For generations of fans, the names Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky have become synonymous with hockey excellence. In tribute to these two legends, the Hockey Hall of Fame has launched a showcase unlike any other. 9&99: The Howe · Gretzky Exhibition offers an once-in-a-lifetime look at the relationship between “Mr. Hockey” and “The Great One,” as well as their prolific careers.
Howe made his NHL debut in 1946 and by the time he hung up his skates for good in 1980, he was the league’s all-time leader in goals, assists and points. Howe wore #17 as a rookie and only switched to his trademark #9 in his second year when he was informed the lower number would entitle him to a lower berth on road trips. He would go on to play 26 seasons in the NHL as well as six in the WHA, earning the Hart Memorial Trophy as league MVP on six occasions and finishing top five in NHL scoring in a remarkable 20 consecutive seasons. Howe led the Detroit Red Wings to four Stanley Cup championships and along with sons, Mark and Marty, won consecutive Avco World Trophies, as WHA champions in 1974 and 1975.
Gretzky grew up in Brantford, Ontario, idolizing Howe. Like his hero, Gretzky wore number nine, not only in hockey, but in baseball as well. It wasn’t until Gretzky arrived in Sault Ste. Marie to play for the Greyhounds that he switched to his now iconic number 99. Gretzky would go on to produce unprecedented offensive totals and break many of Howe’s records. He would himself retire as the NHL’s all-time leader in goals, assists and points. Like his idol, Gretzky also captured four Stanley Cups, earning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP on two occasions.
Howe and Gretzky first met when the latter was just 10 years old. “He was bigger and better and nicer than I ever imagined,” said Gretzky of the encounter. “All I did from that moment on was think about how one day I’d love to play with Gordie Howe or against Gordie Howe.” Just over six years later, Howe and Gretzky took to the ice as teammates, suiting up in the World Hockey Association All-Star Series against Moscow Dynamo. The pair would compete only briefly against one another at the NHL level, however. In a symbolic passing of the torch, the 1979-80 season would be Howe’s last and Gretzky’s first.
In their professional careers in the WHA and NHL, Howe and Gretzky combined for close to 2,000 goals and well over 5,000 points. They led the NHL in scoring 16 times, were named league MVP on 15 occasions and captured hockey’s Holy Grail eight times.
Within 9&99: The Howe · Gretzky Exhibition the Hockey Hall of Fame has complied the greatest collection of milestone artifacts and rare personal memorabilia, all hand-picked by curators from the Howe and Gretzky family collections. On now for a limited time through March 2020, Hall of Fame guests can revel in the legacy and incredible bond between two of the game’s all-time greats.