March 14, 2015

Meet Gretzky's First Linemates

Wayne Gretzky's NHL linemates are pretty well known - Jari Kurri and Esa Tikkanen in Edmonton, with lots of time also spent with Mark Messier. Bernie Nicholls, Luc Robitaille, Tomas Sandstrom and Kurri again in Los Angeles. There was another reunion with Messier in New York.

Here's a look at some lesser known Wayne Gretzky linemates, focusing on his pre-NHL career.

This is Wayne Gretzky with his two junior linemates in Sault Ste. Marie, Dan Lucas in the back and Paul Mancini in the forefront, two players you likely have never heard of.

Dan Lucas was an interesting case. He was a westerner from Powell River, BC who stayed on Vancouver Island to star with the WCHL Victoria Cougars. The Cougars traded Lucas in the summer of 1976, but Lucas did not want to leave home. He took the unusual move to leave junior hockey and enrol at the University of British Columbia, where he also starred with the Thunderbirds hockey team.

After just one season in the CIAU, he was on the move again, this time somehow getting to Sault Ste. Marie and playing on Wayne Gretzky's left wing. It was his last season of junior eligibility, and Lucas wanted to give his NHL dream its' best shot.

Not surprisingly, Lucas had a strong season playing beside Gretzky: 50 goals, 67 assists and 117 points in 61 games. NHL scouts once again had him on their radar. The Hockey News rated him as the 15th best prospect for the 1978 draft. He ended up going 14th to Philadelphia.

Perhaps the hype around Lucas was truly Gretzky-generated, as he did not amount to much in hockey. He had a couple of 20 goal seasons in the minor leagues with the Maine Mariners, earning him a six game tryout with the Flyers where he even scored a goal against Pittsburgh on October 19th, 1978. But he was released after two years. He signed on with the Colorado Rockies organization, but would only play in the minor leagues.

By 1981 he was out of pro hockey altogether. He remained in the Maine and got into the real estate game. He always remained active in hockey, coaching at schools and camps. In 2009 he took over the head coaching role at Cheverus High School in Portland.

Paul Mancini has a similar story. Born in Toronto, he bounced around the OHA a bit, never quite sticking with a team regularly. He played for Oshawa and Sudbury before joining the Soo Greyhounds in 1976.

Of course the 1977-78 season was his big break. Playing on Gretzky's right wing allowed Mancini to turn in a 54 goal, 91 point season in 67 games. He actually set a OHA record when he scored 6 goals in one game against Windsor late in the season.

The big season was well timed, as 1978 was Mancini's draft year. Unlike Lucas, scouts were lukewarm on Mancini's chances in the big leagues. He was slender at 6'0" and 175lbs, and not a very aggressive player. Still, the LA Kings took a chance on him in the 5th round with the 77th overall pick, ahead of notable future NHLers like Keith Acton, Paul MacLean, Tom Laidlaw, and Craig MacTavish.

Mancini, as you probably have guessed, never did make it to the NHL. He did play pro hockey until 1987, most notably in Erie, PA with the Blades in three different low minor leagues.

After retiring as a player Mancini remained in the Erie area, and like Lucas became a high school hockey coach.

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