The Gretzky name is instantly recognizable to ice hockey buffs everywhere. It is a name associated with the NHL’s most excellent Ice Hockey Player of all time. Wayne Gretzky held over 61 NHL records at the time of his retirement, earning him the title of ‘The Great One.’
While most proud Ice Hockey fans know everything there is to know about Wayne Gretzky; there is another member of the Gretzky family tree that deserves just as much recognition. So keep reading to learn everything you need to know about ‘Walter Gretzky: the man behind a legend.‘
Who Is Walter Gretzky:
Walter Gretzky is the father of the Canadian ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky. Walter was a key player in Wayne’s success. The athlete credits his father with pioneering several of the hockey drills and coaching techniques that would later become industry standards.
Walter Gretzky’s coaching style was dubbed ‘smart hockey’ by his son. Gretzky urged his son to work smart, not hard. Wayne often recalls his father telling him to predict where the puck and players would go and where they already were to intercept them properly. This blend of psychology and strategy lead to Wayne’s massively successful career.
Walter Gretzky pioneered ingenious strategies and playing techniques, and yet he remains largely unknown amongst the ice hockey community. Most fans still only know him as the father of the celebrated player, Wayne Gretzky. This is a frankly diminishing view of Walter’s extraordinary contributions to the sport. His son Wayne often tells the press the story of when he first met the Russian team; Wayne says that the Russian team’s hockey drills were world-famous at the time, but when he saw the team in action, he scoffed because his father had been teaching him those drills since he was just three years old!
Today he is best known for his contributions to minor Canadian hockey leagues and his dedication to helping many local and national charities.
The Life Of Walter Gretzky:
Walter Gretzky was born on the eighth of October, 1938, on his parent’s cucumber farm in Canning, Ontario. It was in this quaint little town that Walter met his future wife, aged just 18. Phyllis Hockin was only 15 years old at the time Walter met her at the town’s hot dog roast. Nevertheless, by 1960 they were married, and almost one year later, they would have their first son – the talented Wayne Gretzky.
The Gretzky family moved to Brantford seven months after the birth of their son, Wayne Gretzky. Walter always had high hopes for his son’s ice hockey prospects as he reportedly chose the house because the yard was flat enough to be able to make an ice rink every winter! Wayne’s career was mapped out for him reasonably early on, it seems.
The couple would later have a daughter, Kim, and three more sons, Keith, Glen, and Brent.
Walter Gretzky And Sport:
Walter Gretzky was said to have been an excellent athlete in his high school days. He set school records in the running, pole vault, and long jump. However, peers of Gretzky report he was even better at hockey. Walter Gretzky was a talented scorer during his time playing for the Junior Woodstock Warriors (a B-Level league team).
Walter Gretzky was working his way up to try out for the National Hockey League (The professional league his son would later go on to play for). Many believed Walter Gretzky was talented enough to play for the NHL, but his size was an unfortunate obstacle in Gretzky’s career. A 5-foot-9 inch, 140 lbs athlete simply didn’t seem promising enough for a major ice hockey league! He tried out for a great team at the Junior A level, but alas, Walter Gretzky came down with chickenpox at the last moment, so he lost even more weight.
Although he scored just as many goals in the tryout game as his fellow contestants, he was still judged to be too small for the NHL. He did, however, return to play with the Woodstock team.
Perhaps it was his experience with the NHL and B League teams that allowed Walter Gretzky to be such a phenomenal coach to his eldest son. Either way, the story of a man having his dreams fulfilled by his son is genuinely heartwarming.
Walter Gretzky’s Near-Death Experience:
Regrettably, the tale of Walter Gretzky isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Walter Gretzky suffered two significant injuries, which changed the course of his life forever.
The first injury took place when Walter was an installer and repairman for the telephone company ‘Bell Canada’ ( a company he worked at for 34 years, retiring in 1991). The ‘work-related’ injury occurred in 1961 when he was merely 23 years of age. The tragedy left him in a coma and resulted in deafness in his right ear.
The second scrape with death was even more agonizing as it happened just five days after his 53rd birthday in 1991. Walter Gretzky suffered a nearly fatal brain aneurysm, which destroyed his short-term memory permanently. In his book, Walter recounts that during his recovery from his brain aneurysm, the only language he could speak was Ukrainian.
His suffering was documented in the movie ‘Waking Up Wally: The Walter Gretzky Story.’
Walter Gretzky Now:
Today, Walter Gretzky spends his time helping charities and fundraisers and coaching at his summer youth hockey camp in California. Some speculate that his near-death experience leads him to be more charitable, but in reality, Walter Gretzky was generous and kind-hearted long before his tragic ordeal.
Walter has been working for the CNIB (formerly the Canadian National Institute for the Blind) for a significant amount of time. Wayne Gretzky’s entire family is now associated with the CNIB in some way or another.
Walter Gretzky’s support of the CNIB started when Walter’s son, Wayne Gretzky, was 19 years old. One day, two blind boys started talking to Wayne, and one recognized him just by his voice! Wayne’s compassionate nature compelled him to ask his father to set up a golf tournament to raise cash for the CNIB.
These tournaments soon gained fame and attracted many notable NHL players and celebrities like Brendan Shanahan and the Toronto Maple Leafs names. Some Celebrities who have been seen at these tournaments include John Candy, Rob Lowe, Teri Garr, Alan Thicke, Jamie Farr, Bob Woods, Kevin Smith, and David Foster.
All the money from these events goes to charity centers all over Canada to help visually impaired students collect funds and scholarships to allow them to improve their prospects for the future. At the first tournament alone, Walter Gretzky had raised enough money to award three scholarships. Now he awards a whopping 15 scholarships annually. After eleven years of these tournaments, Walter Gretzky has raised over three million dollars for underprivileged students across Canada!
Another fundraiser that Walter Gretzky holds is the SCORE program (Summer Computer Orientation Recreational Education). SCORE helps blind students learn computer skills that significantly increase blind student’s access to computer programs and internet applications and improves their employability in the long run. So far, SCORE has provided over 500 career opportunities for visually impaired students, and Walter Gretzky’s contributions have been integral to the program’s success.
Walter Gretzky’s Other Achievements:
Walter Gretzky was named to the Order of Canada (the second-highest honor for merit in the system of orders, decorations, and medals of Canada) on 28 December 2007. He was awarded this esteemed order for his contributions to minor hockey in Canada, as well as his dedication to helping countless local and national charities.
Walter Gretzky also had the chance to carry the Olympic Torch during the 2010 Olympic Relay, hours before the Opening Ceremonies in Vancouver, British Columbia. The moment was made exceptionally beautiful by his son, Wayne Gretzky, lighting the Olympic Flame.
Walter Gretzky’s home town, Brantford, Ontario, honored him by opening Walter Gretzky Elementary School in 2012.
Walter Gretzky has written two books to date. The books were titled ‘On Family, Hockey and Healing’ (first published in 2003), and ‘Gretzky: From Backyard Rink to the Stanley Cup’ (first published in 1985). The books are mainly comprised of stories recounting how Walter Gretzky recognized Wayne’s prodigious talents and shaped him into the best scorer in ice hockey history.
What Can We Learn From Walter Gretzky?
Wayne Gretzky is known for his profound sporting and lifestyle advice. His quote ‘ you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take’ is a mantra repeated by people all around the world. What you may not have known is that Walter Gretzky’s story also has several nuggets of wisdom hidden within it.
Walter Gretzky tried out for the NHL and failed due to factors outside his control. An average person would have given up and resented the universe for crushing their hopes and dreams. Walter Gretzky, on the other hand, didn’t let all that experience go to waste. He continued to refine his skills, and when his son was born, he turned him into the greatest ice hockey player the world has ever known! His hand in Wayne’s career is why he became the assistant coach for the University of Pittsburgh.
Looking at Walter Gretzky’s story, we can see that helping others is the best thing you can do for yourself! Walter’s bouts of charity work after his near-fatal injury tell us that ensuring someone else’s welfare will assist in your healing – physically and spiritually! We could all learn from his generosity and selflessness.
Wayne Gretzky himself insists that his career would not have been possible without his father’s expert coaching. So whenever you ice hockey fans reminisce on Wayne Gretzky and his legacy, remember that Walter Gretzky is the real man behind this legend’s career!