Gretzky memories discussed on 60th birthday by


Wayne Gretzky turns 60 years old Tuesday, and is helping him celebrate. On his way to becoming the NHL’s all-time leader in goals (894), assists (1,963) and points (2,857), the four-time Stanley Cup winner, the nine-time recipient of the Hart Trophy, awarded to the NHL MVP, and the two-time Conn Smythe Trophy winner, awarded to the MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, created countless memories along the way.

On his birthday, nine writers reflect on their favorite Gretzky memory.


Learning to become a champion

Before winning the Stanley Cup for the first time with the Edmonton Oilers in 1984, Gretzky had to see the exhaustion and elation from the New York Islanders the previous year. Of all the amazing moments of Gretzky’s career, my favorite is one I didn’t get to witness but instead learned about from “The Great One.” As Gretzky tells it, the Oilers were leaving Nassau Coliseum after losing Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on May 17, 1983 and caught a glimpse inside the Islanders dressing room, the celebration of a team that had won its fourth consecutive championship. Gretzky recalls seeing a bruised and battered group of players too exhausted to celebrate. He said he knew then that for the Oilers to get over the hump, that’s how they would have to look after a Cup Final. I love hearing Gretzky tell this story because it shows even the greatest could be humbled. The following year, Gretzky and the Oilers did enough and kept doing it. — Dan Rosen, senior writer


No. 77 for No. 99

Yeah, that’s a great one, no doubt (no pun intended). But I’m going with Feb. 24, 1982, when Gretzky scored his 77th goal of the season, passing Phil Esposito’s record of 76 set during the 1970-71 season with the Boston Bruins. That night, the Oilers defeated the Buffalo Sabres 6-3. Goalie Don Edwards stymied Gretzky on a few great opportunities, but Gretzky broke through in the third period, stealing the puck and scoring from the bottom of the left circle for his record-breaking goal before he was mobbed by teammates. In a true old-school moment, Esposito came onto the ice a few moments after that goal to present Gretzky with the puck. Just in case setting a record wasn’t enough, Gretzky scored two more goals that night. He finished with 92 goals for the season, also an NHL record. — Tracey Myers, staff writer

Video: Memories: Gretzky breaks Esposito’s record


The end

Of all the Gretzky moments, my favorite came at the end of his NHL career. It wasn’t part of the pomp and circumstance of April 18, 1999 (No. 99 had to retire in ’99, didn’t he?). It wasn’t his assist for the New York Rangers, his 2,857th and final point in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was a reminder of what made the immortal human, the roots of his humility and class. Amid the hubbub after the game, Gretzky left the locker room to see his parents next to a cinderblock wall in a corner. This was at Madison Square Garden in New York; it could have been at a rink in Brantford, Ontario, Gretzky’s hometown. He hugged his mother, Phyllis, who told him how happy she was. Then he hugged his father, Walter, and together they wept. “My dad told me how proud he was of me, and that,” Gretzky said, gulping, “was nice.” — Nicholas J. Cotsonika, columnist

Video: Memories: Wayne Gretzky tallies his final NHL point


Can’t hit the net

Gretzky shared a Hockey Hall of Fame memory in Toronto on Sept. 27, 2016, introduced that day as the NHL’s 2017 Centennial ambassador. Some years earlier, he brought one of his children to the Hall and had somehow remained incognito during a two-hour visit, a hat pulled down close to his eyes. Together, they headed for an interactive game of shooting pucks at a net. After his son went 4-for-5, the NHL’s greatest goal scorer stepped in and missed his first three shots. Gretzky said, playfully, “The young man taking care of the line walked over to me and said, ‘Sir, if you move your hand down the stick a little bit farther … ‘I lifted my hat up and I said, ‘If you go get me one of those pucks that are in there, there’s 802 (in a Hall display),'” he said, grinning, No. 802 of Gretzky’s career having broken Gordie Howe’s all-time record. “My son killed himself laughing and I got out of there.” — Dave Stubbs, columnist

Video: Wayne Gretzky named NHL Centennial ambassador


Fifty in 39

I love a good off-ice moment, but I’m heading back on the ice for my favorite Gretzky memory, on Dec. 30, 1981. Coming into the game, Gretzky had scored 45 goals in 38 games. Not bad. But he scored five, capped by an empty-net goal with three seconds remaining in the third period of a 7-5 win for the Oilers against the Philadelphia Flyers to give him 50 goals in 39 games. Even typing those numbers feels insane, but Gretzky did it, obliterating the previous record of 50 goals in 50 games, which had been set by both Maurice “Rocket” Richard of the Montreal Canadiens and Mike Bossy of the Islanders. There are a lot of Gretzky records that seem unlikely to be broken, but this is at the top of the list. Extra points for drama too. — Amalie Benjamin, staff writer

Video: Memories: Wayne Gretzky scores 50 goals in 39 games


Reaches 2,000 points

Milestones are not records, but they serve as moments to reflect on accomplishments. Seeing Gretzky become the first player in NHL history to reach 2,000 points is among the coolest things I’ve witnessed. Playing for the Los Angeles Kings in a game against the Winnipeg Jets at Winnipeg Arena on Oct. 26, 1990, Gretzky started the breakaway play to Tomas Sandstrom, who scored on Jets goalie Bob Essensa at 14:32 of the first period, bringing the Kings off their bench to congratulate the Great One. It also prompted a rare reaction, a standing-ovation salute for Gretzky from the Winnipeg fans he had tormented (mostly as a member of the Oilers) during his first 11 seasons in the NHL. That memorable night, Gretzky reached 2,000 NHL points (684 goals, 1,316 assists) in his 857th game. — Tim Campbell, staff writer

Video: NHL Tonight Greatest Moments: Gretzky’s 2,000th point


Canadian farewell

Although Gretzky played his final NHL game against the Penguins at Madison Square Garden on April 18, 1999, his last game in his native Canada, against the Ottawa Senators on April 15, was a more memorable goodbye to me because of the spontaneity of the emotions. Gretzky didn’t announce his plan to retire until the day after the Rangers’ 2-2 tie with the Senators, but all signs were pointing in that direction. The game became a chance for the Canadian fans to say, “Thank you,” which the sellout crowd of 18,500 chanted during Gretzky’s final shift, after earlier begging for “One more year!” Gretzky was named the game’s first, second and third star, and the crowd continued to cheer and chant until he returned to the ice for two curtain calls, the last one more than 10 minutes after the game ended. — Tom Gulitti, staff writer


All-Star behind the bench

Gretzky played in 18 All-Star games, but seeing him at the 2020 NHL Honda All-Star Game in St. Louis as an honorary captain was truly special. He stood behind the Pacific Division bench during the game and the players were in awe of him giving advice. He showed that, even in retirement, a game isn’t just a game for No. 99. Before and during the game, he preached the need for forwards to play defensively. After the Pacific defeated the Atlantic Division 5-4, Gretzky walked around the locker room with a proud look as if the team had just won a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. “To hear him get intense, to hear him talking about plays and players on the ice from the best ever is something special, and I’ll always remember it,” Vegas Golden Knights forward Max Pacioretty said after the game. “He still has the fire in the belly.” — William Douglas, staff writer


Honoring ‘The Greater One’

One of the coolest experiences of my career was covering the NHL100 weekend in Los Angeles in 2017. The highlight: a press conference on Jan. 27 with Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Mario Lemieux sitting together on the same stage. It was a surreal sight we’d never seen and likely won’t see again. I asked them, “Is the greatest player to ever play sitting at the podium right now?” Each laughed. Then Gretzky, known as “The Great One,” acknowledged there had been a Greater One; Gordie Howe. “We all had so much respect for what Gordie did and what he accomplished that it’s not a bad thing to be named in the Top 100 behind a guy like Gordie Howe,” Gretzky said. Orr and Lemieux, looking relieved Gretzky had taken point on the answer, agreed. On a memorable night honoring the 100 Greatest NHL Players, Gretzky found a way to deflect the spotlight to someone he felt was more worthy. — Mike Zeisberger, staff writer

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