The Great One's mastery of hockey owes much to his agility, speed and accurate shot.
The expansion era that began in the 1967-68 season transformed the insular NHL's "original six" team roster that had lasted for 25 years into a league that would inaugurate Philadelphia's Broad Street Bullies, the arrival of European players, the rival Western Hockey Association, and strange uniforms, long hair and sideburns. It was the beginning of what many considered the modern era of hockey.
In 1966, the Boston Bruins went to unprecedented lengths to land Bobby Orr when they negotiated a contract for more than three times what a rookie would regularly hope to earn. Orr’s daring all-out rushes and the physical play that defined his success also stopped him cold. The regular-season grind took its toll, and in the off-season of his rookie year Orr underwent his first of five knee operations. After hobbling through only 10 games of the 1975-76 season with the Bruins, Orr accepted a free agent offer from the Chicago Black Hawks. Despite playing on a battered left knee that doctors described as nothing but bone rubbing bone, Orr was awarded the most valuable player in the 1976 Canada Cup.
Like Orr, Bobby Hull would leave an indelible mark on the game. "The Golden Jet" was inimitable on the ice. Skating at a speed of close to 50 kilometres per hour, a curving slapshot clocking in at 200 kilometres per hour, a thundering physique and golden locks highlighting his charisma, Hull was an architect of change in the professional game. At 18 Hull joined the Chicago Black Hawk’s for the 1957-58 season. With teammate Stan Mikita, Hull developed the curved hockey stick - goalies now dealing with the most feared shot in the NHL behaving like a curve ball.
The 1960-61 season ended with Hull hoisting the Stanley Cup, bringing the trophy back to Chicago after a drought lasting since 1938. By the end of the 1971-72 season, Hull's 604 goals ranked second only to Gordie Howe in NHL history.
Wayne Gretzky has become a national icon throughout Canada. Coaching legend Scotty Bowman was once asked why no one hits Gretzky, the question implying the Great One's Achilles' heel. "It is almost impossible," Bowman explained, "to hit a moonbeam." Bowman's observation is telling. Gretzky skated and passed softly. At less than 1.9 metres and slender, he always had a kind and even gentle demeanour off the ice, as though he were the perfect example of how Canadian parents want their children to act. But on the ice, there has rarely been a more competitive athlete, or a more complete player.
They are Footprints in the arena of Canadian sport.