On This Date in Sports February 24, 1982: Greatness

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Wayne Gretzky of the Edmonton Oilers sets a new record for goals in his season. He gets his 77th goal of the season to give his team a 4-3 lead over the Buffalo Sabres at the Memorial Auditorium in the third period. The previous record of 76 goals was set by Phil Esposito of the Boston Bruins in 1971. Gretzky would score two more goals for a natural hat trick as the Oilers won 6-3 at the Aud. Wayne Gretzky would finish the season with 92 goals, a record that has not been matched. 

Born in Branford, Ontario, on January 26, 1961, Wayne Gretzky was a hockey prodigy growing up who got his first chance to play on the highest professional levels as a 17-year-old with the Indianapolis Racers in the WHA. As the Racers were struggling to stay in business, they were forced to sell their young star to the Edmonton Oilers. There he finished his rookie season and was a part of the team as it was one of four teams to join the NHL as the WHA folded. As soon as he joined the NHL, Wayne Gretzky became the top player in the league, winning the Hart Trophy as league MVP in his first eight seasons.

Wayne Gretzky had two great seasons upon entering the NHL. He was not yet 21. In his third year in the NHL, Wayne Gretzky, known by many as the Gret One, showed just how great he could be. In 1945, Maurice Richard redefined scoring when he netted 50 goals in 50 games with the Montreal Canadiens. Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion was the next to reach 50 goals in 1961. A year later, Bobby Hull of the Chicago Black Hawks scored 50. Hull became the first player to top 50 goals when he scored 54 in 1966. Hull topped his own mark with 58 in 1969. Two years later, Phil Esposito of the Boston Bruins had 76 goals, becoming the first player to top 60 and 70 goals in a season. 

The 1981/82 season for Wayne Gretzky was historical from the start, as he scored 50 goals in 39 games. He had topped 50 goals in his first two NHL seasons. It was only a matter of time before he topped Esposito's record. All eyes were on Wayne Gretzky on a Wednesday Night in Buffalo. The Oilers had a record of 40-13-11 for coach Glenn Sather. The Sabres led by Scotty Bowman sat at 33-19-10. The first seven times he shot the puck, Gretzky was denied by Buffalo goalie Don Edwards. Finally, with the score tied 3-3 with seven minutes left, Wayne Gretzky got space on a breakaway and beat Edwards for his record-breaking 77th goal. Phil Esposito, who was in attendance, came down to the ice to congratulate the Great One. Gretzky added two additional goals for a natural hat trick as the Oilers won 6-3.

Wayne Gretzky finished the season with 92 goals, a record that has yet to be topped. In 1984, Gretzky had the second-highest season for goals, scoring 87 goals.