March 23

This Day in History

Sports

Mar 23, 1994:

Wayne Gretzky scores number 802

On March 23, 1994, Wayne Gretzky scores his 802nd goal, breaking his childhood idol Gordie Howe’s National Hockey League record for most goals scored in a career. Gretzky, known to hockey fans as "The Great One," broke a total of 61 offensive records in his NHL career, including many previously held by "Mr. Hockey" Gordie Howe.

Wayne Gretzky began to skate at the age of two on the Nith River in his native Ontario. As a young child, he showed a tremendous aptitude for sports, especially baseball and hockey. Gretzky’s father, Walter Gretzky, built a skating pond in the family’s backyard every winter on which his son could conduct drills to improve his skills. When Gretzky was just six years old, he was advanced enough to play on a team with 10 year olds. At the age of 10, Gretzky scored 378 goals in one season of pee wee hockey. His output was so astonishing that his games were played in front of sold-out crowds and often broadcast live on television. At 16, Gretzky was drafted third overall into the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA), a major league for amateur and youth players. Despite a naturally slight build and average speed and strength, Gretzky quickly proved that his dominance in the pee wee league was no fluke by scoring six goals in his first OHA game. He turned professional the next year at 17, signing with the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey League. The Racers sold Gretzky to the Edmonton Oilers the next year; when the WHL folded, the Oilers, and Gretzky, became part of the National Hockey League (NHL).

Outsized by many in the NHL, Gretzky learned to use his vision and wits to his advantage, and went on to become the most dominant player in the league’s history. In 1979-80, he set an NHL record for points by a first-year player with 137, winning the first of eight consecutive Hart trophies, the NHL’s most valuable player award. In his second year, Gretzky scored 164 points, setting a record for most points in a season. The following year Gretzky became the first player to score 200 points in a season, an achievement he matched three times. Upon retiring after the 1999 season, Gretzky’s record of 2,857 career points gave him 1,000 more career points than Gordie Howe, who had previously held the record.

Gretzky was not just a goal scorer: His 1983 career assists were more than any other player’s career points, which are tallied as goals plus assists. Behind "The Great One," the Oilers won the Stanley Cup in 1984, 1985, 1987 and 1988. Gretzky was then traded to Los Angeles, a highly unpopular move among Canadian fans, who hung in effigy Edmonton owner Peter Pocklington. Gretzky led the Los Angeles Kings to the finals in 1993.

Wayne Gretzky wore number 99 throughout his career in tribute to Gordie Howe, who wore number 9.

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