LOS ANGELES, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Wayne Gretzky, whose move from Canada to Southern California paved the way for mass expansion in the NHL, will have his uniform No. 99 retired by the Los Angeles Kings next season.
The Kings announced Thursday that they will hold an opening night ceremony to honor Gretzky, the greatest player in NHL history whose number already has been retired by the league.
The date of Los Angeles' 2002-03 season opener has not been determined.
"I look forward to sharing this honor with my family, friends and especially the fans, whose support of both myself and the Kings over the years has been tremendous and very humbling," said Gretzky, the Phoenix Coyotes' managing partner.
Gretzky is considered the major reason why NHL teams exist in places like South Florida, Tampa, North Carolina, Atlanta, Nashville, San Jose, Dallas, Phoenix and Anaheim -- warm-weather sites not used to a game played on ice.
In 1988, "The Great One" was traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles. His success turned the Kings into a playoff contender and the league into a continental attraction.
"Wayne's arrival in Los Angeles changed the face of hockey in the United States, particularly in our market here in Los Angeles," said Kings general manager Dave Taylor, a former teammate of Gretzky's.
Gretzky, 41, played eight seasons with the Kings, winning three scoring titles and one Hart Trophy while guiding the team to its storied Stanley Cup Finals run in 1993.