Even though the Sabres lost the game I am about to recall, I feel in this new era of Pegullaville, Hockey-Heaven etc, that this is a prime example of why Terry Pegula has brought the city of Buffalo back to the forefront of sports prominence in the Buffalo and Western New York/Southern Ontario Region.
The Wayne Gretzky led Edmonton Oilers were in town to play a match at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium. Three nights prior in Detroit against the Red wings, #99 had scored his 76th goal of the season tying the mark held by Phil Esposito.
This record was set in the 1970-71 season while playing for the Boston Bruins and held by Esposito until this fateful night.
The first period started up with no real action to report. A few shots on goal were placed on the goalies for both squads, Don Edwards for Buffalo and Future Buffalo Sabre Grant Fuhr on the other end of the ice.
From all the information I could find, there were no penalties and no major events in the first half of the period. At the 10:59 mark, another future Sabre, Charlie Huddy, received a pass from Wayne Gretzky and sent a shot past the pads of Don Edwards.
This put the Oilers up 1-0. Two minutes and thirty seven seconds later, the Oilers struck again on a nice goal by winger Pat Hughes past Don Edwards moving Edmonton ahead 2-0. Buffalo got on the board at 15:01 of the first on a goal by Buffalo’s own Great one number 11, Gilbert Perreault.
Less then two minutes later, future hall of famer Jarri Kurri slapped his 27th of the year past Donnie Edwards to give the Oilers back their lead by two goals to end the period, with Gretzky getting the primary assist. The Sabres outshot the Oilers 7-6, however the oilers made their shots count scoring on 50% of them.
The second period started off for Buffalo at 4:04, with Perreault getting his second of the game and 25th of the season to bring Buffalo within one on a nice give and go with Mike Ramsey and Richie Dunn. There were a few minor penalties in the second period, including some matching roughing minors to Mike Ramsey and Paul Coffey.
Don Edwards showed great poise in the net, stopping all 14 of the shots he faced from Edmonton. Buffalo had fired six at Fuhr. With the uneventful second period completed, for the most part, the third period would provide enough excitement for the entire evening.
In true Gilbert Perreault form, the Buffalo Sabre great came out in
the first three minutes of the third period and buried a shot past Fuhr, giving him the hat trick and getting the Sabres back into the game. After the hats were cleared off the ice, and the crowd died down, the real fireworks started.
It was over half way through the third period with the teams at a stalemate tied 3-3, that the man we affectionately call “The Great One” now took over the game single-handedly. At just over the 13 minute mark, there was a scramble at the Sabres blue line in which Steve Patrick (brother of current Sabre bench coach James Patrick) had the puck on his stick looking to exit the zone.
As he turned to his left, Gretzky was there to poke check Patrick and take the puck right off his stick. In true “Great One” fashion, Gretzky walked around Patrick on the outside left of the defenseman. With Patrick hanging all over him including a hook that pinned Gretzky’s right arm and elbow into the side of his body, #99 pulled a forehand-backhand-forehand combination that not only withstands the hook from Patrick, but fooled Sabre goalkeeper Don Edwards into opening the five hole.
Gretzky slipped the wrist shot under Edwards right pad as he was sliding across the crease and scores to put Edmonton up 4-3. This was Gretzky’s 77th goal breaking Phil Esposito’s single season goal mark. As soon as the puck hits the net, what happens next is the reason I love the sport of hockey and being a Buffalonian.
The crowd at the Aud erupted with such force, that even in the video of the goal that is 30 years old, makes the hair on the back of my neck stand. All 16,433 fans in attendance that night are on their feet, screaming, clapping, chanting applauding Mr. Wayne Gretzky on his record-breaking goal.
The Oiler bench empties and they mob Gretzky along the boards in the Buffalo end. You would think that the Buffalo Sabres had won the Stanley Cup, and in reality what was happening was the city was showing their class for the greatest hockey player to ever put on a sweater.
Gretzky skated back and forth across the ice waiving at the Buffalo crowd thanking them for their cheers. The Auditorium staff blares “Celebration”, by Kool and The Gang through the loud speakers and everything came to a stand still.
The announcers on the broadcast advised that it seemed there was going to be a presentation at center ice, and low and behold Mr. Phil Esposito himself made his way down to the penalty box area. He had the puck in his hand and said the following:
“Thank you. Wayne, I want to congratulate you, man. And I want to thank you for allowing me to be a part of this. I mean it, Wayne. Thank you. Congratulations.” As Esposito handed the puck to #99, the crowd again erupted in cheering and a standing ovation that seemed to last a lifetime. Little did the Buffalo fans know this was not the end of the Great One’s night.
Five minutes and eight seconds later, at the 18:16 mark of the third period, Sabres defenseman Mike Ramsey was in the Edmonton zone battling for the puck on the left wing boards and sent a pass into the slot which was intercepted by Mark Messier.
With a seemingly effortless flick of the wrist, he sent a pass up the right wing to a streaking Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky took the pass and moved the puck forehand-backhand-forehand and goes around Steve Patrick.
On the last deke, he gets Buffalo goalie Don Edwards moving to his left and then rifled a quick slap-shot off the glove of Edwards and into the net for #78. The Buffalo crowd once again erupted with cheers for the effort put forth by Gretzky. This goal was the dagger in the hearts of the Sabres coming late in the third period, killing any hopes of a come back. However, the night was not done.
Gilbert Perreault took a tripping penalty at 19:00 minutes of the third period, and Gretzky stepped onto the ice to work the power play. Messier had the puck behind the net in the Edmonton zone. With a clean pass up the center of the ice to the center ice line, the puck was tipped by Oilers Forward Patrick Hughes directly onto the stick of Wayne Gretzky, who turned on the speed at the Buffalo blue line blowing past Richie Dunn on the left wing.
As he got up to the top of the circle, Gretzky unloaded a slap shop that beat the Buffalo goalie who had come out 10 feet from the crease to challenge the shot. Goal #79 hits the back of the net, completing the natural hat trick for #99, Wayne Gretzky.
As the time ran out, the Oilers exited the bench and mob Gretzky again, down in the Oilers goal crease. In a show of absolute sportsmanship, Don Edwards skated down the ice and shook the hand of the man who just set a record against him, that to this day, has not been approached or broken. Gretzky once again saluted the crowd, and the teams left the ice.
Again, I want to point out that I know this is a Sabre site. However, I am a hockey fan also. Wayne Gretzky is one of the reasons I watch hockey today. For the city of Buffalo, and the Sabres fans to embrace Wayne Gretzky that night as one of their own was a great thing to see.
Those 16,433 fans witnessed something the rest of may never see again, hockey history. I wish I was old enough back then to remember the game myself. I have been going to games since I was six years old, and have never seen anything like that before. Please enjoy the video below, the quality is quite good for the age of it.