He was, his well-known son would usually say, the true Nice One. And when you ever had the nice fortune to satisfy Walter Gretzky, and so lots of you could have, you knew precisely why. What made Walter Gretzky so nice wasn’t that he produced and nurtured the best participant who has ever performed the sport. It was how he made folks round him really feel. He was hockey royalty, Bell Canada’s most well-known worker, and will very nicely have gotten all uppity about his standing within the sport and the nation. However, with out fail, he made each particular person really feel as if she or he was the one particular person within the room, usually when that very same room was crammed with hundreds of individuals. Simply check out how the tributes are pouring in for him within the hours after his loss of life on the age of 82.
The temptation is to discuss with Walter Gretzky as Canada’s hockey dad, however that may be egocentric. He was the world’s hockey dad. And despite the fact that most of us can’t fake to know him intimately, all of us mourn his loss of life as if he have been one of many household. And in some methods have been part of that household. There are legions of tales of standard people who would flip up unannounced at 42 Varadi Ave., in Brantford, Ont., the place a smiling Walter would take them on a tour of the basement that held lots of his son’s a whole bunch of trophies and a few of his memorabilia. And he would invariably take folks out to the yard to take a look at the hallowed floor the place Wayne took his first skate strides on the outside rink, nicknamed the Wally Coliseum, constructed by his father and the place the 2 of them would do numerous drills to take advantage of his expertise and make him a famous person. There’s an in-ground swimming pool there now, a present from son to father for all these nights he spent with a garden sprinkler constructing the rink.
In so some ways, Walter Gretzky walked the stroll. He usually advised Wayne when each of them have been a lot youthful that his sublimely gifted son had an obligation to play each sport with the identical stage of effort as a result of he would by no means know if there was some little one there watching his first NHL sport or an grownup spending his hard-earned cash on the one big-league sport he would see that season. And Walter saved that in thoughts when he encountered folks, greeting them with a heat handshake, a glance within the eye and a real curiosity in them.
As Wayne’s recognition grew within the hockey world, so did his father’s, to the purpose the place they have been nearly parallel. After recovering from a stroke in 1991 that nearly killed Walter and robbed him of his short-term reminiscence, that standing grew much more. That doesn’t occur by chance. First, your son needs to be extraordinarily gifted. And second, it’s important to be extraordinarily humble. It was that mixture, with Walter simply as huge part of the primary because the second, that made the connection so particular. There needs to be a motive why the youthful Gretzky was so down-to-earth, so accessible and so giving of his time. These with greater than a contact of jingoism will declare it’s a Canadian factor. However these types of traits begin at house with the individuals who elevate you, no matter the place they’re situated on a map.
“For me, he was the explanation I fell in love with the sport of hockey,” Wayne mentioned in a public assertion Thursday night time. “He impressed me to be the most effective I may very well be not simply within the sport of hockey, however in life.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman praised Walter by saying his affect on the sport was profound. “Instructing the sport to his youngsters on the famed yard rink he in-built his beloved hometown of Brantford, Ontario, Walter instilled in them not solely an unusual understanding of hockey’s essence, however a love and respect for the sport that has turn out to be synonymous with the title Gretzky,” Bettman wrote, “all whereas guaranteeing that the sport was enjoyable to play.”
What number of fathers world wide ended up constructing yard rinks as a result of that’s what Walter did? What number of of these rinks ended up producing NHL gamers or, for that matter, younger ladies who ended up enjoying for his or her international locations? However much more importantly, what number of of these fathers (and moms) nurtured their relationships with their youngsters with that rink the way in which Walter and Phyllis Gretzky did with their 5 youngsters? Walter was the final word hockey father or mother, guiding his youngsters with out being pushy or overbearing. Telling his son to, “go the place the puck goes, not the place it’s been,” has been one of the vital essential items of recommendation any participant has ever obtained.
Wayne Gretzky has usually mentioned the whole lot he has he owes to hockey. And to his father. Walter was equally happy with all 5 of his youngsters. The truth that one in every of them was in a position to make it to the highest of his career didn’t make Wayne any extra particular in his father’s eyes. It simply made him extra well-known. And as Wayne has additionally usually mentioned, he’s the one who receives the accolades, however the one who really deserves the credit score is his father.
Walter Gretzky won’t ever be forgotten.