Two old friends, a generation and a continent apart, crossed paths Thursday, when Luc Robitaille first tied, then broke Marcel Dionne's King career record of 550 goals.
Dionne sent Robitaille on that quest in 1986, feeding the then-20-year old rookie for a goal seconds into his NHL and Kings' career. A little more than 20 years later, Robitaille passed Dionne by doing what he does best: finding room to work.
Robitaille tied the mark by crashing the net from the left boards, taking a pass from Derek Armstrong, then toyed with Atlanta goaltender Mike Dunham. He faked a backhand, pulling Dunham to the ice, then swept in the puck for a first-period goal.
In the third period, Robitaille, who was considered too slow a skater to make it, took off on a breakaway and neatly tucked a shot between Dunham's legs to pass Dionne, the player who nurtured him through his rookie season.
For good measure, he scored an empty-net goal with 3.9 seconds left to give him 552 as a King.
Robitaille, a ninth-round pick in 1984, already has more goals (663) and points (1,380) than any left winger in NHL history. But getting the King record means more, if for no other reason than Dionne.
"There is a certain amount of pride because he is such a legend," Robitaille said recently. "He took care of me when I first got to the NHL. But it's like when I passed Guy Lafleur and [Maurice] 'Rocket' Richard [on the list for career NHL goals], I'm not sure I belong in the same league with those guys sometimes."
He belongs, Dionne said from upstate New York, where he runs Marcel Dionne Enterprises.
"Luc was accused for his skating abilities even as a rookie and 20 years later he's still playing at the highest level," Dionne said. "How wrong were all those guys? Luc found a way, and that's what you do. Sometimes you don't have the perfect tools, but Luc had the perfect passion for the game."
And found the perfect mentor in Dionne.
The two were an on-ice hit immediately. In the 1986-87 season opener, Dionne scrapped the puck out of the corner and found Robitaille alone in front of the net, where he has made a living for nearly two decades. It was Dionne's 1,600th NHL point and Robitaille's first goal.
"I can still hear myself yelling 'Marcel,' " Robitaille said. "He threw the puck to me in front of the net and I tipped it in. I was so excited."
As well as feeding him pucks, Dionne also fed Robitaille, taking him into his Rolling Hills Estate home. Robitaille and fellow rookie Jimmy Carson had been living in a hotel and Dionne decided that it was not in the best of areas.
"He told us, 'That's it, you're going to get killed,' so he took me in and moved Jimmy in with one of his neighbors," Robitaille said.
"Marcel was a real quiet guy in the dressing room, but living with him, I got to see how excited he would get going to the games and how much he loved the game."
Dionne had 731 goals and 1,771 points while playing with the Kings, the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers. He spent 12 seasons with the Kings and was the center between Dave Taylor and Charlie Simmer. All three scored more than 100 points during the 1980-81 season.
Robitaille was able to draw from his Dionne experience, adding depth to his game on the ice and developing a hockey-first work ethic.
"I told him we're going to talk about hockey and if you don't want to talk about hockey, there is no room in my home," Dionne said. "I said, 'You see those 10 guys, you can go with them and have fun or you go with these other 10 guys and learn about hockey.' Luc picked the right 10 guys," on the team.
Robitaille played one season with Dionne. Robitaille led the Kings with 45 goals and was named NHL rookie of the year. Dionne was traded to the Rangers in March of that season.
"What makes this record fun is people remember what Marcel did for the Kings," Robitaille said. "Some people think the Kings' organization got big when [Wayne Gretzky] got to L.A., but Marcel was the big star for years."
As for eventually losing his record to Robitaille, Dionne said, "I have passed a lot of players and a lot of players have passed me. But if I know Luc, he'll say, 'What's the next challenge? How can I bring the Stanley Cup to Los Angeles?' "