It’s easy to assume that Wayne Gretzky, who turned 50 on Wednesday, was merely born lucky, with uncanny hand-eye coordination and an almost magical intuition on the ice.
His remarkable accomplishments are indeed a testament to the many natural gifts bestowed upon him.
But as anyone who has delved deeper into the legend of “The Great One” knows, his prodigious skills were also the result of countless, obsessive hours of practice on the world’s most famous backyard rink — nestled inconspicuously behind the Gretzky family’s modest Brantford, Ont. home.
On Wednesday, CityNews travelled to the storied residence, where Walter, who still lives there, gave reporter Francis D’Souza a trip down memory lane.
Each winter without fail Wayne’s now-famous father, Walter, flooded the yard.
“That’s how obsessed he was with the sport itself, he loved it. You didn’t have to say ‘Wayne go outside and practice,’ you had to say ‘get inside!” said Gretzky.
At the time it seemed like a simple Canadian tradition, but in the process, Wayne and his dad became Canadian icons.
During their chat, Walter beamed about his son’s accomplishments on and off the ice, and took us back to Wayne’s childhood, recalling his total dedication to practicing hockey, even putting his grandmother between the pipes to sharpen up his goal-scoring skills.
“His first goalie was grandma Gretzky. She would sit in her Lazy-Boy chair at the farm, and she’d have a little mini hockey stick and he’d fire these little pucks at her.”
“I’m 72 years old and I can’t believe they look up to him like that. I get the shivers, goosebumps. I’m so proud of that. It’s not so much what he accomplished that makes me proud but it’s the way he is, that’s what I’m proud about. He cares for everybody,” said Gretzky.
Walter answers viewers’ Twitter questions, and explains how he taught Wayne to, “skate where the puck’s going, not where it’s been.” He also relays the story of how Wayne ended up with number 99, and shows us Wayne’s childhood bedroom, which he shared with his brothers.
Click here to sign a birthday card for Gretzky at Rogers Sportsnet’s Facebook page.