January 26, 1961, the most important day of Wayne Gretzky's life: He meets his father, mentor and first hockey coach. Barely three years later, the wonder child is skating daily on the rink Walter flooded in the backyard of their Brantford, Ont., home. The Bell Canada employee knew he had a ringer on his hands and instilled in the boy that he could never be "average" on the ice. "Skate to where the puck is going, not to where it's been," Walter would say. At age 10, the kid scores 378 goals in 80-some games. Where the puck was going was to Wayne.
9. Dressed to the Nines
Brian Gualazzi led the way to hockey's most famous number. In 1977, Gretzky joined the major junior Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds as a 16-year-old, but team veteran Gualazzi had the beloved No. 9 of the new kid's idol, Gordie Howe. After a few weeks with No. 19, Gretzky takes coach Muzz MacPherson's suggestion and becomes perhaps the first - and ultimately the last - to wear 99.
8. Debutante's Ball
The nation becomes aware of Gretzky as "the next great" in January of '78. At 16, the youngest player to compete in the World Juniors leads the tourney in Montreal with 17 points in six games, though Canada lost gold to the mighty Soviets.
7. The Great Wayne North
After eight games with the WHA's Indianapolis Racers, money-crunched owner Nelson (Let's Make a Deal) Skalbania "traded" the 17-year-old to Edmonton Oilers owner Peter (Pay Low, Sell High) Pocklington in May of 1978. Having been one, future businessman Gretzky would fully understand the term "asset."
6. Torch is Passed
Leading a pack of phenoms, the prodigy becomes locked in as "The Great One" on May 19, 1984, when the Oilers take the dynasty torch from the New York Islanders and become Stanley Cup champions for the first time.
5. Strip-mining the Record Books
As scoring records fell like old-growth forest in the face of "progress," it was evident -- like it was with Michael Jordan, like it is with Tiger Woods -- that Gretzky's uncanny ability was fuelled with unrelenting drive. And a flair for drama. He didn't just break records, he stomped them. He didn't just demolish the 50-goals-in-50-games standard, he did it in 39. And he started that 39th game in Philadelphia on Dec. 31, 1981, with 45 goals. He didn't just pass Phil Esposito's season-record 76 goals (on his way to 92) on Feb. 24, 1982, in Buffalo. He did it with a natural hat-trick. All in the third. With Espo in the crowd. Later, as an L.A. King, he didn't just pass Gordie Howe's all-time scoring total of 1,850 points on Oct. 15, 1989, he did it in his old stomping grounds in Edmonton against the Oilers, capping a three-point night with the winner in OT.
4. The Punch-out
Oiler management must have been about to cry when Wayner dropped the gloves against fellow thug Neal Broten three days before Christmas 1982. His teammates were in tears. Laughing their butts off on the bench. Despite a two-inch height advantage over the 5-foot-9 Broten, it was over in five seconds. Gretzky's days as Dave Semenko's protector were officially over.
3. The Pass
It's only the second-most glorious goal ever, but it put the final exclamation on what is the finest hockey ever played. You've seen it -- 99 to 66, Gretzky to Lemieux. Top shelf. 6-5 Canada. The high-speed, high-skill excitement of that clinching moment of the 1987 Canada Cup typified virtually every minute played in a blistering three-game showdown with the Soviets.
2. The Promise
An arctic chill hit Edmonton on Aug. 9, 1988, when the announcement was made that Gretzky had been "traded" to the Los Angeles Kings. Although it would lead to great riches and celebrity, if not the same ultimate on-ice success, he couldn't be sure of that when he made his tear-stained "I promised Mess I wouldn't do this" farewell. He wasn't acting. That was evident from his stints on Saturday Night Live and The Young and the Restless. If Wayne had have been acting at that parting press conference, it wouldn't have been that convincing.
1. The Present
After retiring as a player in -- when else? -- 1999, No. 99 proves, even after all his years in the U.S., that he's still a "good Canadian kid" by packaging a gift for his homeland and returning Canada to Olympic hockey glory at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.