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Vintage Interview: Audio Clip - Gretzky makes the jump to the WHA

Back in the spring of 1978, I was 24 and striving to make headway in my fledgling broadcasting career. I was offered – and accepted - a job in Sault Ste. Marie at one of the local radio stations.

I was working with a gentleman by the name of Muzz MacPherson, who had just been fired a few weeks before as coach of the Junior A Soo Greyhounds.  The 1977-’78 season was Wayne Gretzky’s first in major junior hockey and Muzz was the guy who gave Wayne the idea of wearing number 99 that year, since a player with more seniority already was wearing Gretzky’s usual number 9.

In a short period of time Muzz (a former minor-league goalie) and I became close friends.   We were very different.  He was tough and fiery.  I wasn’t tough or fiery, but for whatever reason we clicked on a personal level.

We hosted a show together called “Inside with Muzz and Mike”.  Muzz knew a lot about sports beyond hockey, and he also knew a lot of people in the sports world.

After the Greyhounds were eliminated in a great 8-game series that spring against the Ottawa 67’s (led by Bobby Smith) Gretzky made the big decision to accept a contact with Nelson Skalbania and the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association.

Muzz and I immediately planned a one-hour special to look into Gretzky’s signing.  He was a 17 year-old “underage”, a non-drafted free agent at a time when the NHL was not drafting 18 year-olds, and the signing triggered a host of interesting issues.

Among others we spoke with Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard, Gretzky’s agent Gus Badali and John Tonelli, who himself had signed a few years before as an underager in the WHA.

Most importantly, we interviewed Gretzky himself.

Keep in mind Wayne was only 17 when he did this interview.  Wayne was, by his own admission, somewhat unhappy with the coaching change.  Muzz had allowed Wayne focus on his offensive game, while Muzz’s replacement, Paul Theriault, pushed Wayne to work on his overall game. 

Theriault was an excellent coach who had success in Junior hockey over the years, but he didn’t utilize the style Gretzky felt most comfortable playing.

Wayne was actually quite revealing about all this during the interview, though he was somewhat circumspect and spoke respectfully of his new coach.

He revealed that at one point, before the end of the season, he actually contacted his parents back in Brantford and discussed the possibility of not finishing out the season with the Greyhounds.  He stayed and played and was tremendous in the Ottawa series.

Soon thereafter, though, he was offered a lucrative contract, which he signed.

I’ve included a very short clip from the interview with  Gretzky, from the spring of 1978.

If followers of this site are interested, we will try to retrieve more snippets of that interview with Wayne in the weeks to come.

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