While there are still no new hockey games to talk about, we will continue our look back at the rich history of the sport. On this date, the greatest goal scorer to ever play took his spot at the top of the mountain. Also, one of the oldest and most heated rivalries in the National Hockey League had its first big moment.
The Great One Becomes the Greatest
Wayne Gretzky has held this date in his heart for 26 years. On March 24, 1994, he scored the 802nd goal of his incredible career, breaking Gordie Howe’s record which stood since 1980.
Late in the second period, Gretzky received a pass from defenseman Marty McSorley and took advantage of an out-of-position Kirk McLean to make NHL history.
The Los Angeles Kings lost 6-3 to the Vancouver Canucks, but it is hard to believe anyone who was in attendance at the Great Western Forum that night left disappointed.
“Two things separated Gordie from everyday players,” Gretzky said about his idol. “One, Gordie never thought he was bigger or better than anybody else. He always wanted to prove that he was. He never said to anybody, ‘I’m the best player, I’m the No. 1 guy.’
“And he always had a need to perform each and every game and practice. That’s what separated Gordie Howe from the rest and that’s why he was Gordie Howe. He had a definite ambition that he was going to be the best player every night and every year. That’s how he lived. He never changed.”
Howe had a nice moment on March 23, as well. Back in 1952, he had three goals and an assist in a 7-2 win at the Montreal Canadiens. The hat trick was the seventh of his career and he finished the season with 47 goals, second to Maurice Richard’s 50. Howe finished his career with 19 hat tricks, which seems like a low number considering he scored 801 goals.
A Rivalry Begins
On March 23, 1929, the Boston Bruins beat the Canadiens 3-2 to knock them out of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Eddie Shore had the series-clinching goal in the first-ever postseason meeting between these two long-time rivals. The Canadiens would get revenge the following season by beating the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final.
Over the years, the Bruins and Canadiens have played each other 34 times in the Stanley Cup playoffs. While Boston struck first in 1929, the Canadiens have a 25-9 record in their playoff history. They won 18 straight playoff series over the Bruins from 1945-1988. The two teams have played each other in the Stanley Cup Final seven times, with Montreal winning each one.
Stan Becomes the Man
On March 23, 1965, Chicago Blackhawks Hall of Famer Stan Mikita picked up his 59th assist of the season in a 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers. The historical helper broke the previous NHL single-season assist record of 58 which was shared by Jean Beliveau and Andy Bathgate.
That record goes to show you just how far the game has progressed. The current record for assists in a single season was set 21 years later by Gretzky when he had 163 during the 1985-86 season. Five players had at least 59 assists when the current NHL season was put on hold earlier this month.
Mighty Ducks Make Their Move
On March 23, 1993, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim named Jack Ferreira their first general manager in team history. He would put together their roster for their inaugural season and was at the helm until August of 1998.
The Ducks made their first-ever playoff appearance under Ferreira in 1997. They won a hard-fought seven-game series over the Phoenix Coyotes to advance out of the first round before being swept by the Detroit Red Wings.
Ferreira’s first draft pick was his most successful when he selected Paul Kariya with the fourth pick of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. Some of his other notable draft picks over the years included Chad Kilger, Ruslan Salei, Matt Cullen and Vitaly Vishnevsky.
He pulled off one of the biggest trades in franchise history on Feb. 7, 1996, when he sent Kilger, Oleg Tverdovsky and a third-round draft pick to the Winnipeg Jets for Teemu Selanne. In his first three full seasons in Anaheim, Selanne had 51, 52 and 47 goals.
Happy Birthday to You
Don Marshall is among the 40 NHL players who are celebrating their birthdays. Marshall, who is 88 today, had 265 goals and 589 points in 1176 games from 1951 to 1972. He was a member of the Canadiens’ teams that won five straight Stanley Cups between 1956-60. He also spent time as a member of the Rangers, Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs.
John Tonelli is celebrating his 63rd birthday today. He scored 325 goals and 836 points in 1028 NHL games with New York Islanders, Calgary Flames, Kings, Blackhawks and Quebec Nordiques. He scored 25 goals and 63 points in the postseason during the Islanders’ runs to four straight Stanley Cups to start the 1980s.
Current NHLers who are enjoying their birthdays today include Mark Barberio (30), Laurent Brossoit (27), Erik Haula (29), Joel Kiviranta (24) and Oskar Sundqvist (26).