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On This Date in Sports November 4, 1987: 1,000 Assists

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 All eyes are on the Northlands Coliseum as two players enter the game with a chance to join Gordie Howe as the second play with 1,000 career assists. Both Wayne Gretzky of the Edmonton Oilers enter the game with 998 assists. Gretzky gets an early assist on a goal by Jari Kurri. He follows it up with a hat trick. Dionne gets an assist on a goal by John Ogrodnik in the third period, with the Rangers trailing 6-0. The Great One would get an assist one minute later to reach 1,000 as the Oilers with 7-2. Dionne would reach 1,000 a few nights later. 


Wayne Gretzky was born on January 26, 1961, in Brantford, Ontario. From the time he was able to skate, it was clear he had a natural skill for the game. At the age of six, Gretzky played with boys almost twice his age and was the best player on the ice. It was here that Wayne Gretzky began his trademarked look of tucking the jersey on one side of his pants because it was too large. He would wear his uniform like this his entire career. By the age of ten, Wayne Gretzky was already a well-known youth player as he scored goals at a stunning pace. This allowed him the opportunity to meet Gordie Howe, who was the NHL’s all-time leading scorer.


Wayne Gretzky began his career early, signing to play with the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association at the age of 17 in 1978. At the time, the NHL ruled that all players had to be 20, and the rival league trying to stay afloat tried to grab some of the rising stars by having no age limit. The signing could not save the Racers, who were forced to sell Gretzky to the Edmonton Oilers and ceased operations. With the Oilers, Gretzky won the Rookie of the Year and led the team to the AVCO Cup Finals. As the playoffs began, the Oilers would be one of four teams to agree to join the NHL.


With the Oilers joining the NHL, the league changed the age limit to 18, allowing Wayne Gretzky to play. That first year, he won the league’s scoring title and the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP. It would be the first of eight straight scoring titles and eight straight Hart Trophies, as Gretzky became the face of the league. In 1982, Wayne Gretzky shattered the record for goals, assists, and points in the season, lighting the lamp an incredible 92 times while posting 120 assists. He would top the assist record the following year and again in 1984, before finally establishing a likely unbreakable record of 163 assists in 1985, setting the bar for points in a season at 215. As Wayne Gretzky began setting records, the Oilers became a dynasty winning the Stanley Cup four times in five years.


Marcel Dionne was born on August 3, 1951, in Drummondville, Quebec. Dionne was drafted second overall in the 1971 NHL Draft. Dionne grew frustrated with the Red Wings’ struggles. In 1975, he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings. Arriving in LA, Marcel Dionne became the first true hockey star in Hollywood. With the Kings, Dionne consistently scored 50 goals and topped 100 points. Towards the end of his career, Marcel Dionne was traded to the New York Rangers. 


Playing out the final years of his career, Marcel Dionne netted his 700th goal on October 31, 1987, in an 8-2 loss to the New York Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum. Dionne was the third player with 700 goals, joining Gordie Howe and Phil Esposito. Esposito also accomplished the feat with the Rangers in 1980. Marcel Dionne reached 1,000 assists joining Howe and Gretzky three nights later against his former team, the Los Angeles Kings, at the Forum. 


Wayne Gretzky would break Gordie Howe’s record of 1,049 assists later in the season. He would play another decade, retiring in 1999 with 1,963 assists. That record is 714 more than Ron Francis, who ranks second in assists. Marcel Dionne would retire in 1989 with 1,040 assists. Dionne ranks 11th all-time among the 13 players with 1,000 career assists in the NHL.