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Wayne Gretzky enjoyed chase for Gordie Howe's records

NHL all-time scoring leader passed Mr. Hockey with 802nd NHL goal on March 23, 1994

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- Wayne Gretzky was on the verge of breaking Gordie Howe's NHL record for points in 1989 when he started thinking about the different eras of hockey.

Fortunately his father, Walter Gretzky, was around, and passed along some fatherly advice about the pursuit of Howe during breakfast.

"A lot of ways I felt embarrassed about passing him because the game had changed so much, from only a six- team League," Gretzky said in an interview last week during his fantasy camp. "It was very much more defensive-minded, even when they went to 12 teams.

"I remember saying to my dad, 'Gosh, it was kind of a different era. Maybe there should be an asterisk.' My dad said, 'You've just got to embrace it because Gordie is really loving the fact of what you are doing. One day, if somebody comes along and breaks your records, you should be as thankful as Gordie is.'

"I was like, 'Oh, OK.' That's kind of how I approached it after that. Which made a lot of sense."

Video: Memories: Wayne Gretzky scores his 802nd career goal

That philosophy served Gretzky well Oct. 15, 1989, when got his 1,851st point with the Los Angeles Kings against the Edmonton Oilers, and again when he passed Howe's all-time goal-scoring record with No. 802 on March 23, 1994.

The milestone goal came at 14:47 of the second period on the power play against the Vancouver Canucks at the Forum in Inglewood, California, set up by defenseman Marty McSorley and left wing Luc Robitaille. The Canucks goalie was Kirk McLean, and Gretzky had scored 12 times against him in the past.

For Gretzky, the long road toward Howe's record started in a game against the Canucks. His first NHL goal came against them when he scored on goaltender Glen Hanlon at 18:51 of the third period on Oct. 14, 1979.

Gretzky was eager to satisfy the fans in Southern California. He had broken the points record in Edmonton and wanted this moment to come at home.

He scored twice against the host San Jose Sharks on March 20 to tie Howe with 801 goals. The record-tying goal came with 49 seconds remaining in the third period of a 6-6 tie. Sharks goalie Arturs Irbe did not speak to reporters afterward but issued a statement through the team's public relations department, which led to a humorous aside from Kings coach Barry Melrose.

Video: Wayne Gretzky all-time leader in goals, points

"Arturs is safe," Melrose told The Los Angeles Times. "That's our society. You don't want to be the guy who gives up 802. You're immortalized.

"Everyone knows who was pitching to Hank Aaron [when he passed Babe Ruth with his 715th home run]. You become part of the trivia."

Howe was in Edmonton for the points record in 1989 but wasn't at the Forum when Gretzky broke his goals record in 1994. 

"When I beat Gordie's [points] record, he was there and we became real good friends," Gretzky said. "When I was breaking Phil Esposito's record [for goals in a season in 1981-82], he came and followed me around.

"I remember thinking I was so fortunate in my career. They love the game. From Guy Lafleur to Bobby Orr to Bobby Hull to Gordie to Phil Esposito, there was no animosity. That's the way I feel.

"If somebody breaks my records, I'll be the first guy to shake his hand. You can only do what you did. As long as you know you gave it your best effort and worked as hard as you can, nobody can take that away from you.

"If somebody comes along, you just stand up and shake his hand and say, 'Good for you. Well done.'"

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