There are few players with the technical ability, puck wizardry, or intangibles of Wayne Gretzky. From his early days with the Edmonton Oilers, to his Hollywood period playing for the Los Angeles Kings, to his final years with the New York Rangers, Gretzky remained, arguably, the greatest hockey player of all time.
And if his new memoir, 99: Stories of the Game, is any indication, he’s equally talented as a historian (albeit an unofficial one). Rather than focus on the debaucherous acts the 1980s Oilers performed with the Stanley Cup, or juicy locker-room tales, or even The Great One’s relative greatness, Gretzky—always hockey’s consummate steward—recounts the people and events that together tell the story of the sport, from the pre-NHL era up till today.
He’s well-suited to the task.
As the living connection between the game’s current stars, the idols of his youth (most notably Gordie Howe), and the long-ago players of hockey’s Ice Age, Gretzky takes a nuanced and insightful approach, describing with a deft touch (the same one he used in the rink) how the sport gradually evolved into the fast-paced game—dominated by muscle-bound physical specimens—we see today.
Going light on personal details, Gretzky nevertheless draws connections with his own career when a story triggers a memory—as when a discussion of coach Scotty Bowman’s legendary 1970s Canadiens teams bleeds into a tale of one of Bowman’s great 1990s Red Wings squads, then into Gretzky’s reflections on his own stint as an NHL coach.
Ultimately, 99: Stories is the rare book that can be enjoyed by hockey novices and grizzled puck aficionados alike.