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The moment The Great One became the greatest of all time

26 years ago, Wayne Gretzky put in a goal that broke the NHL scoring record to surpass Mr. Hockey himself, Gordie Howe.

Wayne Gretzky of the Los Angeles Kings Photo By Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

It’s almost unfathomable today: Six minutes left in the stanza of a game and a player scores. As usual, the crowd goes wild. Players congratulate him. But then the game stops. Reporters swarm. Pictures. Quick questions. A ceremony. A quarter of an hour goes by before the game is allowed to resume.

That was the scene 26 years ago, on March 23, 1994, in Inglewood, California, when the Vancouver Canucks visited the Los Angeles Kings. At 14:47 in the second period, Wayne Gretzky received a pass from defenseman Marty McSorley and fired the puck home past Vancouver goalie Kirk McLean. McLean, who had just reacted aggressively along with the entire defense as McSorley took a pass from Luc Robitaille, was so out of position that the net was wide open for Gretzky’s shot.

Gretzky was mobbed by his teammates nearly as soon as he raised his hands in the air in triumph following the goal. The sold-out crowd roared. It was followed by a 15-minute ceremony featuring NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Gretzky’s parents and then-Kings owner Bruce McNall.

All the celebration, while basically unheard of, was justified. That goal, it so happened, was No. 802 for Gretzky. It put him in first on the list of all-time goal-scoring, just ahead of his idol, Mr. Hockey himself, Gordie Howe.

It took Howe 26 seasons and 1,767 games to complete his run as the greatest hockey player ever. Gretzky, who would earn the monicker “The Great One,” set the record in 15 seasons. He went on to score 894 goals in 1,487 games — a mark that could potentially stand the test of time.

The next player on the goal-scoring list who is still active, and thus has any chance of reaching Gretzy’s record, is 34-year-old Alex Ovechkin. He has tallied 706 goals in 1,152 games to currently rank eighth in all-time scoring. The next active player behind Ovechkin is Patrick Marleau, at age 40, in 25th place with 562 in 1,723 games.

Ovechkin is the closest active player to the scoring record, and he still has 188 to go in order to tie Gretzky. While not impossible, it’s going to take one heck of run in his final professional seasons to get there.