Too Small, Too Slow for Hockey
Early on, Wayne Gretzky got used to being smaller than the other hockey players. By the time he was six, he was competing against ten-year-old players. When he was sixteen, he became the youngest player to compete in the World Junior Championships. Not only did he complete with the other eighteen- to twenty-year-old players, he bested them by finishing as the top scorer. He was voted to the tournament’s All-Star team and was honored as the best forward. But when National Hockey League (NHL) scouts looked at him all they could see was Gretzky’s size. Hockey players needed to be big—at least six feet tall and two hundred pounds. This teen was only 5’11” tall and barely weighed in at 165. One scout wrote that he “won’t survive the rough play” and another deemed him “too small, too slow” to play for the NHL.
But then, that was not news to the player, he would be the first to admit that he is not the strongest, largest, or fastest hockey player. And if the NHL did not want him, Gretzky would be more than happy to play for the World Hockey Association (WHA), which is exactly what he did when he was seventeen. In 1978, he was awarded the honor of WHA rookie of the year. It would be his only year with the WHA, which folded the next year. Gretkzy’s team was incorporated into the NHL, and again the critics resurfaced to proclaim that Gretzky would soon crumble under the steep competition.
But he had an advantage. Having always been smaller and slower than his competitors, he had learned to develop his own style with the use of his eyes, his brain, and his father’s advice to “skate where the puck is going, not to where it has been.” In his first NHL season, Gretzky was awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy, which is given to the League’s Most Valuable Player; tied for the scoring lead with 137 points, a record for the most points scored by a first-year player; and was award the Lady Byng Trophy for being the league’s most sportsmanlike player. He won the Hart Memorial Trophy the next seven years in a row. He also won the Art Ross trophy, an annual award given to the player who leads the League in scoring points at the end of the regular season, a record ten times. In fact, by the time he retired, he held sixty-one NHL records that included a record 694 career goals and 1963 career assists.