Wayne Gretzky is the most prolific scorer in NHL history, but he may also be the sport's most prolific writer of book forewords. Gretzky has written no fewer than 20 of them, and they've appeared in everything from former teammates' memoirs to books on leadership, training methods, and hockey trivia.
"Over the years, everything I have in my life is because of hockey," says Gretzky. "I've met so many wonderful and great people throughout my hockey career, and if they ask me for a small favor to write a foreword, it's my pleasure. I think that's the least I can do in the friendship." Adds Gretzky: "I actually kind of enjoy it."
Here, a totally subjective ranking of all 20 of the Great One's forewords.
20. Mental Skills for Young Athletes: A Mental Skills Workbook for Athletes 12 Years and Under (1997)
By John M. Hogg
A very short foreword, to a workbook for kids, in which Gretzky talks about how athletes must prepare both physically and mentally.
Representative sentence: "There is a lot more to becoming a great athlete than just the obvious."
19. Hockey for Dummies (1997)
By John Davidson, with John Steinbreder
There isn't much to this one: It's three paragraphs long, most of which is spent explaining how great the book is for beginners. Kudos, though, to Gretzky, for giving props to the knowledgeable Davidson, the author and then-broadcaster.
Representative sentence: "This is the sort of 'inside information' your ordinarily get at an expensive hockey camp."
18. The Final Call: Hockey Stories From a Legend in Stripes (2011)
By Kerry Fraser
This one's the most disappointing of Gretzky's forewards. There's some general talk about referees and how they don't get much respect, and some nonspecific praise for Fraser. But a couple of anecdotes would have been nice here -- particularly one about Fraser's infamous non-call of a Gretzky high stick in Game 6 of the 1993 Campbell Conference Finals against Toronto.
Representative sentence: "You would disagree with him, yell at him, maybe even say a few things under your breath that you wouldn't want him to hear, but in the end you always knew Kerry was being as fair as he could possibly be."
17. Heroes in Our Midst: Top Canadian Athletes Share Personal Stories From Their Lives in Sport (2001)
Edited by Robin Mednick and Wendy Thomas
After some nonspecific talk about witnessing the dedication of other athletes up close while representing Canada at the 1998 Winter Olympics, Gretzky previews the book itself, which includes personal accounts from Canadian Olympians and Paralympians.
Representative sentence: "Reading these stories brought back my memories of Nagano."
16. On the Lines: The Adventures of a Linesman in the NHL (1993)
By Ron Finn, with David Boyd
Gretzky writes that he was forwarded a manuscript of the book, then runs down his favorite sections, with some a few bits of praise for Finn's officiating abilities.
Representative sentence: "Speaking of the things that are done and said at ice-level in the heart of the action, Ron's days of officiating in the Philadelphia Spectrum during the Broadstreet [sic] Bullies reign may best describe just how tough a job in the NHL officials have … like firefighters, they truly earn their pay when the heat gets turned up."
15. Beyond the Goalcrease: Wit & Wisdom on Life Between the Pipes (2005)
By Robb Stauber, with Ross Bernstein
This one starts out with Gretzky saying the nicest things he can about Stauber, a former back-up netminder with the Kings, without suggesting he was a great goaltender. It ends with Gretzky vouching for Stauber as an instructor and plugging his goaltending academy. The best part is Gretzky describing how Stauber's aggressive style -- he used to try to stickhandle around opponents -- made his teammates nervous.
Representative sentence: "Robb's work ethic and determination enabled him to battle his way back to being a consistent and reliable NHL goaltender."
14. New York Rangers: Seventy-Five Years (2000)
By John Halligan
It's a little weird that Gretzky, who played just three years in New York, wrote the foreword for this book, about this history of the franchise. He mostly talks about what it meant to join a team with such a long history and what it was like to play in New York City. He doesn't have many great moments from his own time in New York to write about: There's one line about the team's run to the conference finals in 1997, and a few about his final career game two years later.
Representative sentence: "Considering the New York Rangers' storied past and time-honored traditions, I felt it was appropriate that it was a Rangers jersey that I wore for that final game."
13. EveryDay Leadership: Crossing Gorges on Tightropes to Success (2011)
By Bill Clement
Gretzky writes briefly about Clement and the Calgary Flames, as well as how Clement, as a broadcaster, covered some of the biggest moments of his career. He then spends the rest of the foreword working in some clichés about leadership, the subject of the book.
Representative sentence: "Captaining NHL teams was something that I did in three different cities, and I always knew there were other players in the room who were great leaders, as well."
12. My Life in Hockey (2005)
By Jean Beliveau, with Chris Goyens and Allan Turowetz
This one's not as personal as some of the other forewords Gretzky has written for memoirs. Other than recalling an event they attended together in Atlantic City early in Wayne's career, it's mostly an appreciation of Beliveau's Hall of Fame career, with some memories of watching him on TV as a kid sprinkled in.
Representative sentence: "Even at the age of six or seven, I could see there was something special about the Habs' big number 4 -- on and off the ice."
11. Tretiak: The Legend (1987)
By Vladislav Tretiak
Gretzky, who calls Tretiak a friend and writes about how they've visited each other in their respective homes, offers a short appreciation of the legendary Soviet goaltender -- not just as a player, but as a person.
Representative sentence: "He has caused borders to be forgotten, political beliefs to be withheld, and cultures to be exchanged -- while always standing tall in his representation of his team and his country."
10. Dropping the Gloves: Inside the Fiercely Combative World of Professional Hockey (2012)
By Barry Melrose, with Robert Vaughan
Gretzky says this was one of his favorite forewords to write, and it's one of the more focused. Gretzky was a big fan of Melrose's coaching style -- he writes that he was "one of the best coaches I ever played for" -- and writes with admiration about his television work as well.
Representative sentence: "I had the privilege of listening to him in the dressing room and on the bench, up close and personal."
9. Next Goal Wins!: The Ultimate NHL Historian's One-of-a-Kind Collection of Hockey Trivia (2012)
By Liam Maguire
This one's pretty fun: Gretzky writes about how he met Maguire at a function in 2012, and how the author dropped all sorts of trivia on him while they chatted. Gretzky even masters the art of the tease, mentioning that the answers to all the questions he poses throughout the foreword can be found in the book.
Representative sentence: "… [I]t was another thing entirely when we discussed the minutiae of my career, such as historical data surrounding my first NHL goal, the 1851 connection, who was the goalie of record the night I scored my 500th career goal and who served the delay-of-game penalty on December 30, 1981, the night I scored my 50th in my 39th game."
8. Playing With Fire (2009)
By Theo Fleury, with Kirstie McLellan Day
Gretzky played with Fleury on Team Canada and against him in the NHL. Here, he writes about how Fleury was small but fearless, and why he wanted Fleury on the 2002 Canadian Olympic team, for which he served as GM. This one also includes the funniest line of any Gretzky foreword. When discussing how Fleury, as a member of the Flames, jumped on the back of Edmonton's Ken Baumgartner to keep him away from a Calgary enforcer, Gretzky writes, "Theo was almost a foot shorter than Ken, and he seemed oblivious to the fact that he was about to be murdered."
Representative sentence: "I knew that Theo represented who we [the 2002 Canadian Olympic team] really were, a team that deserved to win, not because we were lucky, but because we worked harder than anyone else."
7. The Hockey News: The Top 100 NHL Players of All-Time (1998)
Edited by Steve Dryden
This foreword's a bit all over the place, bouncing from lessons from his dad to the thrill of seeing his picture on the cover of The Hockey News for the first time, to why the Oilers were so good in the 80s, to how older hockey players give advice to younger ones, to the growth of the game in the U.S. and outside of North America. It ends with a nice reflection on what makes the game so great and what it means be recognized as (in his modest words) "a pretty good hockey player." (As you might imagine, Gretzky was chosen as No. 1 on the list.)
Representative sentence: "On the ice, our sport is poised for growth and acceptance like never before."
6. Los Angeles Kings: Hockeywood (1993)
By Rich Sadowski
Gretzky had great success in Edmonton, but he remembers the 1992-93 season, in which the Kings reached the Stanley Cup Final, fondly. This foreword contains some good stuff about looking at that run from the perspective of a veteran who may never get that close again -- which, we now know, was the case for Gretzky.
Representative sentence: "Although we hit some rough spots midway through the season, we had so much experience in the dressing room and it became clear that the veterans were planning to peak for the Stanley Cup playoffs."
5. Gordie Howe's Son: A Hall of Fame Life in the Shadow of Mr. Hockey (2013)
By Mark Howe, with Jay Greenberg
Much of this foreword is actually about Gordie Howe, not Mark, but that's a good topic for Wayne, who's idolized Mr. Hockey since he was a kid. He writes here about how meeting Gordie for the first time lived up to expectations, and about the thrill he got skating with him (and Mark) on a WHA All-Star team.
Representative sentence: "The Howes are a tremendous family and I was truly blessed to have had the opportunity to play with and against them."
4. I'd Trade Him Again: On Gretzky, Politics, and the Pursuit of the Perfect Deal (2009)
By Terry McConnell and J'Lyn Nye, with Peter Pocklington
Gretzky's obviously got strong feelings about his time in Edmonton, and he reflects here on the famous trade that sent him to Los Angeles. He also includes a couple of fun anecdotes and details about his time working with Pocklington.
Representative sentence: "He was like a father to me."
3. Looking Out for Number One (1989)
By Dave Semenko, with Larry Tucker
Writing this foreword was the least Gretzky could do for Semenko, the tough guy who protected Gretzky for several years with Edmonton. That appreciation really comes through here, as Gretzky describes how effective Semenko was in his role and how fine a teammate he was.
Representative sentence: "His reputation for toughness was legendary among the pros -- and that was while he was still in junior hockey!"
2. Centre Ice: The Smythe Family, the Gardens and the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club (2000)
By Thomas Stafford Smythe, with Kevin Shea
A thoughtful essay in which Gretzky talks about his love of Maple Leaf Gardens and how he used to go there as a kid. (There's a nice little anecdote about how he arranged a private session on the ice there prior to the 2000 All-Star Game, which was held in Toronto's Air Canada Centre.) One of the longer forewords Gretzky's written (it runs four pages), he also talks about the influence of Conn Smythe on the league and about what it's like to win the award for postseason MVP that bears his name.
Representative sentence: "Maple Leaf Gardens was my Augusta National, my Yankee Stadium, the one place on earth where hockey -- my game -- most deserved to be played."
1. A Loonie for Luck (2002)
By Roy MacGregor
This one's just fantastic: Something that would work as a standalone essay. In this seven-page (!) foreword, Gretzky discusses not just the Canadian dollar coin that was frozen into the ice at the 2002 Winter Olympics (for which Gretzky served as Team Canada GM), but also a number of other topics. An incomplete list: Why the ice in Edmonton has long been the best, his role in making this book happen, how Paul Coffey was obsessive about both his skates and the ice itself, how Gretzky planned out every detail of what Team Canada's Olympic locker room would look like in Salt Lake City, and how the loonie got buried in the ice in the first place (as well as how the secret almost got out before the Canadian men won gold).
Representative sentence: "Before we even left Salt Lake City, the story of that loonie had become folklore in the world of hockey."
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