantford, Ontario novice all-star team, a squad usually made up of 10-and 11-year-olds. That led to an interview with the local television station at age six, a Toronto Globe and Mail feature at eight, a film clip on national television at nine. His career as a media darling was rolling. At 11 he scored 378 goals in 68 games, including three in 45 seconds in the third period of a game in which Brantford trailed 3-0. The legend grew, far faster than the boy.
After being the third player selected in the midget draft held by the OHA last spring, Gretzky was expected to need time to adjust to the rougher, faster pace of the mother lode of North American hockey. He didn't. He scored a hat trick in his first game with Sault Ste. Marie, and has been at the top of the OHA scoring race ever since. In his first 48 games Gretzky had 54 goals and 87 assists for 141 points. He already has shattered the rookie record of 137 points in a season (68 games) and may well break the OHA record of 170 points now held by Mike Kaszycki of the New York Islanders.
From the day Walter Gretzky strapped skates on his 2�-year-old son Wayne and shoved him onto the flooded backyard rink, a comeuppance just hasn't been in the cards.
Harry Wolfe is the voice of the Soo Greyhounds. He shouts at his microphone with such vengeance that his broadcasts can be comfortably listened to while, say, running a bath. "In 25 years in this business," says Harry in a quieter moment, "I have never seen a kid capture the imagination of the Canadian public like Wayne Gretzky."
Harry knows all about capturing imaginations. Ask him to rate Gretzky, and he's apt to tell you that the kid is the best Junior hockey player since Harvey Keck. That's K-E-C-K, and no immigration guy fouled the name up—he's part Indian. Plays for the Mekitina Purple Raiders. A professional scout once heard Harry talking about Harvey Keck and went so far as to get directions to Mekitina, which requires a dogsled and a clear night even in summer. A compass won't work that far north.
Keck's only weakness is that he's fictitious. "Hardest shot in hockey, and so fast he can play tennis with himself," says Wolfe. Harry has been threatening to show Keck to his listeners for the past quarter century. "Looks like it's time to bring up Harvey Keck," he will say on the air whenever the Soo Greyhounds are floundering, a pretty regular occurrence in the six years they've been a major Junior A franchise. When Harry gets into a town, the first question he asks the bus driver is: "Harvey Keck still playing as well as he used to?" Most of them will nod and point to the sign that reads PLEASE DON'T TALK TO THE DRIVER. One, however, recently startled Harry by informing him that Keck had broken his leg and was out for the year.
"The sad thing about all of this," Harry says, "is that night after night it becomes the Wayne Gretzky Show. The team's taken a backseat."
Although the Greyhounds were in the cellar, they trailed fifth-place Sudbury by just a point as they began their recent swing through Ottawa, Peterborough and Hamilton. But they were beaten 9-5, 8-5 and 9-3 on consecutive nights, extending their losing streak to six and making their playoff prospects dimmer. One would never know it to see the press flock into the dressing room after the games.
"It's embarrassing to the other guys," says Angelo Bumbacco, the Soo's general manager, pointing to the crowd of reporters around his star. "We've got to put a stop to this. Let him hold a press conference in another room."
Gretzky is a natural showman. When his favorite number—9—was not available this season, he ended up wearing 99. "I tried 14 and 19 at first, but the l's didn't feel quite right on my back," Gretzky says. "The 99 was Muzz' idea."