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.’
Most proud Ice Hockey fans know everything there is to know about Wayne Gretzky. But there is another member of the Gretzky family tree that deserves as much recognition. So keep reading to learn everything you need to know about ‘Walter Gretzky: the man behind a legend.‘
Walter Gretzky was the father of the Canadian ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky. Walter was a key player in Wayne’s success. The athlete credits his ‘hockey dad’ with pioneering several of the hockey drills. His father also developed coaching techniques that would later become industry standards.
Walter’s coaching style was dubbed ‘smart hockey’ by his son. Gretzky urged his son to work smart, not hard. Wayne often recalls his father’s advice. He asked Wayne to predict where the puck and players would go. He would also focus on where they already were to intercept them properly. This blend of psychology and strategy lead to Wayne’s massively successful career.
Gretzky pioneered ingenious strategies and playing techniques. But 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. The Russian team’s hockey drills were world-famous at the time. But when he saw the team in action, he scoffed. 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. He is also known for his dedication to helping many local and national charities.
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. 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 Wayne Gretzky. Walter always had high hopes for his son’s ice hockey prospects. 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 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, his peers report he was even better at the game of hockey. He was a talented scorer during his time playing for the Junior Woodstock Warriors. It was a B-Level league team.
Walter Gretzky was working his way up to try out for the National Hockey League. This is the same professional league his son would later go on to play for. Many believed he 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, he came down with chickenpox at the last moment, so he lost even more weight.
He scored as many goals in the tryout game as his fellow contestants. But 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 him 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. He suffered two significant injuries, which changed the course of his life forever.
Walter suffered his first injury when he was working for a telephone company. The company was named ‘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. It happened just five days after his 53rd birthday in 1991. Gretzky suffered a nearly fatal brain aneurysm, which destroyed his short-term memory permanently. In his book, Walter recounts his recovery from his brain aneurysm. He mentions that the only language he could speak was Ukrainian!
Toward the end of his life, Walter Gretzky spent his time helping charities and fundraisers. He also coached at his summer youth hockey camp in California. Some speculate that his near-death experience led him to be more charitable. But in reality, he was generous and kind-hearted long before his tragic ordeal.
Walter had 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 was compassionate by nature. He asked 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. Notable names were Brendan Shanahan and the Toronto Maple Leaf’s names. Other names include John Candy, Rob Lowe, Teri Garr, Alan Thicke, Jamie Farr, Bob Woods, Kevin Smith, and David Foster.
All the money from these events went to charity centers all over Canada. They helped visually impaired students collect funds and scholarships. It allows the students to improve their prospects for the future. At the first tournament alone, Walter Gretzky had raised enough money to award three scholarships. Later, he started awarding a whopping 15 scholarships annually. After eleven years of these tournaments, he had raised over three million dollars for underprivileged students across Canada!
Gretzky also held the SCORE program (Summer Computer Orientation Recreational Education). SCORE helps blind students learn computer skills. It gives them access to computer programs and internet applications. In the long run, it helps them find jobs. So far, SCORE has provided over 500 career opportunities for visually impaired students. Gretzky’s contributions have been integral to the program’s success.
Walter Gretzky was named to the Order of Canada on 28 December 2007. It is the second-highest honor for merit in the system of orders, decorations, and medals of Canada. He was awarded this esteemed order for his contributions to minor hockey in Canada. It was also addressed to his generosity toward countless local and national charities.
He 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.
Gretzky’s hometown, Brantford, Ontario, honored him by opening Walter Gretzky Elementary School in 2012.
Walter Gretzky has written two books to date. The book ‘On Family, Hockey and Healing‘ was first published in 2003. ‘Gretzky: From Backyard Rink to the Stanley Cup‘ was first published in 1985. The latter recounts his journey from early on to the Stanley Cup playoffs. The books have stories recounting how he recognized Wayne’s prodigious talents. He narrates how he shaped him into the best scorer in ice hockey history.
Death at 82:
On 4th March 2021, the disheartening news reached the world: Walter Gretzky dies at 82. Gretzky had suffered from a hip injury three weeks prior to his death. His family and friends paid their respects at his funeral at St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Brantford.
Lessons to be learned
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. But a lesser-known fact is that Walter Gretzky also has several nuggets of wisdom to share.
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. But he didn’t let all that experience go to waste. He continued to refine his skills. 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 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 are inspiring. 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!
Read more: https://icycanada.com/things-to-do-during-canada-winter-time/