Many NHL players struggle with deciding when to retire, but for Wayne Gretzky, the time to hang up the skates became clear when opponents would warn “The Great One” before hitting him.
“I got hit — I didn’t get hit as much as people probably wanted me to get hit, especially on the opposing teams,” Gretzky said Thursday night during an appearance on TBS show Conan.
“But I knew it was time to retire when I was playing my last year, and people I was playing against, before they would hit me, they would scream my name, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow something’s not right about this.’”
The Great One retired after the 1998-99 season as a member of the New York Rangers.
Even though opponents wanted to play physical with Gretzky and knock him off his game, guys crossing the line and taking runs at him was rare. The players knew Gretzky was the driving force in the sport’s enormous increase in popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s, especially after he was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings on Aug. 9, 1988.
As Gretzky helped the NHL become a mainstream attraction in the United States, salaries rose significantly, creating a better situation for players.
Another reason not to hit Gretzky was that teammates Dave Semenko and Marty McSorley would make opponents drop the gloves if they didn’t like a hit that The Great One took. Semenko and McSorley were two of the toughest players ever.
Gretzky does have four regular-season bouts on his NHL fight card. One of those was against Neil Broten of the Minnesota North Stars in 1982. Unfortunately for No. 99, he was soundly beaten in the fight.
Gretzky’s appearance on Conan also included a discussion on Saturday’s Stadium Series game at Dodger Stadium between the Kings and Anaheim Ducks. Check out Gretzky’s appearance on Conan in the video below.