Bur­nish­ing the leg­end

This year’s oblig­a­tory Gret­zky bio cov­ers fa­mil­iar ice-re­lated ter­ri­tory

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Alan Small

WCould there be some­one more Cana­dian? He learned to play hockey on his dad’s back­yard rink, took the world by storm with his oth­er­worldly tal­ents on the ice and was the epit­ome of Cana­dian aw-shucks po­lite­ness off the ice. He even es­corted the Queen to cen­tre ice for a cer­e­mo­nial face­off. If only he could bleed maple syrup. So it’s no sur­prise that just like Bob Dy­lan, Tiger Woods and the Kennedys, there must be fresh bios of Gret­zky on our na­tion’s book­shelves, whether the world needs one or not. This year it’s 99: His Game, His Story, writ­ten by re­cently re­tired Toronto sports­writer Al Stra­chan. On the cover it says it’s “as­sisted by Wayne Gret­zky” — a neat pun, but 99’s literary as­sists are nowhere near as pro­lific or as artis­tic as the ones he earned in the NHL. They mostly serve to bur­nish his al­ready sig­nif­i­cant leg­end. Gret­zky, now 52 and no longer coach­ing the Phoenix Coy­otes, is too po­lite to take too many shots at those who mis­treated him, whether they were mi­nor hockey or­ga­niz­ers when he was young, hockey team own­ers who re­sented his money-mak­ing prow­ess or even Marc Craw­ford, the Olympic team coach who didn’t choose him for a fate­ful shootout that cost Canada a shot at gold at the 1998 Games in Nagano, Ja­pan. Those who saw the bit­ter dis­ap­point­ment on Gret­zky’s face af­ter Canada’s de­feat to Do­minik Hasek and the Czech Repub­lic know there’s a side to the story that has yet to be told. Per­haps the Brant­ford, Ont., na­tive is just too mag­nan­i­mous to throw one of his coaches un­der the bus. Through­out the book, Stra­chan tells how Gret­zky al­ways fol­lowed what the coach said, whether it was fa­mous coaches like Glen Sather or Mike Keenan or for­get­table ones like Rob­bie Ftorek. It’s al­most an ax­iom he has lived by, and there’s no ar­gu­ing with the suc­cess it has brought. Stra­chan de­liv­ers a few griev­ances on be­half of his sub­ject, but mostly re­it­er­ates that Gret­zky was too classy to get in­volved in petty dis­putes and had few re­grets in a life so far that would be a dream come true for vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one. Fans of No. 99 know that the ma­jor parts of Gret­zky’s hockey ca­reer have been dis­cussed ex­ten­sively in other bi­ogra­phies. Peter Gzowski cov­ered his rise to su­per­star­dom in The Game of Our Lives (1981) and Stephen Brunt delved into the seami­ness of the fa­mous trade from the Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers to the Los An­ge­les Kings in 2009’s AYNE Gret­zky has been part of Canada’s con­scious­ness al­most since he laced up his first pair of skates as a tod­dler. Gret­zky’s Tears. Gret­zky him­self has teamed up with another sports­writer, Jim Tay­lor, for an au­tho­rized pic­to­rial bi­og­ra­phy that came out in 1994, be­fore he even re­tired from the game. Delv­ing for new ma­te­rial, Stra­chan fo­cuses on Gret­zky’s in­ter­na­tional ca­reer, and goes into some de­tail into the 1987 Canada Cup, (re­mem­ber Gret­zky set­ting up Mario Lemieux for the win­ner?) and when 99 was the GM for Canada’s gold-medal win­ning team in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. They’re nice re­minders of two of Canada’s fa­mous hockey tri­umphs, but fans will find few new nuggets they didn’t al­ready know. Stra­chan scores a few goals on the page by go­ing to a few of Gret­zky’s ri­vals and col­leagues for some in­ter­est­ing per­spec­tives on the Great One. Some of the best rec­ol­lec­tions come from for­mer NHL jour­ney­man Steve Ludzik, who was picked to check Gret­zky when they were kids and later would be cho­sen to check Gret­zky when Ludzik played for Chicago. Per­haps this will be the last of the Gret­zky bi­ogra­phies for a while, at least un­til the Great One de­cides to let us be­hind his ve­neer of su­per­star­dom and sta­tis­tics and learn more about Wayne Gret­zky, the per­son. Alan Small is the Arts and Life ed­i­tor of the Winnipeg Free Press and

grew up near Ed­mon­ton, watch­ing the Oil­ers in their hey­day.

CANA­DIAN PRESS

The Great One To Be in 1972 (above), and as the Stan­ley Cup cham­pion with the Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers in 1984.

99 Gret­zky: His Game,

His Story By Al Stra­chan, as­sisted by Wayne

Gret­zky McClel­land & Stewart, 336 pages, $33

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