16 GRETZKY The Edmonton Sun, Friday October 1, 1999

The number No.99 game

Gretzky's legendary jersey first gained prominence back in junior

By DARCY ANDERSON Special to the Sun

Twenty-two years ago, Brian Gualazzi of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds changed hockey history. You may be wondering, Brian Gua-who? If it weren't for Gualazzi, the Edmonton Oilers would be raising just one 9 to the rafters of Skyreach Centre tonight, not two. The number 99 would simply not be a part of the legend that is Wayne Gretzky. Throughout his minor hockey days, Gretzky had worn the No. 9 on the back of his sweater in tribute to his hero, Gordie Howe. But when he came to the OHA's Greyhounds in the fall of 1977, returning vet Gualazzi, who was quite a prolific scorer himself scoring 75 goals in his third year of junior, had already laid claim to that number. Something had to give. "In fairness to (Gretzky) and in fairness to the team, nobody ever asked me to give (the number) up," Gualazzi who is now a Crown attorney in Sault Ste. Marie, said from his home earlier this week. "The way it was always done was that the veterans got to pick their numbers first. I had started the year before and then Wayne came, but he never approached me. "They may have had thoughts of asking me, but they never did." The now-deceased former coach of the Greyhounds, Muzz MacPherson, recalled the evolution of The Great One's jersey number in a conversation with The Sun's Terry Jones in the early eighties. "Wayne wanted number 9. I told Wayne that Brian had the number. If he wanted to give it up, fine, Wayne could have it. But I wasn't going to take it away from him." So Gretzky tried out 14 for a while, then 19. Neither really clicked for him. "I told him that with Phil Esposito and Ken Hodge joining
the New York Rangers and deciding to take number 77 and 88 respectively, maybe he'd want to consider going up by eleven more and taking 99," remembered MacPherson. "Wayne was really worried that people would laugh at him if he wore number 99. But I convinced him to try it. "They didn't laugh at him."

But there were still questions that surrounded the gangly teen nonetheless.
Gualazzi explained: "We had heard a lot about Wayne before he came, but we were just amazed at how small he was. When we first saw him, we all said the same thing: 'He's going to get killed.'" And surely, sporting a number better suited for the back of a football jersey wasn't going to help matters. But the shifty centre survived the year quite nicely, finishing with 70 goals and 112 assists, before turning pro the following season.
And so the legend of number 99 was born. "I guess it's kind of strange how it went," Gualazzi reflected. "I guess he just would have continued wearing number 9 which would have been pretty boring actually.


The moment Wayne Gretzky decided to wear the number 99, his fate was sealed. He was destined for greatness.
Numerologically speaking anyway. And in addition to the pair of nines he wore on his back, the name Wayne Gretzky is also a nine vibration.

Local numerologist Colin Maxwell explains: "That means he's tuned in to the number nine.

"Nine indicates a specialist. These people perfect things."
Sounds about right. Nobody specialized in perfecting the game of hockey like Gretzky did.

"Nine also relates to humanitarian efforts It allows him to give to others." It's tough to argue with that. To the thousands upon thousands of people he has made feel special, through the simple act of giving of himself, a more apt description could not be found for the hall-of-famer.

Wayne Gretzky donned the No. 99 for the first time with the Soo Greyhounds in 1977.