The gift book of the year for hockey fans: Roy MacGregor has been called ""the best hockey writer in the country,"" and we finally have a collection of his very best hockey writing, revised and updated. For nearly 40 years Roy MacGregor has brought hockey, our national sport, alive on the page. From tales of the game's greats (Guy Lafleur, Jean Beliveau, Marcel Dionne) to today's stars (Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Daniel and Henrik Sedin), his magazine and newspaper coverage has revealed so much about these and so many other personalities, in moments of promise, victory and defeat. While many of these stories play out on the ice, some of the most compelling take place on the home front (Mario Lemieux's battle against cancer, the many tribulations of Bob Gainey), and MacGregor's prose shines especially when focused on the human side of a sport defined by superhuman feats of speed, aggression and power. Wayne Gretzky's Ghost will be a personal book, and also a book of challenging ideas: that Wayne Gretzky, through no fault of his own, was the worst thing to happen to hockey; that CBC's Hockey Night in Canada has lost sight of what it is; that goaltending has become a position out of all proportion to what was intended.
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Random House Canada
November 01, 2011
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Adobe DRM EPUB
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Excerpt from Wayne Gretzky's Ghost by Roy MacGregor
"One more year!" the 18,500 gathered at Ottawa's Corel Centre began to chant with 4:43 left in regulation time. "One more year! One more year! One more year!"
He heard them--he even raised his stick in salute--but he wasn't listening. Wayne Gretzky was finished. This would be his final National Hockey League game ever played in Canada, his home country, a 2-2 tie on April 15, 1999, back when the NHL still had ties, between the Ottawa Senators and his New York Rangers. It seems a silly thing to say so many years on--"his New York Rangers"--as in Canadian eyes and hearts, and even imaginations, he is an Edmonton Oiler forever.
Wayne Gretzky was thirty-eight years old that early spring day in Ottawa. He was, by his own measure, merely a shadow of what he had once been as a player. He had 61 points for his final season-- "99" retiring in 1999--whereas he had once scored 215. He was, however, still the Rangers' leading scorer, and had several of his lesser teammates only been able to finish on the perfect tape-to-tape passes from the corners, from the back of the net, that he had delivered all this game, not only would the Rangers have easily won but his point total would have been in familiar Gretzky territory.
Still, he had missed a dozen games due to a sore disc in his back. He knew it was time. He had once said he would be gone by thirty, but his great hero, Gordie Howe, who had retired early and then returned to play till age fifty-two, had warned him to "be careful not to leave the thing you love too soon." He had continued on past thirty but would not, he swore, be hanging on at forty.
It had been a magnificent lifetime of hockey. Six teams-- Indianapolis Racers and Edmonton Oilers of the World Hockey Association, the Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and Rangers of the NHL--and he had won four Stanley Cups, all with the Oilers, while establishing a stunning sixty-one scoring records, many of which will never be broken. He had scored more goals than anyone who had ever played the game, and just to put that into context, he was never even really considered a goal scorer but a playmaker.
He had been hearing the accolades since he was ten years of age and scored 378 goals for the Nadrofsky Steelers in his hometown of Brantford. "You are a very special person," his father, Walter, had told him around that time. "Wherever you go, probably all your life, people are going to make a fuss over you. You've got to remember that, and you've got to behave right. They're going to be watching for every mistake. Remember that. You're very special and you're on display."
On display constantly--whether scoring 92 goals one season for Edmonton, getting married to Janet Jones in Canada's "Wedding of the Century," getting traded to the Kings in a deal that will be debated as long as Confederation, becoming the country's most recognizable pitchman for corporate sponsors--and measured endlessly. They called him "Whiner" Gretzky for a while. They once said he skated like a man carrying a piano on his back when he went through his first back troubles. They blamed his wife for the trade to Hollywood, where she was an actress. Yet if there were minor stumbles there was never a fall, almost impossible to imagine in this era of over-the-top sports celebrity, temptation and gotcha journalism. He never forgot Walter Gretzky's good advice.
They tried, but could never quite describe the magic he brought to the ice. Gordie Howe jokingly suggested that if they parted the hair at the back of his head, they would find another eye. Broadcaster Peter Gzowski said he had the ability to move about the ice like a whisper. It was said he could pass through opponents like an X-ray. He himself liked to say he didn't skate to where the puck was, but to where it was going to be. During the 1987 Canada Cup--when he so brilliantly set up the Mario Lemieux goal that won the tournament-- Igor Dmitriev, a coach with the Soviet team, said: "Gretzky is like an invisible man. He appears out of nowhere, passes to nowhere, and a goal is scored." No one has ever said it better.
But here in Ottawa on April 15, 1999, the invisible man seemed like the only man on the ice by the end. Walter Gretzky and his buddies from Brantford were on their feet, Janet and their three children, Paulina, Trevor and Ty, were on their feet. The NHL commissioner was on his feet. There is no possible count of the millions watching on television who were on their feet, but it is a fair bet that a great many were.
"Gret-zky!" the crowd chanted as the final minute came around.