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EXCERPT | October 23, 1989

Return of the King

Wayne Gretzky broke the scoring mark in Edmonton

The 28-year-old Gretzky entered the season needing just 14 points to surpass the NHL scoring record. Jay Greenberg reported for SI.

When 11-year-old Wayne Gretzky met Gordie Howe at a sports awards banquet in 1972, Howe gave him a piece of advice: Work on your backhand. Fast forward to Sunday, Oct. 15, 1989. Gretzky takes the puck on that backhand and flips it into the net with 53 seconds left in the Kings' game with the Oilers at Edmonton's Northlands Coliseum. In that instant the NHL career-scoring record of 1,850 points that Howe built over 26 seasons was surpassed.

Gretzky had tied the record with an assist early in the game, but as time ticked away in the third period, it had appeared that the mark would not be broken this night in this place, with its strong ties to Gretzky. Then, suddenly, there was that Howe-recommended backhand, which Gretzky had practiced at home with a tennis ball only a zillion times or so.

Gretzky's momentous shot not only broke Howe's record but also tied the score 4--4. He then won the game for the Kings in overtime with still another goal, and he did all this against his old teammates, in the city where he led the Oilers to four Stanley Cups before being traded to Los Angeles last year. And he did it in 780 games to Howe's 1,767.

Gretzky retired in 1999 with 2,857 points, an NHL record that still stands.

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Photograph by DAVID E. KLUTHO

WRAPAROUND WINNER Despite the best efforts of former teammates Esa Tikkanen (10) and Bill Ranford (in goal), Gretzky swung around the net to score the game-winner on a second backhander in OT.