THIS DATE IN HISTORY: Jan. 26
1961: The NHL's all-time scoring leader, Wayne Gretzky, is born in Brantford, Ontario.
Gretzky's talents are obvious almost from the time he learns to play hockey. At age 6, he plays with 10-year-olds; at 10, he scores 378 goals. He plays junior hockey at age 16; one year later, he signs with the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association. But after eight games, the Racers trade him to the Edmonton Oilers. He comes to the NHL with the Oilers in 1979, when the NHL absorbs four teams from the WHA.
Gretzky ties for the NHL scoring lead in 1979-80 and wins the Hart Trophy. In 1980-81, he wins the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's top scorer for the first of seven consecutive seasons and repeats as Hart Trophy winner. One year later, he shatters NHL records for goals (92) and points (212). The Oilers make the Stanley Cup Final in 1983, but are swept by the New York Islanders. They avenge that loss one year later, defeating the Islanders to win the Cup for their first of four championships in a five-season span.
Three months after the Oilers win in 1988, Gretzky is traded to the Los Angeles Kings. On Oct. 15, 1989, he passes his idol, Gordie Howe, for the all-time NHL lead in points by scoring a goal against his former team at Northlands Coliseum. He leads the Kings to their first Stanley Cup Final in 1993 after missing much of the season with a back injury.
The Kings trade him to the St. Louis Blues late in the 1995-96 season, and he signs as free agent with the New York Rangers that summer, rejoining longtime Edmonton teammate Mark Messier. Gretzky plays three seasons in New York before retiring with NHL records of 894 goals, 1963 assists and 2,857 points, as well as playoff records of 122 goals, 260 assists and 382 points.
Gretzky also has some memorable birthday moments:
1985: On his 24th birthday, Gretzky scores three goals for his 33rd NHL hat trick in the Oilers' 6-3 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins. That gives him 50 goals in 49 games, the third time in his career he's reached 50 goals in fewer than 50 games.
1991: Midway through his third season with the Kings, Gretzky celebrates his 30th birthday by scoring three goals for his 48th NHL hat trick and has two assists in a 5-4 victory against the Vancouver Canucks. He reaches the 30-goal mark for the 12th consecutive season.
1930: The Boston Bruins lose at home for the only time in the 1929-30 season, 6-1 to the Montreal Maroons at Boston Garden. The Bruins finish the season with a 23-1-0 home record and an overall record of 38-5-1; their 77 points are 26 more than any of the NHL's other nine teams.
1966: Gordie Howe becomes the first player to appear in 1,300 NHL games. He has an assist in the Detroit Red Wings' 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. That same day, Gretzky turns 5.
1975: Guy Lafleur scores four goals in a game for the only time in his NHL career. He gets one each in the first two periods, then scores twice in the third period of the Montreal Canadiens' 7-2 victory against the Penguins at the Forum. Bob Gainey finishes with four assists, including three on goals scored by Lafleur.
1991: On his first night back after sitting out 50 games following back surgery, Mario Lemieux has three assists in the Penguins' 6-5 win against the Quebec Nordiques at Le Colisee. Defenseman Larry Murphy also had his 500th career NHL assist in the game. Lemieux finishes the regular season with 19 goals and 45 points in 26 games, then powers the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup.
1997: Lemieux ties an NHL record with by scoring four goals in the third period of the Penguins' victory against Montreal at the Forum. It's the 39th hat trick of Lemieux' NHL career, and his 13th four-goal game, matching the NHL record shared by Gretzky and Mike Bossy.