“The Great One.” That is quite a nickname. It takes a special person to bear the responsibility of such expectations. Somehow, Wayne Gretzky always managed to carry that weight as if it was no heavier than the minimal pads sitting on his slender shoulders under his jersey with the number “99” emblazoned on the back. Gretzky’s immense skills made him a transcendent hockey player. Add in his charm and personality, and Gretzky became “the Great One” for the National Hockey League.
His popularity helped establish NHL hockey and bring new fans to the game in areas far removed from the northeast regions of Canada and the United States where the league began. Gretzky scored a league record 92 goals in 1982, a mark that still stands. Even the Arizona Republic took notice of Gretzky’s greatness. On March 28, 1982, I photographed Gretzky playing in the Forum against the Los Angeles Kings.
My hockey photography remains very limited. Prior to the game in LA, the Kansas City Scouts offered some opportunities from 1974-76 before the franchise skated away from Kemper Arena for Denver. All the Forum regulars from the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times and other area newspapers had priority for the few holes drilled in the protective plexiglass for photographers. Shooting through the glass was my only option.
On that night, the Oilers won 6-2. The Kings would gain revenge in April, though, by knocking the Oilers out of the playoffs.The Oilers would soon dominate the NHL, winning five Stanley Cups from 1984 through 1990. I cannot remember how many goals Gretzky scored that night, but that does not matter. It was just so much fun to photograph “The Great One.” How many can say they have pictures of hockey’s superstar in his skivvies?