Volume 93, Issue 1

Friday, May 14, 1999


Halftime: The use of drugs in sports

Legacy of the Great One

Young Toronto Jays star ready to rise

Three Mustangs selected in CFL draft

Legacy of the Great One

On a cold silent night a lone figure skates on a dimly lit pond in the Alberta prairies. He is a boy of about seven or eight, from a nearby Indian reserve. His skates, ancient by any standard, were owned by his father. They're a little bit rusted, but still good enough to skim over the frozen surface.

He also wears an old hockey shirt handed down from his brother. The sweater is torn in several places and starting to lose the dark blue colour it once had. In his hand, contrasting with the old equipment, is a brand new hockey stick he bought from a hardware store using the pay he gets for washing dishes at a restaurant not far from the reserve. He skates to the centre of the pond and stops, looking out at two small stones at the other end representing goal posts.

His age doesn't exactly scream experience, but he understands the game more than many. He is poor and he comes from a minority who, for hundreds of years, have known nothing more than being the victims of the majority. At the school outside the reserve they tell him about being Canadian and talk about Kings and Queens, Prime Ministers and Premieres who seem so distant to his world. For him, being Canadian is as distant as living on the moon.

This small boy has one memory which comes to his mind as he stands on this cold pond looking at the imaginary goal posts. He remembers his father once taking him to a bar. The place was crowded and filled with the smell of booze and cigarette smoke.

The crowd itself was divided up into several factions distributed throughout the bar. There were white farmers and oil workers in one corner and natives from the reserve in another. There were also some black men and some French men all of whom worked for local companies. Above the bar there was a small television showing a CBC hockey game. He was too small to see what was happening, but he could hear the strained television speakers.

"… the native from Brantford, Ontario passes… "

A moment of silence and then the entire room exploded with cheers and the factions mixed – exchanging high fives and handshakes.

"Edmonton wins in overtime… " the voice continued over the cheers of the bar.

On the ice, the boy takes a deep breath of the cold air and drops a rubber puck. Then with a push of his foot he's off, chasing the puck with his stick. Streaking down the ice the boy hears the cheers of a crowd around him. He can almost feel everyone's eyes upon him.

"This is for the Stanley Cup. Game seven between the Edmonton Oilers and the Montreal Canadiens. Only 10 seconds remaining."

He stops the puck just in front of him.

"Gretzky behind the net, he passes to the point, Smith shoots."

He shoots – the puck goes flying through the goal posts. Then he raises his arms in the air, just like Gretzky did on TV and skates around the rink for a victory lap. In that moment, despite everything he has known about the world around him, this small boy of seven or eight feels like a Canadian.

As the sun sets on the career of "The Great One," we are now left to contemplate what he leaves behind. Looking back at his career, it's clear his true legacy isn't the 62 records he set, or the four Stanley Cups he won in Edmonton. The legend of Gretzky is that every time he stepped onto the ice, regardless of the uniform, he did the one thing every major politician has failed to do since 1867. Gretzky united a nation which is forever trying to pull itself apart.

Contact Sean Maraj at gazette.sports@julian.uwo.ca

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