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Wayne Gretzky & Cigars

J. Bennett Alexander Alexander's picture

J. Bennett Alexander

When Wayne Douglas Gretzky was about to enter the National Hockey League (NHL) in 1979 (after playing very briefly in the ill-fated World Hockey Association (WHA), scouts deemed him “too small” and “too slow.” He weighed 170 pounds and stood 5’11”. The famous line from one commentator was "he could wear a fur coat on Halloween and go out disguised as a pipe cleaner." Gretzky finished his career weighing 15 pounds heavier. In his first season, he was named MVP and was the first player to score more than 50 goals in his inaugural campaign. Gretzky would garner eight MVPs in a row. He was not eligible to be named rookie of the year because of his stint in the WHA. By the time Gretzky hung up his skates in 1999, he could count, among other accomplishments, four Stanley Cups and an NHL record 894 goals. Add in assists and Gretzky’s record point total is 2,857. Not bad for a human pipe cleaner. Do you still wonder why he’s called “The Great One?” To top it all off, Gretzky became a cigar lover.

Gretzky’s Favorite Cigar

Gretzky recently told Cigar Aficionado that his favorite smoke is the Montecristo White, a relatively mild cigar made in the Dominican Republic. He knew about cigars because his father, Walter, was a cigar smoker.

"My father smoked all kinds of cigars,” Gretzky told Cigar Aficionado. “I used to say, 'When I make pro hockey, I'm going to smoke cigars.' He said, 'You're not going to do either.' " Gretzky laughed.

It wasn’t until 1988, when his team, the Edmonton Oilers, had won their fourth Stanley Cup, that Gretzky began smoking cigars.  Back in his playing days, Gretzky enjoyed smoking with “the guys; it’s a chance to relax.”

Gretzky would smoke occasionally, enjoying a variety of cigars.  

"I like Ashton 898s, Dunhills, [Cuban] Cohibas, [Cuban] Hoyo de Monterreys, and Macanudos," Gretzky said in 1997. "I like mild, creamy cigars, usually about a 44-ring size." He and his wife, the actress Janet Jones, graced the cover of Cigar Aficionado, each holding a cigar.

“It was a celebration,” Gretzky explained about that first cigar in 1988, adding that it was his brother who got him started. But the joy was short-lived. Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings.

Gretzky’s Star Rises

Gretzky in Southern California made hockey a sold-out attraction. He also gained fame, in 1989 being named “Athlete of the Decade,” garnering more votes than Joe Montana, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird combined. In 1992-1993, Gretzky led the Kings to their first Stanley Cup finals, where they lost to the powerhouse Montreal Canadiens. But the bug had bitten. Southern California is now a hotbed of hockey, selling out on most nights in LA and in Anaheim, where the Ducks play. Since 2007, the two teams have combined to win three NHL championships.

The Gretzky Legacy

Perhaps he was too small and too slow and it’s unclear if Gretzky would have as much success in today’s NHL. The players are generally bigger and faster. Gretzky, however, is marveled at because he knew where to be before the puck got there. That sixth sense was hard to defend.

"Wayne's two favorite plays are finding the guy no one else but him can see and losing himself in your end,” explained former NHL goalie Mike Liut. “He's a genius. I'd see him come down the ice and immediately start thinking, 'What don't I see that Wayne's seeing right now?'"

Today, Gretzky plays a lot of golf and continues to be an ambassador for the game of hockey. He occasionally appears as a commentator on network broadcasts. He is soft-spoken, but confident. He’s obviously the smart one in the room.

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