WINNIPEG, OCT. 26 -- History, as often happens, began with a seemingly innocent event. But Wayne Gretzky is perhaps the greatest hockey player ever, not just because he regularly makes the amazing play look simple, but also because he makes the simple play regularly.
Gretzky, the captain and star of the Los Angeles Kings, scaled another mountain and reached another milestone tonight by collecting his 2,000th point, assisting on a first-period goal by Tomas Sandstrom. Tony Granato had the other assist on the play and Winnipeg goalie Bob Essensa will be assured a place in hockey history for his presence in front of the Jets net.
"It is nice to get it over with, but it would have been more exciting if we had won," Gretzky said.
Essensa and the Jets went home the winners, 6-2.
"It wasn't the way I planned on getting my name in the record book," Essensa said. "I'm sure it will be a Trivial Pursuit question. But it had to happen sometime, and it just happened that I was the goalie. It was nice that the fans in Winnipeg could see it."
The Kings came to Winnipeg hoping to show that their 7-1-1 start was not a mirage and to complete another chapter in the distinguished career of the Great One.
Gretzky -- who will not be 30 until Jan. 26 -- already held the NHL's all-time scoring lead. Tonight he was looking to arrive at, if not pass, a barrier many thought unthinkable. The sellout crowd of 15,566 at the Winnipeg Arena -- the first full house this season -- came hoping to see a Jets victory, but also history.
On the historic point, the puck came to Gretzky, who was stationed halfway up the boards to the right of Kings goalie Kelly Hrudey. Granato cut through the neutral zone from the far side. Gretzky put the puck on Granato's stick. Granato fed Sandstrom going down the middle of the Winnipeg zone. A wrist shot beat Essensa with 5:28 left in the period, cutting the Jets' lead to 2-1.
With the red light still going, the Kings poured over the boards to congratulate the symbol of their franchise. The crowd was no less appreciative, giving Gretzky a standing ovation. Gretzky gently waved to the crowd.
He now has played 857 regular season NHL games. With his one point tonight he has seven goals and 14 assists in 10 games this season, bringing his NHL career totals to 684 goals and 1,316 assists. Gretzky also had 46 goals and 64 assists while playing in the World Hockey Association, but the NHL does not recognize those points.
Gretzky already possessed the NHL record for points in a career. That mark became his on Oct. 15, 1989. In one of sports more fitting ironies, Gretzky and the Kings went to Edmonton to play the Oilers, for whom he played nine seasons and helped acquire four Stanley Cups. The Kings were down by 4-3 when Gretzky scored a goal for his 1,851st point -- one more than that of the great Gordie Howe. Gretzky scored the game-winning goal in overtime to give the Kings a 5-4 victory and put an all-together positive and dramatic spin on the evening.
On this night, there was less high drama. There was no living, breathing legend -- Howe was in the stands in October -- to pass. It was a numerical barrier, however lofty.
"This time I wasn't chasing anybody," Gretzky said. "I was chasing myself."
Gretzky would like to help do for Los Angeles what he helped do in Edmonton, namely win a title. Asked if this mark or passing Howe was his greatest thrill, Gretzky said, "I don't compare anything to winning that first Stanley Cup."
Gretzky will break more records and push the standards ever higher.
"The beauty of it," said Kings Coach Tom Webster, "is that he will continue to surpass it."