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The Trade at 25: How Gretzky re-shaped California hockey

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TSN.ca Staff
8/5/2013 9:12:34 PM
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The legacy of Wayne Gretzky is still shaping the hockey landscape in California.

True, Gretzky has not played in front of a California crowd in over a decade and has not played for a California team in 17 years, but he has helped spawn a generation of young hockey players in the state.

It's the first generation of top-tier talent to come out of the state and they are “Gretzky's Children”.

TSN and Sports Illustrated hockey analyst Michael Farber examined how Gretzky's trip to the south inspired a new wave of expansion and relocation, bringing the game to new sun-belt frontiers like Dallas, Phoenix, Tampa Bay and Anaheim.

The result – “Gretzky's Children” – aired on Monday's SportsCentre to kick off TSN's week-long “Trade at 25” special to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Kings' acquisition of The Great One.

Hockey had been played in California since the 1920s but until recently the native Californian in the NHL has been an anomaly.

However, since Gretzky arrived, hockey has taken root at the youth level, spawning what Farber labels “the most significant western migration since the movies came to Hollywood.”

Proof can already be found from the fruits of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, held in Los Angeles.

Beau Bennett - selected 20th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins – and Anaheim 29th overall pick Emerson Etem became the highest-ever California-born and trained first-rounders.

The moment was not lost on the players themselves.

“It showed that people were starting to take California hockey a little more seriously,” Bennett.

That draft was a particular boon for hockey in The United States with 11 players going in the first round alone. But it was the influx from California that made this class stand-out in addition to the picks from traditional hockey hot-beds like Michigan, Minnesota, Massachusetts and Wisconsin.

But the true Hollywood invasion may be yet to come.

The returns on the investment the Kings made in trading for Gretzky is still paying dividends, with minor hockey teams from the Golden State starting to make waves at very high levels of competition.

In 2012 an LA-based team won the prestigious Quebec International Pee-Wee Tournament and the reigning U.S. National High School Champions are based out of Anaheim.

The talent is increasing because registration increased and it was directly tied to Gretzky's arrival.

“When he was brought in the registration was around 3,000 kids that were playing the game in the state,” said former NHLer Craig Johnson. “He brought 12,000 kids in from 1991 to 1995-96.”

Johnson knows all about the beginning of the post-Gretzky boom, himself being part of the return the Los Angeles Kings got from the St. Louis Blues when they traded Gretzky in 1996.

It can be argued that without Gretzky there would be no Anaheim Ducks or Florida Panthers, but if California develops into another source of young NHL talent, there will likely be little argument over the source.

TSN's Trade at 25 coverage continues on SportsCentre tomorrow with “Dollars and Cents,” a look at Gretzky's impact on boardrooms across the NHL.

Visit www.tsn.ca/tradeat25 now for exclusive video content including “Gretzky's Children” and vintage news clips from the day the trade broke. Photo galleries, social media content and exclusive Gretzky trade-based stories will also be available on the site throughout the week.

Wayne Gretzky (Photo: HHOF-IIHF/Images on Ice)

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(Photo: HHOF-IIHF/Images on Ice)
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