Magazine article Newsweek

The Ice Man Goeth : Hockey's Hero, Wayne Gretzky, Skates Away

Magazine article Newsweek

The Ice Man Goeth : Hockey's Hero, Wayne Gretzky, Skates Away

Article excerpt

If hockey were remotely as popular in the United States as it is in Canada, Wayne Gretzky's retirement might have provoked the same national outpouring of grief that Michael Jordan's did. It didn't, but it's nonetheless arguable that Gretzky--not Jordan--was the most dominant individual in team sports since Babe Ruth. Gretzky's 10 scoring titles, 4 championships and 9 MVP awards at least rival Jordan's 10, 6 and 5. But having endured the worst season of his 20-year NHL career, in which he scored just nine goals and his New York Rangers missed the playoffs, Gretzky, 38, ignored all pleas last week--from the Canadian prime minister to raucous New York fans--for one more year. "My gut and my heart are telling me this is the right time," he said at a press conference Friday, sounding as if he had a puck stuck in his throat. "I have peace of mind. This is the right decision."

Gretzky departed the Madison Square Garden ice Sunday night with the awesome consolation of holding 61 separate NHL records. His 92 scores in the '81-'82 season broke the record by 16 goals; Mark McGwire would have had to hit four more homers last year to break baseball's home-run mark by as big a percentage. "[Gretzky] has accomplished so much in his glorious career," said Mario Lemieux, the only player of Gretzky's era ever to rate mention in the same breath. "And he is able to leave the game on his own terms."

For all the records, numbers do not adequately render Gretzky's story. Dubbed "The Great One" as a preteen phenom in Ontario, he was offered his first pro contract at the age of 16. …

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