Wayne Gretzky is The Great One, and his No. 99 is retired by the NHL. Gretzky broke almost every offensive record in the league, and many of them he still holds. Gretzky is the all-time leader in goals, assists, and points, and his legacy will live on forever.
Gretzky was special with the puck, and he always sparked some magic when on the ice. But he was special in other ways as well. Today, it’s not unusual for players to have high numbers.
Connor McDavid wears 97, for example, but when Gretzky started playing, having a number higher than 30 was really unusual and almost unheard of.
When Gretzky started playing hockey for the Soo Greyhounds in the OHL in the late 70s, he wanted No. 9. He had worn the number earlier in his career as a tribute to his idol Gordie Howe. But when he came to the Greyhounds, another player, Brian Gualazzi, already had that number.
”I got of to a really good start but I didn’t like my number. I think I was wearing No. 19 or No. 14,” Gretzky said on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast.
”I went into the coach and I said, ’Listen, can I switch my number?’ I got some guts because I was playing pretty good.”
The coach allowed him to change the number, but it wasn’t easy for Gretzky to decide.
”I said, ’No, no, no.’ He’s getting frustrated, because the number I wanted was number 16, but Arthur Rutland, who went on to play in Vancouver were 16 the year before, and I’m not going to take his number, nor did he want to give it up.”
The coach, Murray (Muzz) MacPherson, was getting increasingly annoyed.
”The coach said, ’Jesus Christ! Why don’t you just wear two nines?’ And I went, ’Okay.’ And that’s how it became 99.
”Everyone thinks it’s this mystery and it was just sort of, ’Well, why don’t you wear two nines?’”
It was a bold move for Gretzky to choose a high number.
”If you went to training camp and they gave you No. 42, you know you’re not staying on the team. We used to sit there and go, ’Just give me a number between 1 and 29.’”