March 29, 1999: The day Wayne Gretzky scored his final NHL aim

For the previous few weeks (and even the previous few months), any time the title Wayne Gretzky has been talked about it coincided with that of Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin.

“Will ‘The Nice 8’ have the ability to catch ‘The Nice One’?”

“Can Ovi accomplish such a exceptional feat?”

MORE: Can ‘The Great 8’ catch Wayne Gretzky?

The quantity is sort of lofty: 894.

Eight hundred and ninety-four instances Wayne Gretzky buried the puck into the opposition internet. Eight hundred and ninety-four instances he electrified the hometown crowd and the visiting ones, too. Eight hundred and ninety-four instances he scored a aim — and that was simply within the NHL’s common season.

It looks like ceaselessly in the past we final noticed that lanky child from Brantford, Ont., skate up the ice in his flimsy Jofa helmet with the jersey tucked into his pants on one aspect and bury the puck; 21 years in the past Sunday to be precise.

The 1998-99 season was not a sort one for the New York Rangers. After a magical run to the Japanese Convention finals in 1997 that was, the truth is, powered by Gretzky, the crew slipped and, after a 25-win season, was once more far exterior the playoff image.

However whatever the 12 months’s disappointing final result, having Gretzky put on Ranger blue made each sport particular.

“I all the time thought that if you happen to put Wayne Gretzky on the Rangers it will be like having the Babe Ruth on the Yankees, which after all was actuality, however there was that legendary factor of Babe Ruth on the Yankees, perhaps the perfect participant in baseball being on essentially the most iconic crew within the greatest metropolis and that is how I felt it was going to be with Gretzky,” former Rangers basic supervisor Neil Smith informed Sporting Information. “It could be a tremendous factor for New York to have the best participant ever play of their uniform and that is how I all the time felt the entire time he was taking part in, the entire three years. Each time I appeared down and noticed hat he was in that uniform I form of appeared twice, to go like, ‘oh my god he actually is within the Rangers jersey and it’s Wayne Gretzky.’

“Hopefully the Ranger followers understood whereas he was with us, his standing throughout the historical past of the sport, and loved each minute that he performed for the Rangers and that they are actually seeing historical past once they had been watching him.”

So a meaningless Monday night time sport in March at Madison Sq. Backyard in opposition to the arch-rival New York Islanders immediately grew to become a historic and groundbreaking one.

New York Rangers sport program from the 1998-99 NHL season.

From puck drop, it was a back-and-forth contest with Adam Graves giving the Rangers a 1-Zero lead earlier than Mariusz Czerkawski evened issues up simply over 5 minutes later.

Then, late within the third interval, a second for the report books.

Rangers captain Brian Leetch acquired the puck on internet from above the blue line that Isles netminder Wade Flaherty steered to the boards. Trevor Linden, the opposite New York captain, grabbed the puck however beneath strain from John MacLean coughed it as much as Gretzky. “The Nice One” acquired an preliminary shot off earlier than knocking within the free puck within the crease and including his title to a different milestone.

The Backyard crowd jumped to its ft in celebration and cheered for his ninth aim of the season. As is the norm in Manhattan, with the gang singing “The Objective Music” and with his teammates swarming, a graphic went up on the display screen: Wayne Gretzky has simply handed Gordie Howe along with his 1,072nd skilled aim (WHA & NHL), together with playoffs.

“Clearly on the time you didn’t comprehend it was going to be his final aim,” famous Mike Richter, who was the Rangers goalie that night time, to Sporting Information. “That’s loopy. Any person as soon as mentioned that  ‘nice gamers write nice scripts’, and Wayne all the time did, I imply, like nobody else, proper?

“Once you’re pretty much as good as he’s there’s so many information to fall, there’s gonna be so many cool moments like that. It’s fairly spectacular … He’s clearly gifted on so many ranges however he takes the puck to the entrance of the web there — and most of his objectives are dazzling issues you already know — however he was additionally simply sensible sufficient to hang around the place the pucks was going to go, as all people is aware of about him. 

“That might be virtually a rubbish aim, finds the rebound in entrance of the web and chips it in like Phil Esposito used to do. He was scoring each means doable, I assume if you happen to’re gonna have these forms of information you are gonna must as a result of that is simply such an unbelievable variety of objectives to be scored.”

It could be weeks earlier than anybody knew that Gretzky was formally hanging his skates up after the Rangers’ final sport of the season. The truth is, the media and followers did not discover out till two days beforehand as he did not need the fanfare.

And whereas he solely scored 9 objectives that final season — after all the No. 9 was concerned — each was magical. That final one, beneath the brilliant lights of Broadway on one of many NHL’s greatest levels for an Authentic Six crew.

“It’s simply nice for the franchise, for the historical past of the crew,” mentioned Smith. “He performed his final three years in New York. … It’s nice to see within the report e book that was achieved with New York and with the Rangers.”

“MSG has so many nice bits of historical past … there’s hidden trivia in all places,” added Richter. “It is previous, it’s simply acquired nice historical past in all sports activities however Wayne simply retains making these information. And naturally, this was in opposition to the Islanders so what higher? The man who has had his personal rivalries throughout his complete life walks proper in and turns into an necessary a part of the rivalry that we have now had for many years.”

Twenty-one years in the past Wayne Gretzky did one thing he did his total life with poise and ease: NHL aim No. 894, profession aim No. 1,072 and game-winning NHL aim No. 91.

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