Wayne Gretzky, “The Great One,” became the last one in the NHL to wear No. 99. He began his NHL playing career in 1979 with the Edmonton Oilers and ended it in 1999 with the New York Rangers. On October 1, 1999, before the Oilers’ home opener against the Rangers, Edmonton retired Gretzky’s No. 99.Having chosen the number nine as a youth, in honor of his idol Gordie Howe, when he joined the Oilers he discovered they already had that number assigned. Gretzky reluctantly allowed Coach Murray “Muzz” MacPherson to convince him that two nines were better than one.
His was only the second number retired by the Oilers. After a five-minute standing ovation from them more than 17,000 hockey fans in the stands, Gretzky commented, “Once the sweater goes up, it’s the official end,” said Gretzky, adding, “I still wish I could play. I still wish I could be out there.”
Announcer Rod Phillips’ voice broke as he introduced, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll now say these words for the last time ever in the building: Hockey fans, tonight’s first star, No. 99 Wayne Gretzky.”
Perhaps fittingly, the Oilers–Gretzky’s first team–and the Rangers–Gretzky’s last team–tied that night with a score of 1-1.
Gretzky had become so associated with No. 99 that the entire NHL retired the number at the 50th All-Star Game held in Toronto, February 6, 2000. Finally, on October 9, 2002, Gretzky’s second NHL team, the Los Angeles Kings, held a special retirement ceremony. True to his number, the Hockey Hall of Fame inducted Gretzky in ’99.