ALSO ON SLAM!
Monday, November 22, 1999
No. 9 with big No. 9 aspirations
The following is an excerpt of John Iaboni's story about a 10-year-old hockey phenom from Brantford. It first appeared in the Toronto Telegram on Oct. 28, 1971.
BRANTFORD -- There's a Little No. 9 in this town who has ambitions of replacing the recently retired Big No. 9 of the Detroit Red Wings, Gordie Howe.
And, as with his hero's prowess in finding the net and beating rival goaltenders, 10-year-old Wayne Gretzky has proven he can score goals, too. Now in his fifth novice A season with Brantford's Nadrofsky Steelers, the 4-foot-10, 70-pound defenceman-winger-centre has notched 369 goals thus far.
That's including a five-goal and two-assist performance last Saturday at North Park Arena, which paced Nadrofsky to its seventh consecutive pre-season win, 7-4 over the league unbeaten MTHL Toronto Kings West Hill Highland Farms.
The goal production currently stands at 41 for the 1971-72 campaign with league action in the Brantford-participating Hub League scheduled to commence in two weeks.
Wayne impressed his coaches in his initial tryout when he was five years old. He earned a centre berth in the 10-and-under novice league then and scored one goal while his team captured the group title.
The following season, Gretzky upped his goals total to 27 as Brantford once again won the group championship.
Prior to the 1969-70 season, Nadrofsky coach Bob Hockin presented Wayne with the No. 9 sweater and Gretzky responded with a 105-goal performance as a defenceman to lead Brantford to the group crown.
Last year as a penalty killer, power-play specialist, centre and defenceman, Wayne collected a phenominal 196 goals as Nadrofsky won the Ontario championship. Along with his list of team and individual firsts, Wayne was selected an all-star each season.
Achievements of this sort certainly deserve a few hearty boasts, but the Grade 5 student at Greenbrier Public School remains a very modest young man.
He really enjoys hockey and doesn't mind playing every shift if coach Hockin asks him to. Yes Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and Bobby Hull are good hockey players, but as for the first two he doesn't like Boston and with the latter he is enhanced only with his slapshot.
"Now Gordie Howe is my kind of player. He had so many tricks around the net no wonder he scored so many goals," Gretzky said. "I'd like to be just like him.
"And if I couldn't play hockey I'd like to play baseball with the Oakland Athletics and Vida Blue."
As the players congratulated each other before heading for the dressing room, Darren Thompson, an eight-year-old spectator, asked if your correspondent was a newspaper reporter.
"Yes," came the reply.
"Oh, are you going to write a book on Wayne Gretzky, he's good you know."
No Darren, not yet, but maybe someday, soon.