March 23, 1994: When Wayne Gretzky passed Gordie Howe for the NHL’s all-time goals record

By March of 1994, Wayne Gretzky had already likely established himself as the greatest hockey player of all time — but there was still one record left to break. 

Gordie Howe, Gretzky’s idol growing up, scored his 801st and final NHL goal on April 6, 1980, just eight days after his 52nd birthday. It was a mark that seemed almost impossible to beat, especially considering it had taken “Mr. Hockey” himself all of 26 seasons in the league to reach it.

At the time of Howe’s final goal, Gretzky was in the midst of his first NHL season with the Oilers in which he scored 51 goals and won his first of nine Hart Trophies as the league’s most valuable player. Fourteen seasons later, “The Great One” scored goal number 802.

It came during his sixth season with the Kings following “the Trade” from Edmonton in a Wednesday night game against the Vancouver Canucks. A capacity crowd at the Forum in Los Angeles was on the edge of their seats in anticipation. 

At the 14:47 mark of the second period, with the Kings on the power play, Gretzky played a give-and-go with teammate Marty McSorley that left Canucks goalie Kirk McLean out of position. He tapped the puck home to officially earn his place in the history books. 

The goal sparked an unusual ceremony in which the game was paused entirely with over five minutes left in the period. After a red carpet was rolled out, Gretzky returned to the ice where he gave a speech and was congratulated by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman — then, back to the game.

Los Angeles actually ended up losing 6-3 to the Canucks, but the score was a mere footnote to the occasion. Gretzky went on to score 894 goals in 20 seasons on his way to becoming the indisputable greatest of all time. 

Who knows how long that record will stand? Will “The Great 8” Alexander Ovechkin break it? Regardless, even if 802 career goals are surpassed, there will never be another player quite like “The Great One” Wayne Gretzky. 

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