Monday, February 24, 2014

Crafted in Great Haste

When you hear the word icing, do you think of cakes instead of pucks? You do? You’ve probably still heard of Wayne Gretzky.

Are you unfamiliar with “playoff beards” and their symbolic manifestation of a team’s hirsute of postseason success? You are? You’ve probably still heard of Gretzky.

Do you think a “change on the fly” and “the crease” are sartorial in nature? You do? You’ve probably still heard of Gretzky.

It’s no surprise. His name, though a tad unusual, is synonymous with hockey and known worldwide. He’s arguably the greatest NHL player who ever lived. If your nickname is “The Great One,” you likely won four Stanley Cup championships or own more single-season and career records than you can shake a hockey stick at or moved from Edmonton to Los Angeles in 1988, sparking a resurgence in the game’s popularity in the United States. Gretzky did all those things — and more.

Photo by Jim McIsaac / Getty Images
NHL players must be three years removed from retirement to be eligible for the Hall of Fame. Not Gretzky, who was blessed with intelligence, creativity, improvisation, judgment and impeccable, impossible-to-define “hockey instincts.” Number 99 had the waiting period waived and was inducted in ‘99, the year he retired.

Yet early in his penultimate season, Gretzky’s name failed to register with one uniform supplier, and Oct. 30, 1997, would turn out to be a “red letter” date in hockey history. Gretzky was playing for the New York Rangers in a game against the New York Islanders, and the fifth and sixth letters in his surname grated those who care about “The Great One” — and those who care about accuracy.

His isn’t the easiest name to spell, but Gretzky was a veteran at this point, already having laid claim to “Great(est) One” status. He was a household name, playing for a marquee team, in one of the world’s largest media markets.

The Rangers lost that early-season contest against their in-state rivals by two, and Gretzky failed to score a goal. So did Gretkzy.

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