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Signature Sports Memories: Gretzky scores 50 in 39

By Al Buczkowski, 06/09/15, 1:15PM CDT


A scrawny 20-year-old sets a mark that may never be broken

NOTE: All June, we'll be counting down some of the most memorable moments in sports, leading up to the announcement of our Signature Sports Memories Giveaway winner. So be sure to enter here by June 30, 2015 for your chance to score autographed sports memorabilia.

"…that's my favorite [record]…because I think that will be the hardest to break."

- Wayne Gretzky on scoring 50 goals in 39 games

In today’s NHL, 50 goals in a season is considered a feat.

But when Maurice “Rocket” Richard of the Montreal Canadiens became the first to do it in 1945, an NHL season consisted of only 50 games (compared to 82 today).

His “50 in 50” became a goal-scoring benchmark that remained unmatched until Mike Bossy notched a pair in the closing minutes of the Islanders’ 50th game of the 1980-81 season to tie Richard (and inspire one of the most iconic celebrations of all-time).

Rocket’s record came under attack again the following year, when a scrawny 20-year-old from Brantford, Ontario started the 1981-82 campaign with 41 goals in 37 games.

In the same season Bossy joined the 50/50 club, the Edmonton Oilers’ Wayne Gretzky recorded his second straight 50-goal season, putting to rest any question that he could excel in the more talented, more physical NHL, which the Oilers had joined in 1979 after the WHA folded.

Now, needing nine goals in the next 13 games to join Bossy and Richard, Gretzky stood at the doorstep of history. In his next two games, he would cross the threshold into legend.

After scoring four goals against the LA Kings in the season’s 38th game, few now doubted Gretzky would break the record. But fewer still expected him to do it the very next game.

On December 30, 1981, Gretzky erupted for five more goals against Philadelphia in the season's 39th game.

Nine goals in two games. 

50 in 39.

And it could have easily been more. 

"Not to sound egotistical," said Gretzky, "but I thought I could have scored seven goals that game."

Flyers goalie/victim Pete Peeters disagrees.

"That night Wayne could have had 10 goals."

No. 99's historic run wasn't over. Gretzky went on to score a record 92 goals and assist on another 120 on his way to becoming the first player in NHL history to break the 200-point mark, ending the '81-'82 season with a total of 212. 

[Main Image: Håkan Dahlström]

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