Good morning, I'm the Rev'd Steven Page from St Patrick's Anglican Church. Our daily radio devotionals this month, sponsored by the Hudson Bay Ministerial, are sports-inspired. Today, let's talk hockey. It's a little early, I know. The NHL regular season doesn't start until around Thanksgiving. But even in the middle of summer, Canadian sports news is dominated by hockey.
Well, when he played, Wayne Gretzky dominated the sport of hockey. When you ask people what they associate with the number 99, I bet almost everyone would name Wayne Gretzky. His sweater number has even been retired by the NHL, so no team will ever use it again.
Gretzky famously wound up with the number 99 almost by accident. His boyhood hero was the great Gordie Howe, an awesome player in his own right. Howe held so many hockey records, including most goals, most assists and most points. He wore sweater #9, and the young Wayne Gretzky wanted that number. But it was already taken on his major junior team. His coach suggested he add another 9 and make it 99, and that was Gretzky's number ever after.
#99 was such an amazing scorer that in time he topped Gordie Howe's records for career totals of goals, assists and points. He broke the assists record first, back in 1988. Gretzky broke the record in a road game against the LA Kings, the team to whom he would be traded just a few months later. But at the time, he was still an Oiler. Fittingly, the record-breaking assist came when Gretzky passed the puck from behind the net, his so-called 'office,' to Jari Kurri. The Gretzky to Kurri combo worked for nearly 300 goals in their careers. But this one was big.
After the assist and goal, play stopped. The Kings broadcast a pre-recorded message for Gretzky from Gordie Howe, who had held the old record for decades. By the way, if you're curious, Howe now ranks 8th all-time in assists as others have also passed him. And Mark Messier also topped Gordie Howe's all-time points record. But Howe is still second only to Wayne Gretzky in total goals.
Gretzky set the all-time goal record by scoring #802 of his career to pull ahead of Howe, but it took a little longer. It was not until 1994, in a game against the Vancouver Canucks, that Gretzky finally caught up to the great Gordie Howe. Gretzky would finish with 894 goals, but the record-breaking 802nd came on a nice feed from Kings teammate Marty McSorley. Luc Robitaille also had a hand in it, bringing the puck into the Canucks' zone. He flipped it to #99, who set up McSorley. But Canucks goalie Kirk McLean read the play well, and covered all the angles. With nowhere to shoot, McSorley sent the puck back to Gretzky, who tapped it into the open net.
As happened with the record-breaking assist, the record-breaking goal brought play to a halt for a celebration of the moment, and a series of video highlights from the careers of both Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky. If I were Gordie Howe, I would have mixed feelings about all this. Pride in a great career; a touch of sadness at seeing great achievements surpassed; pleasure at having been a big part of the inspiration and motivation of the new record holder.
I think a bit of John the Baptist. He was a fore-runner, one who came before Jesus and whose job was to prepare the way, to get people ready to hear and respond to Jesus. John did great things, but he also knew that he was not the Messiah, that was Jesus. John said, “after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.” (mt3v11) He knew a greater one was coming. John also said, “He [Jesus] must become greater; I must become less.” (Jn3v30).
John was very clear that Jesus Christ was the greatest one. Jesus was the one worthy of praise, worthy of our attention and energy. Wayne Gretzky was nicknamed The Great One because his skill level was beyond anything seen before. And he surpassed the awesome Gordie Howe. We should admire them. But we should follow Jesus. Spend time with Christ in prayer, in our daily and weekly routines. Jesus Christ is the greatest one. Praise God! For St Patrick's Church, I'm Rev'd Steven Page.