On this day in 1980, Edmonton Oilers forward Wayne Gretzky wins his first Hart Memorial Trophy
8 months ago
On this day in 1980, Edmonton Oilers sensation Wayne Gretzky won his first Hart Memorial Trophy for the most valuable player following his 1979-1980 NHL rookie season.
Gretzky cleaned up nicely at his first-ever NHL awards on this day 43 years ago. At just 19 years old, he became the youngest player to receive the Hart, and was the fourth player in league history to receive both the Hart and the Lady Byng Trophy in the same year.
The intriguing part of the story behind Gretzky’s NHL rookie season and first MVP win is that he wasn’t playing to the best of his ability, so he’d told the Edmonton Journal’s Terry Jones. He had tonsillitis for almost two full years, but for the most part, no one even knew he was chewing on lozenges game in and game out, trying to subdue the pain.
Oilers head coach Glen Sather was even in awe of what the 19-year-old could accomplish through illness. He told Jones it was one of the reasons he was so great.
“Everything he’s done has left me in total awe,” Sather boasted, “and that includes what he accomplished despite the fact he was playing when he was sick.
“There were nights he should have been in bed. But that’s what makes him so great. To him, being sick was just one more challenge.”
Many believed that after being handed such high-calibre awards, the pressure on the young forward may be too much for him to handle moving toward the future of his career. Still, for him, the pressure was all a part of the game.
“If you’re going to be a pro athlete, you better be prepared for the pressure.” He explains to Jones. “If you can’t meet the pressure, you’re in the wrong business.”
Gretzky played 79 regular season games scoring 51 goals and 137 points that season — the same point total that LA Kings forward Marcel Dionne had. Dionne, however, edged Gretzky out for the award as he had scored two more goals than The Great One.
The Edmonton market would face further dismay when Gretzky was deemed ineligible to be nominated for the Calder Trophy award to the most proficient player in their first year of competition. Even though it was his NHL rookie season, he’d technically played an entire season of professional hockey in the WHA before the league folder and the Oilers joined the NHL.
Regardless, in a single season, he convinced hockey fans and the NHL that he would be one of the best players they’d ever seen. He’d go on to win the Hart Trophy in seven consecutive years after his first one, alongside many other prestigious awards.
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