this Boy Wonder thing under control," says Bumbacco, the man who selected
Gretzky in the midget draft, even after receiving a letter from Walter Gretzky,
an employee of Bell Telephone in Brantford, in which he said he wouldn't let
his son play that far from home. "I told Mr. Gretzky we were running a
business, and if Wayne was available, we'd take him. Then I had to fly to
Brantford and convince him to come."
He did so, but
not without the help of Jim and Sylvia Bodner, friends of the Gretzkys from
Brantford who had moved to the Soo four years before. "I called up Mr.
Gretzky," says Mrs. Bodner, "and it was such a relief to him that Wayne
could live with people that he knew. Wayne's father wants so much to be a part
of everything that Wayne's going through, and he can't. I know it's hard for
For a general
manager, Bumbacco is not a dollars-and-cents type. However, as he says, "In
dollars and cents, I'd say without Gretzky we'd be averaging 1,100 to 1,200
people per game. With him, we're averaging 2,500."
Bumbacco has been
managing one team or another in Sault Ste. Marie for more than 30 years.
Seventy of the players who grew up under him have gone on to college on
scholarships, and 14 have ended up in professional hockey, among them Chico and
Wayne Maki, Lou Nanne, Ivan Boldirev and—the local legends—Tony and Phil
me the same thing about Phil that they tell me about Gretzky: 'He can't skate,'
" says Bumbacco. " 'Sure,' I tell them, 'You're absolutely right. He
can't skate a lick. All he can do is score goals.' "
Gumee—Lake Superior—is an eerie white wasteland in winter. Freighters like the
Edmund Fitzgerald, loaded with ore from the Algoma Steel plant, crunch through
the channel cut out of the ice in Whitefish Bay. The city of 80,000 is as flat
as the frozen waterways around it, and its rows of Monopoly-board houses are
broken up only by the billowing smokestacks of the mill and Abitibi Pulp and
Paper. It is here that the waters of Lake Superior, boiling into rapids, start
their journey to the Atlantic.
Sault Ste. Marie's first legend, back when the Ojibway nation called that
stretch of the river "Pauwating." He wasn't much for hockey, but some
of Longfellow's descriptions make Hiawatha sound like something of a cross
between Gretzky and Harvey Keck.
Out of childhood
Now had grown Hiawatha...
Learned in all the lore of old men,
In all youthful sports and pastimes...
He could shoot an arrow from him,
And run forward with such fleetness,
That the arrow fell behind him!
Sam Turco is at
the Sault Memorial Gardens the night Gretzky's Greyhounds, as the Sault Ste.
Marie team has been dubbed, try to break a seven-game winless streak in a game
against Peterborough. He sits in the same seat he has occupied for 30 years,
right behind the visitor's bench. Sam came over from Italy in 1912 and worked
25 years at Algoma Steel before he lost his leg to a hangnail that led to
gangrene and forced him to start driving a cab.
Sam's got a
handshake that Gordie Howe will be hardpressed to match at 72. "Ain't
afraid of man nor devil," he says with a quick, hollow rap on his wooden
leg. Another night Sam glowers down at Hamilton Coach Bert Templeton. "Cut
out that cheap stuff, Bert!" Sam threatens. Rap, rap. "The one hit is
fine, but that second shot's cheap stuff!"