The greatest player to ever skate in the National Hockey League is celebrated on this date as he takes another trip around the Sun. He is far from the only member of the Hockey Hall of Fame to make memories on Jan. 26. We have the THW time machine fired up so let’s take a trip back throughout the decades.
The Great One’s Great Day
We could easily change the name of this column to “Things Wayne Gretzky Did Today” and not miss a bit. This is literally the most important date of his life. On Jan. 26, 1961, Gretzky was born in Brantford, Ontario.
He showed his advanced skills early by playing with 10-year-olds at the age of six. He eventually played junior hockey at age 16 before taking the NHL by storm at 18. Goals, assists and points are just three of the numerous NHL records he holds. He currently holds or shares 61 NHL records; 40 for the regular season, 15 for the Stanley Cup playoffs and six for the All-Star Game.
On Jan. 26, 1979, Gretzky’s 18th birthday, Edmonton Oilers’ owner Peter Pocklington pulled off a surprise party for the ages. Before their World Hockey Association (WHA) game with the Cincinnati Stingers, the team hosted a birthday party at center ice with champagne and a 99-shaped cake. Pocklington shocked the 12,000 fans at the Edmonton Coliseum by signing his young star to a 21-year contract that ran through 1999.
Gretzky’s 24th birthday, on Jan. 26, 1985, was one to remember. He scored his 33rd NHL hat trick in the Oilers’ 6-3 win over the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins. His three goals gave him 50 on the season in just 49 games. This marked the third time in his career he had scored 50 goals in fewer than 50 games, something that had never been done before he joined the league.
The Great One turned 30 in style, on Jan. 26, 1991, now as a member of the Los Angeles Kings. He scored his 48th career hat trick to lead the way in a 5-4 victory versus the Vancouver Canucks, at the Forum. This performance gave him 30 goals in 1991-92, the 12th straight season in which he scored at least 30 times.
Lemieux Returns in Style
On the same night Gretzky turned 30, Mario Lemieux returned to the Penguins’ lineup after back surgery caused him to miss the previous 50 games. He assisted on three goals during a 6-5 road win at the Quebec Nordiques. Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Murphy picked up his 500th career assist in the win. Lemieux played in 26 games during the 1990-91 regular season and put up 19 goals and 45 points. He scored 16 goals and 44 points in 23 playoff games, leading the Penguins to their first Stanly Cup championship in franchise history.
Six years later, on Jan. 26, 1997, Lemieux tied an NHL record with four third-period goals in a 5-2 win at the Montreal Canadiens, his hometown team. This was the 39th hat trick of his remarkable career and his 13th four-goal game, equaling the record held by both Gretzky and New York Islanders legend Mike Bossy.
The Golden Brett Steals the Show
Brett Hull is another elite goal-scorer who had plenty to celebrate on this date. Starting on Jan. 26, 1993, when he scored twice and added a pair of assists in the St. Louis Blues’ 5-1 win over the Ottawa Senators. His teammate, Brendan Shanahan, had a goal and four assists for the first five-point game of his career.
Two years later, on Jan. 26, 1995, the Blues played their first-ever game in their new arena, the Kiel Center. Hull scored twice in the third period as the Blues won 3-1 over Gretzky and the visiting Kings.
Hull came back to bite the hand that once fed him, on Jan. 26, 2002, as he scored his 31st career hat trick and added two assists to lead the Detroit Red Wings to a 5-2 victory in St. Louis. His performance gave him 20 goals for the 15th consecutive season.
Windy City Memories
Glenn Hall became the 13th NHL goaltender to record 50 career shutouts, on Jan. 26, 1963, by leading the Chicago Blackhawks to a 3-0 win at the Red Wings.
Four years later, on Jan. 26, 1967, the Blackhawks earned another road victory in Detroit as Stan Mikita scored the 200th goal of his career in a 4-3 victory.
Another legendary goaltender in Chicago, Tony Esposito, recorded his 62nd career shutout, on Jan 26, 1978, in the Blackhawks’ 5-0 win over the Cleveland Barons. There were just 527 dedicated fans at Chicago Stadium for this contest due to a severe blizzard.
Doug Wilson scored the only hat trick of his NHL career, on Jan. 26, 1991, in a 5-1 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He became just the second defenseman in franchise history to score three goals in a game, joining Dick Redmond who scored his hat trick versus the Colorado Rockies on Feb. 12, 1977.
A decade later, on Jan. 26, 2001, Steve Sullivan set a new franchise record for the fastest two shorthanded goals by one player, when he scored twice in 51 seconds during a Blackhawks 5-2 loss at the Colorado Avalanche.
A Night of Milestones in 2002
Jan. 26, 2002, was a big night for personal milestones. Starting in Boston, where Joe Thornton scored two goals in the third period, including the 100th of his career, in the Bruins 4-2 win over the visiting Florida Panthers. Pavel Bure scored his 400th NHL goal in the losing effort.
Eric Lindros lit the lamp to give him 20 goals in each of his nine NHL seasons, as the New York Rangers doubled up the Washington Capitals 6-3. Theo Fleury scored his 20th goal of the season for the 12th time in his career.
Finally, Ron Francis picked up his 1,170th career assist, surpassing Ray Bourque and moving him into second place on the league’s all-time helpers list. However, his Carolina Panthers fell 4-2 to the Philadelphia Flyers who got goals from Jeremy Roenick, Justin Williams, Mark Recchi and Simone Gagne.
Odds and Ends
On Jan. 26, 1941, Bill Cowley picked up four assists, including three in the final period, as the Bruins extended their team-record undefeated streak to 13 straight games (7-0-6) with a 6-1 win at the New York Americans.
Gordie Howe, on Jan. 26, 1966, became the first player in NHL history to play in 1,300 games. He recorded an assist in the Red Wings’ 5-4 loss at the Rangers.
Guy Lafleur piled up four goals, on Jan. 26, 1975, to lead the Canadiens to a 7-2 blowout of the Penguins. This was the only four-goal game of his career. Defenseman Bob Gainey had four assists on the night, including on three of the four goals scored by Lafleur.
Hall of Famer Marcel Dionne scored his 250th career goal and added two assists, on Jan. 26, 1978, to help the Kings to a 5-1 win over the Blues.
On that same night, Bernie Parent became the first goaltender in Flyers’ to win 200 games by beating the Vancouver Cancuks 6-2.
Don Edwards became the first goaltender in Buffalo Sabres’ history to earn 100 victories, on Jan. 26, 1980, in a 7-2 win at Montreal. Also, Don Luce became the fourth Sabre to score 200 goals and Gilbert Perreault picked up his 500th career assist.
The Islanders set a team record for the fastest four goals, on Jan. 26, 1982, as John Tonelli, Bryan Trottier (twice) and Duane Sutter all scored within a span of 1:38 during a 9-2 win against Pittsburgh.
Patrick Roy recorded his fifth shutout of the season and the 25th of his career, on Jan. 26, 1994, by blanking the Hartford Whalers 3-0. Brian Bellows scored two of the three Canadiens’ goals to give 400 in his NHL career.
One year later, on Jan. 26, 1995, Michel Goulet announced his retirement. He scored 548 goals and 1,153 points in 1,089 games, over 15 seasons, with the Nordiques and Blackhawks. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1998, his first year of eligibility.
Adam Graves became the ninth player in Rangers’ franchise history to score 200 goals with the team, on Jan. 26, 1998, in a 4-1 win at the Washington Capitals.
Martin Brodeur won his 10th straight game and tied his franchise record of 14 straight games without a loss (12-0-2), on Jan. 26, 2000, when the New Jersey Devils beat the Panthers 3-2. This also marked his fifth straight season with at least 30 wins.
On that same evening, Stephane Richer, a former teammate of Brodeur’s, scored his 400th career goal to help the Blues earn a 4-1 road victory at the Ottawa Senators.
Peter Bondra scored to give him 20 goals for the 12th straight season, on Jan. 26, 2003, in the Capitals’ 7-2 win over the visiting Rangers. Defenseman Sergei Gonchar added a goal and three assists as Washington produced five power-play goals on the night.
Thornton hit another milestone on this date in 2016. He picked up an assist during the San Jose Sharks’ 6-1 victory over the Avalanche, becoming the 33rd player in NHL history to score 1,300 career points.
Sidney Crosby became the first Penguins player to win the NHL All-Star Game MVP, on Jan. 26, 2018, since Lemieux in 1990. He had four goals and eight points in his two 3-on-3 games. He had two goals and an assist in the Metropolitan Division’s 10-4 win over the Atlantic Division in the semifinals. He came back with another two goals and three helpers in the championship game, leading the way in a 10-5 victory versus the Central Division.
Happy Birthday to You
Appropriately, there were 26 players who have skated in the NHL born on Jan. 26. In addition to Gretzky, other notable names include Fred Barrett (71), Dale McCourt (64) and the late Frank Nighbor (Hall of Fame), Glen Skov and Ivan Hlinka.
Greg Boysen has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks since 2010 and has been a site manager for both FanSided and SB Nation. He has been published in The Hockey News and was fully credentialed for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Among his various roles with The Hockey Writers are covering the Blackhawks, the AHL, writing the daily “Today in Hockey History” column, serving as a copy editor, and appearing and hosting multiple YouTube shows, including Blackhawks Banter. He is credentialed with the Chicago Wolves, Rockford IceHogs, and Milwaukee Admirals, while also being a regional scout for the NAHL. And, just because his plate isn’t full enough, Greg hosts trivia in the Chicago area two nights a week. For interview requests or to provide topic suggestions, follow Greg on Twitter and reach out.