February 08, 2015

Gretzky's Office: Thank Bobby Clarke

Toronto Maple Leafs coaching legend Punch Imlach on a young Wayne Gretzky:

"They told me Gretzky was slow, but it was a lie. He doesn't have end-to-end speed. That's true. But covering, let's say, 20 feet, there's nobody quicker. And that can be enough.

"I've never seen a guy control the puck behind the other team's goal the way he can. He waits and waits until he spots a man in the clear. Now you tell me why a defenseman can't nail him back there or get the puck away from him, or, at worst, spoil the pass. I can't understand it. Maybe he's magic."

He wasn't magic, of course. In fact, he learned it from another hockey superstar. He told the story on, of all places, the late night talk show Conan with Conan O'Brien:

Gretzky, who talked about everything the trade to his appearance on Saturday Night Live, but he also talked about Gretzky's office. Gretzky credited learning the strategy from Philadelphia Flyers Hall of Famer Bobby Clarke.

"I had a coach when I was 14 years old that said: 'Go watch this guy Bobby Clarke play and watch how he plays. He's not very big, he's smart, he passes the puck and he plays sort of from the corner and a little bit behind the net,"' Gretzky recalled. "So at the age of 14 I started watching him day in and day out.

"He probably had the most influence on my career as far as learning how to play the game and the style of game that I played. I learned to play behind the net, and when I started doing that, it was so unique. Nobody had ever tried to defend that. And so I was able to really master it and become really good at it, and that was sort of my forte."

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