Wayne confirmed the news through a social media post on Thursday night.
“It’s with deep sadness that Janet and I share the news of the passing of my Dad,” No. 99 wrote in his post.
“For me, he was the reason I fell in love with the game of hockey.
“He inspired me to be the best I could be not just in the game of hockey, but in life.”
Since news of his death, condolences have been pouring in for the entire Gretzky family and those who knew and loved him.
“The fabric of our franchise has been woven by some of the most influential players, coaches and executives the game has known and included in that too, are the loved ones that make our team a family,” Edmonton Oilers chairman Bob Nicholson wrote in a statement.
“From his development and constant influence on one of the greatest players our game has known, to the tremendous impact he had on Canada’s Gold Medal-winning team in 2002, Walter was truly everyone’s hockey dad,”
“He will be missed by all of us, but the memories created by his tremendous character and passion for our game will remain with us forever.”
Kevin Lowe, Oilers alumni and former teammate of Wayne, said anyone who had the pleasure of spending time with Walter was “undoubtedly affected by his positive approach to life, family and hockey.
“As we grow older, the passing of those dear to us whether they be teammates, siblings, coaches or parents reminds us to live our lives in a way that honours their legacy while holding them close in our hearts when they are no longer with us,” Lowe said in a statement.
Former Oiler Mark Messier remembered Walter as someone who had time for everybody.
“When the team had a slump, oftentimes when we needed a win, the Oilers would surprise Wayne and fly Walter in somewhere along the road trip. Dave Semenko always used to joke, ‘I guess we’re going to win tonight. Walter’s in town,'” said Messier. “Dave often said Walter really was our MVP because his record was unbelievable.
“For me, Wally was always somebody you could talk to after the game and put a healthy perspective on the situation whether it was good or bad.
“Wally had an unbelievable ability to share Wayne in the country and not get in the way of the demands on Wayne.”
Darryl Sutter, who was announced Thursday night as the new head coach of the Calgary Flames, shared a fond memory during a news conference Friday morning. He had a big smile on his face as he recalled a moment between his dad and Walter from years ago.
“I was still a player in Chicago and we were playing the Oilers in the old Coliseum and we were walking out to the bus after the game and my dad was at the game and Mr. Gretzky, Walter, was there too,” Sutter said.
“Even though Wayne was Oilers and I was Chicago, they were talking about the game. I wish I had taken a picture. It was something. They were like two old coaches standing there talking about the game. It was the coolest thing.”
Flames GM Brad Treliving also shared memories about how visible and passionate Walter was.
“He was Canada’s hockey dad,” Treliving said. “Usually we’d see him on the road in Phoenix … big smile on his face and the passion he had for watching the game,” he said.
“Probably the funniest story I ever had was I played with Keith Gretzky in the minors years and years ago and we’d play in Erie, Pennsylvania, Walter would drive up and have coffee with Keith before the games in Erie and I remember sneaking a sip of his coffee one time and, ‘Maybe I can get a little bit of that magic potion that he’s got.’
“Just a wonderful man and it’s just a sad day.”
630 CHED’s Bryan Hall described Walter as more than a hockey guy, he was a man who said “enjoy life.”
“He was here a great amount of time when Wayne was starring with the Oilers along with so many others — the glory days of the 80s,” Hall recalled. “We spent a lot of time together — that is away from hockey, away from the rink. He wasn’t a hockey dad. He was a dad. That’s what he was.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Walter embodied all that is great about being a hockey parent.
“Although he never skated a shift in the National Hockey League, Walter Gretzky’s influence on our league and our game was profound,” he said in a statement.
“Teaching the game to his children on the famed backyard rink he built in his beloved hometown of Brantford, Ontario, Walter instilled in them not only an uncommon understanding of hockey’s essence, but a love and respect for the game that has become synonymous with the name Gretzky, all while ensuring that the game was fun to play.”
The EE Football Team also shared kind words, saying Edmonton lost “an example of what it is to be a father.”
“Walter’s impact on the city will not be forgotten.”
Condolences and warm messages also came pouring in on social media.