There are so many numbers that make up the Kings’ Wayne Gretzky--the number on his jersey, 99, his four Stanley Cup championship rings, his 92-goal season in 1981-82.
His world made room for a one new magical number on Wednesday night as the game’s greatest playmaker became its greatest all-time goal scorer. Gretzky glided once more into the rarefied air of the sporting world’s all-time greats, moving past legend Gordie Howe with his 802nd goal in the Kings’ 6-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks.
The anxious weeks of waiting gave way to sweet emotion at 14:47 of the second period on the power play when Gretzky took a cross-ice pass from defensman Marty McSorley and put the puck into virtually an empty net with a shot from the base of the left circle.
Vancouver goaltender Kirk McLean had come out to play the angle on McSorley after Luc Robitaille started the play with a drop pass just inside the blue line to Gretzky. Gretzky found McSorley and headed for the net. McSorley was patient and perfectly timed the pass and waited until he skated past the middle of the right circle.
Gretzky put his own unique signature on the historic goal, jamming it into the net out of the air before the puck dropped to the ice. The sellout crowd of 16,005 at the Forum erupted, Gretzky threw his arms in the air and the first player to hug him was Robitaille.
Photographers mobbed Gretzky and there was a 15-minute on-ice ceremony with Gretzky’s parents, Walter and Phyllis, his wife Janet as well as King ownder Bruce McNall and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
A jubliant Gretzky took the microphone, saying: “I’ve played here six years and I hope I play here another six.”
He had said that he wanted to get No. 802 in front of King fans.
It turned out almost perfectly for Gretzky. His record 1,851st point--also surpassing Howe--came on Oct. 15, 1989, in Edmonton, where he started his NHL career and won four Stanley Cups before being traded to the Kings in 1988.
“As I’ve said many times, to me, this is the greatest game in the world,” Gretzky said. “Six years ago, they said California wasn’t a great hockey area. In six years, we have a pretty strong franchise and we’ve shown the rest of North America they’re wrong.”
His other wish--that Jari Kurri be involved in the goal--did not come true. Kurri was on the ice, but the assists went to McSorley and Robitaille. McSorley played with Gretzky in Edmonton also and has assisted on 17 of the 802 and Robitaille has assisted on 42. Kurri has assisted on more of Gretzky’s goals than anyone else.
McSorley was asked on Tuesday about the possibility of being involved in NHL history. “I just count my blessing that I’ve been able to play with him for eight-plus years.”
Gretzky surpassed Howe in his 15th NHL season. It took Howe 26 seasons to score 801 goals. And actually it’s more like 14 1/2 seasons for Gretzky, who missed the first 39 games of last season and scored 16 goals. Gretzky either holds or shares 62 NHL scoring records.
For Gretzky, there was a certain symmetry since he scored his first NHL goal against the Canucks and goaltender Glen Hanlon in 1979.
But two disappointing aspects of the historic night provided sort of an anticlimatic air for Gretzky and the Kings. One was the absence of Howe. Howe, who had followed Gretzky during the chase of his point record, declined to participate in this record pursuit and made some slightly bitter comments, saying his World Hockey Assn. goals should be counted and the goals from both leagues should be combined.
Howe had said he wouldn’t follow Gretzky this time and didn’t change his mind. However, he will be on hand for a special ceremony honoring Gretzky before the next game at the Forum on Wednesday against the Mighty Ducks.
The other downside was the final score. Gretzky’s goal had pulled the Kings to a 2-2 tie, but they quickly gave up another goal after the ceremony when Cliff Ronning scored at 15:40 of the second period to make it 3-2. The Canucks were never threatened, outshooting the Kings, 50-37.
The Kings (24-38-11) remain tied with Anaheim in ninth place in the Western Conference, six points behind the San Jose Sharks for the final playoff spot.
* Times Link 808-8463: To hear a replay of the call of Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record-setting goal, call TimesLink and press * KING (5464)