Even if you aren’t a hockey fan, you’re probably at least superficially familiar with Wayne Gretzky. During his time on the ice, the Great One rewrote the record book and dominated the game. While no player can ever be completely perfect, he came pretty close and, at least in the public’s eyes, rarely put a foot wrong.
That’s not to say that Gretzky was a boring, by-the-book stiff behind the scenes, though. On at least one occasion, we know the NHL star spent a practice messing with a hungover teamate.
Wayne Gretzky has a pretty stellar reputation in the hockey world
In the world of sports, it’s not uncommon for the best players to be viewed as villains by certain parts of the fan base; Tom Brady, for example, isn’t going to get a polite reception in New York City. Wayne Gretzky, however, may be an exception to that rule.
Purely from a statistical perspective, the Great One deserved all the plaudits that came his way. Despite lacking any extraordinary physical tools — by hockey standards, Gretzky wasn’t especially large, strong, or fast — the forward had an incredible knack for reading the game which, in turn, allowed him to dominate. During his time in the NHL, he recorded 2,875 points; even if he never scored a single goal, his assists would have been more than enough to earn him a place in hockey history.
Gretzky wasn’t just an offensive weapon stuffing his own stat sheet, though. Even of you set aside all of his goals, assists, and individual awards, the living NHL legend lifted the Stanley Cup on four separate occasions. That alone would be more than enough to earn him a place in the history books.
That on-ice dominance, combined with a relative lack of missteps — just don’t worry about his brief coaching career — has helped Gretzky attain an untouchable status in the world of hockey. He’s still spoken of in hushed tones and, should the Great One step foot inside an arena, a standing ovation is sure to follow.
The Great One once spent an NHL practice trolling his hungover teammate
Given his reputation as a virtually perfect player, it’s easy to imagine Gretzky doing everything by the book. During at least one New York Rangers practice, though, he had a little bit of fun at a teammate’s expense.
As Sean Pronger explained an excerpt of his book (H/T Deadspin), the journeyman forward arrived at practice to find that, in light of an illness, he was skating on the first line alongside the Great One. While that would normally be a pretty cool experience, there was a problem: Pronger went out the night before and was dealing with a pretty brutal hangover.
Before they hit the ice, Pronger alerted his new linemate to his situation. Gretzky, ever the professional, said that they’d all been there and there was no need to worry. Once they hit the ice, though, things panned out a bit differently.
“Every single pass Gretz made was to yours truly. And I’m not talking about those beautiful saucer passes you see in his video Hockey My Way. I’m talking about wobbly hand grenades that would blow up as soon as they hit my stick,” Pronger wrote.
Eventually, things got so bad that the grinder apologized to the Great One for mishandling the puck. Gretzky replied that he would give Pronger passes, but those never seemed to materialize.
“He delivered the line with a wink,” Pronger concluded. “Turns out Wayne thought it would be fun to mess with me from the get-go. How awesome is that? The greatest player ever to lace them up went out of his way to thoroughly embarrass a hungover grinder. And you know what? That made me feel more included than if he had played it straight.”
Wayne Gretzky also messed with Michael Jordan on at least one occasion
In isolation, it would seem easy for Gretzky to mess with Pronger. The Great One was, of course, the big man on campus and his hungover teammate was a journeyman grinder. Even when he was on more equal footing with his peers, though, the NHL star had no problem needling others.
Take, for example, the story shared by gaming executive Rich Strafella. According to his account, Gretzky showed up Michal Jordan during a gambling session.
“I remember a night when Wayne Gretzky insulted Michael Jordan at the table,” Strafella told UrbanDaddy in 2010. “It was a private salon game. Michael had ordered a drink from the cocktail waitress, and he gave her a five-dollar chip. Wayne took it off the cocktail waitress’s tray, gave it back to Michael, grabbed a hundred-dollar chip from Michael’s stack, and put it on the cocktail waitress’s tray. Then he said, ‘That’s how we tip in Las Vegas, Michael.’”
From afar, Gretzky seems like a pretty perfect guy who does everything by the book. As Sean Pronger — and potentially Michael Jordan — can attest, though, he’s also more than capable of messing with you.
Stats courtesy of Hockey-Reference