Ice hockey is a North American sport that is discontinued from a similar European sport. Like American football and baseball, it took root in the new world and became more popular than its ancestor. The official birth of the game dates back to Montreal, Canada in 1875 where it was played on a rink the same size as the ones used today. In over a century of competition, many titans of the game have ascended and dominated to take their place in the pantheon of greats. These three titans stand out among all the other luminaries as the best to ever lace up a pair of skates.
You do not get the nickname "the great one" for nothing. Wayne Gretzky is not the Michael Jordan of Hockey, Michael Jordan is the Wayne Gretzky of basketball. He dominated his sport like few other athletes. Gretzky notched over 200 points (goals plus assists) in a single season in four separate years; no other player has done it once. He won the Stanley Cup four times and was named most valuable player a staggering nine times. When he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings, he instantly turned Southern California into a rabid fandom that galvanized interest in the game in the early 1990s. He retired with 61 National Hockey League records and nearly two decades later, he still holds 60 of them.
While Wayne Gretzky was a vocal advocate against fighting in hockey; Gordie Howe did his talking with his fists. When a player scores a goal, an assist, and gets into a fight, NHL fans call this the "Gordie Howe hat trick." However, he and Gretzky were more alike than different. Howe is the only other player to break the career 800-goal mark. Howe's toughness, grit, and muscle embodied what Canadians love about their national winter sport. Gretzky broke most of the records he set, but Howe's 26 seasons in the league still put him ahead of everyone else.
Bobby Orr may be the odd man out on this list as the only defender, but his style of play was every bit as valuable as the prolific scorers. He won three consecutive league MVP trophies and was no slouch as a scorer either. He revolutionized the way defenders attack on power plays and still holds the record for most goals and points by a defender in a single season. He is also the only defender to ever lead the league in scoring during a season. Orr is best known for "the goal," a give-and-go shot slapped home by Orr to give the Boston Bruins their first Stanley Cup. Even casual hockey fans are familiar with the photo of a horizontal and exuberant Orr flying through the air after netting the biggest goal in Bruins history.
Future generations may take their place but these legends will continue to live on.