On October 15th, 1989 – 23 years ago today – there was actual ice hockey being played by very good ice hockey players all in the same North American League. And not just “very good” players – one, in particular, easily earned the label “exceptional.” Wayne Gretzky was within a point of tying Gordie Howe’s record for most career NHL points.

(It’s worth mention that Wayne’s efficiency may have been a little better than Gordie’s…

…but still, it was cool for Wayne to get where he was inevitably going.)

I watched the YouTube clip below today, and thought we should all give it a once-over to remember how far the game has come in just over two decades (don’t say the “L” word, don’t say the “L” word).

To properly do so, I thought we’d give the video a little running diary/Systems Analyst breakdown.

0:03 – Right off the top, the game footage notes the date – October 15th, 1990. I’m confused. Most everything I’ve seen the record was established in 1989. Though, some of YouTube clips say October 16th, 1989, so…. I’m gonna go ahead and call that an error on the broadcast team’s part, and stick with the the 15th of ’89. Let me know if I’m wrong here, folks.

0:08 – First, the set-up. How crazy is it that Gretzky set the NHL record for most career points in Edmonton? Oh, and the Kings were losing 4-3 in the dying minute when this video starts, and Gretter has already tallied one assist, meaning he’s tied with Gordie Howe for the record. I mean, seriously, you couldn’t tailor the situation any better than that.

0:12 – “Mario Gosselin (Kings goalie) played well tonight in his first regular season game...” Wait, wait, wait. Isn’t his team down FOUR hockey goals to three hockey goals? I can’t fathom a situation where a tender, yanked in the dying minute for an extra attacker gets that review in present era hockey. …Mostly because less goals are scored, but shut-up, it’s still crazy to hear. Also, Mario Gosselin. Heh.

0:44 – I just watched this goal a number of times before taking you back to puck drop at 0:44, and I am baffled at the coverage. I know, it’s the late ’80s. I know these things happen. But the goal takes about seven seconds, so here’s a mini Systems Analyst.

The Face Off!

A question mark by Kurri, because that’s who you send out to put on Gretzky in the dying moments? I realize the Kings roster isn’t a bunch of scrubs, but Wayne Gretzky is also Wayne Gretzky which also means he’s built to score in a moment like this. I feel like he should get an extra bit of attention.

Bernie Nicholls loses the draw then backs off, which frankly is not something you’d ever see today. If the d-man can keep the puck in, great, but with an extra man, most teams will basically send any available human to pressure the puck. Still, d-men then used wood sticks, so when Dave Taylor and Luc Robataille go to apply pressure to Lowe, they don’t need to apply much – he’s unable to fire a rocket down the ice. Also, as noted in the above picture, Robataille is held up by a d-man who goes waterskiing behind him with a solid hook.

0:47 – So here where we are now: the Oilers have lined up a winger by Gretzky, who’s immediate role is either missed, or to cover the d-man. They have one defenseman to head back on a won draw, and the other guy’s job is apparently to hold up the forechecker.

Translation: no people are assigned to Wayne “The Great One” Gretzky.

Wayne sneaks behind, literally lost in the shuffle by retreating to a place known – just as it was then – as “Gretzky’s Office.” WHO’DA THUNK IT.

Steve Duschene does a great job by keeping the puck in at the line, and here’s our current situation:

The puck has been dropped for five seconds, and both the Oilers defenseman are trapped in the corner with Dave Taylor and Luc Robataille. Jari Kurri is just…is just…man. The only true assessment I can give is that he’s hoping for the puck to get out so he can go on a rush and get a point. He’s in just absolute shit position.

So yeah, Gretzky is uncovered.

A d-man today probably gets his head up and gets the puck to Gretzky directly, but hey, let’s give Duschene credit – amazing keep in, and he gets the puck to the trouble area immediately.

0:51 – Duschene has pulled the pin and launched it now, and here’s what we’re left with: two Oilers d-men battling with two Kings forwards (which sounds fine, but one of them has to watch the front), and they really, really need low help. As a general rule, when you’re a man down late in the game, one forward watches the two d-men, and the others help out to make it four-on-four down low.

0:52 – The puck kicks off Taylor to a wide open Gretzky…

…who backhand whacks the puck past Bill Ranford.

Conspiracy theory: the guy coming back into the zone right now is Mark Messier. Kurri was surely supposed to play some defense on his buddy there. Kevin Lowe turns the puck over. Ranford gives up an easy one.

OMG THEY LET GRETZKY SCORE. OILERZ 4EVA!!1!

I mean, of course they didn’t, but from looking at that goal, holy hell, you’d never know.

1:05 – The entire team takes to the ice to celebrate with Wayne, which would be really awkward if the goal didn’t actually matter for the team as well. I mean, guys would be happy for him, but that they saw some benefit here had to help. Nobody’s clamouring to get to the front otherwise. “…I’ll just catch him after the game for a handshake.”

1:33 – His father said ‘I hope he does it with a goal,’ and he did it with a goal!” Did that really happen? Walter was like “My son is about to break the all-time NHL points record? Hope that scrawny blonde doesn’t do it with some sally-ass assist.”

The craziest part of that whole night isn’t even in this video. The game, now tied at four with seconds remaining, stops entirely. They roll out a red carpet, Gordie Howe, his wife, and a bunch of other people come out, they give Wayne a mic, and he gives a speech (here’s the full video). Like, this is in the last minute of a game. I know, I know, it’s a hugely momentus occasion, but do you think they’d do that now if it happened? I just can’t see it. But if it were to happen, I hope it happens against a John Tortorella coached team so we can watch him silently get livid with a fake smile on, slowly rolling to a boil until steam comes out his ears. “Congrats, Wayne.” (Read: “GET ON WITH THE DAMN GAME.“)

Then even crazier…Wayne scores in OT (from his office!) on what can only be described as “terrible goaltending” to win the game for the Kings (skip to 11:40).

What a night, what a moment. What a tragedy of terribly awful defending.

Comments (17)

  1. This is simply amazing to relive. I was six at the time.

  2. Wow, take another look at that Gretzky winner. This guy has said all his life he was so great because he went where the puck was going to be, instead of when it had been.

    I mean, he breaks into the zone, and doesn’t bat an eye–just heads straight for behind the net. Not a second later does the puck get ringed around behind…and less than 6 seconds after Gretzky ENTERS THE ZONE, he scores on a WRAP AROUND. Wow.

  3. Also on this date in sports history in 1984, Dan Russell in Vancouver was getting ready to do his first “Sportstalk” show with Canucks coach Bill LaForge. LaForge died in 2005.

  4. Per H-R, Messier wore #11…

  5. Not to take anything away, but i’d love to see a guy like Kovalchuk or Datsyuk dropped into the late 80′s defensive schemes and see how they’d do.

    • No, it’s comparing apples to rickshaws, so you can’t, BUT… given a time machine, they’d score 300 points plus, easy. Especially w/ present day sticks.

      • So you’re saying that they’d score 300+ points because guys in the 80′s would be so enamored with Datsyuk’s new fangled stick technology to actualy defend him? =)

        • It’s hard to say, but look at the goalies in the 80′s compared to the goalies today. You’d see point totals go up, for sure, if you placed modern day players on the ice back then. Defensive systems weren’t nearly as developed either, there’s a lot of room on the ice in some of those old clips.

          • By this point in the 80s, goalies had mostly caught up. The standard was certainly higher than it was in the 82-85 period when Gretzky built up most of his point totals.

            Mind you, he’d just come off a 163-point total in 88-89 (to Mario’s 199), so it’s not as though goalies getting a lot better made much of a difference to him.

  6. Ill never forget his glory days.. I too was alive and it was amazing to see

  7. It’s Duchesne, you spelled it bad in two different ways. But great post nonetheless.

  8. Where do you begin with this kind of thing? He gets the point, on a goal, to tie the game, in Edmonton, in the last minute of play… I mean people at Disney were like damn… that’s a good story.

    The hockey of the mid-80′s to the mid-90′s for me is as good as hockey has been. Great players (with personalities) great games and all the teams were in cities where people actually played hockey and cared about it. (LA may have been a stretch)

    Oh and there was actually space to score around the goalies… seriously how big is Ranford like 5’8″ a buck fifty??

    • “eriously how big is Ranford like 5’8″ a buck fifty??”

      5’11, 185 according to his Wikipedia entry. If memory serves, he was always cited as one of the bigger goalies of the time, although he was still a ways smaller than Roy. I think he was really rangy for his size – long arms, especially.

  9. My memory is pretty bad, but wasn’t Kurri considered a pretty good defensive player at that time?

    • “A question mark by Kurri, because that’s who you send out to put on Gretzky in the dying moments?”

      One of the best defensive players in the league against a guy whose every move he knows by telepathy? Um, yes, I’d say that’s a good idea. Kurri was basically Datsyuk with a better wrist shot in his prime – he covered a TON of defensive territory while Gretzky

      Remember, the post-Gretzky Oilers went 3-1 in the playoffs against the Kings, largely because Kurri was able to (relatively) neutralise Gretzky in every series after 1989. He still scored about a point a game, but that was a step back from what he’d be expected to based on his regular season performances.

  10. Yes, it was 1989.

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