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On This Date in Sports March 23, 1994: Gretzky 802

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

With a first period power-play goal, Wayne Gretzky of the Los Angeles Kings nets his 802nd goal passing Gordie Howe for the NHL record. The goal ties the game but is not enough as the Kings are crowned by the Vancouver Canucks 6-3. Wayne Gretzky had already set the record of assists and points in an NHL career. The goal record cemented that Gretzky was indeed the Great One. Wayne Gretzky retired in 1999 with 894 goals. 

Wayne Douglas 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 in 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 had a rule 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 as well as 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, also 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.

Wayne Gretzky’s streak of MVP and scoring titles ended in 1988, losing both to Mario Lemieux. That year saw him get married to actress Janet Jones in a royal-like wedding that made it appear as if he was the Prince of Canada. That summer, the Oilers stunned the world, trading the Great One to the Los Angeles Kings. Gretzky reclaimed the scoring title with the Kings and won the last of his record nine Hart Trophies in 1989. At the same time, he began his assault on the career records of his idol, Gordie Howe, first setting the record for assists and points, then breaking the record with his 802nd goal in 1994. In Los Angeles, Gretzky only took the Kings to the Stanley Cup Final once, losing to the Montreal Canadiens in 1993.

Following their loss in the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals, the Los Angeles Kings coached by Barry Melrose had a disappointing 1993/94 season, missing the playoffs. The lone bright spot was Wayne Gretzky's pursuit of the goals record.