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MIKE PENNER

GretzkyFest Becomes Ducks' Show

March 17, 1994|MIKE PENNER

Gordie Howe wasn't there, but he was the only one.

Michael Eisner was there. Emilio Estevez was there. Jackie Joyner-Kersee was there. Ron Harper was there. The pint-sized cast of "D2: The Mighty Ducks" sequel was there. Bruce McNall smuggled his way in.

Every seat in the place was filled, as is the tradition on Hockey Night in Anaheim, and then some. Two hundred and eight media credentials were issued for the event, and the ink-stained brigade wasn't there to watch the ninth-place team in the NHL's Western Conference play host to the 10th-place team.

No, they were there to watch Gretzky, The Two-Goals-Short One, on the offhand chance that history might be made Wednesday night. By now, the story has been beaten to death: Wayne Gretzky chases Gordie Howe's all-time NHL goals record . . . and chases it . . . and chases it. For nearly two weeks, Gretzky had been stuck on 798 goals, three shy of Howe's 801, but Tuesday he punched in No. 799 against Ottawa.

Yes, Gordie, they won't recognize the 174 goals you scored in the World Hockey Assn., but they do allow goals scored against Ottawa.

No wonder Gordie's steamed.

As you may have heard, Howe, Gretzky's boyhood idol and longtime friend, who accompanied Wayne every photo op of the way when Gretzky broke his all-time points record in 1989, is sitting out this WayneFest. Howe believes the real record is 975 goals, NHL and WHA totals combined, but the real reason he hasn't joined the entourage is that Gordie knows his hockey.

A hat trick Wednesday would have gotten Gretzky the record, and that was the enticement that packed the house. Ten years ago, a hat trick was just another night at the office for Gretzky, but the '94 Gretzky is a different model, as are the '94 Kings, and Howe realizes that this thing could take weeks, even months.

If Gordie and Colleen Howe wanted to see the world, they'd have their travel agent book Paris, Tokyo and Jamaica--not Calgary, Hartford and San Jose.

This is how this season is going for Gretzky and the Kings:

On a night when thousands turned out at Anaheim Arena, hoping for at least two goals from Gretzky, two goals were scored by Tim Sweeney.

Sweeney plays for the Mighty Ducks.

With those goals, Sweeney moved within 778 of Howe.

By the time Sweeney scored them, in the last 10 minutes of the game, the Ducks were moving toward a different kind of historical occasion--their first victory against the once-mighty Kings.

It was a blowout, too--Ducks 5, Kings 2--and here come those Barry Melrose-to-be-axed rumors again after a 24-hour cease-fire.

These were supposed to be gimme points for the Kings, who were supposedly recharged after their 7-0 pasting of Ottawa, who were supposed to capitalize on their dominance over the Ducks and extend their record over the neighborhood wanna-bes from 4-0 to 5-0.

But the Wayne Watch focused mainly on the Kings' bench, where a flu-stricken Gretzky spent a good portion of the evening sucking on an oxygen mask, and the Ducks made the remaining Kings look sick by scoring twice in the second period and twice again in the third, opening a flabbergasting 5-1 advantage.

These same Ducks, still playing without Paul Kariya, The $2 Million Man Or He's Staying Home, went more than 200 minutes last week without scoring a goal. Two hundred minutes. That's more than three hours, more than three hockey games.

Think about what one can do in 200 minutes:

--Win the L.A. Marathon, with time left over to cool down watching "60 Minutes."

--Watch "Schindler's List."

--Write a book about Tonya Harding.

--Read "The Bridges of Madison County," drive to Crown Books, demand a refund.

--Listen to the collected recorded works of Pearl Jam. Twice.

Who knows when the Ducks could reel off another 200 minutes of silence--such a streak could begin anytime, anywhere--but today, it's the Ducks who have back-to-back victories, not the Kings, and it's the Ducks who have more than a prayer at winning a playoff berth, not the Kings.

Eighth-place San Jose plays tonight, but until faceoff, the Ducks trail the Sharks by just four points. And on St. Patrick's Day, after 5 1/2 months of the NHL schedule, the Ducks lead the Kings, the Wayne Gretzky Kings, the defending Stanley Cup-finalist Kings, by three points.

Ponder this quote from Ducks Coach Ron Wilson on the night of March 16, 1994: "I think (the gap with San Jose) can be closed. Obviously, we've got to get some help from L.A."

Wilson was referring to the Kings' two games this weekend against Sharks.

So it has come to this: The Kings playing spoiler, and blocking back, for the Ducks.

"If they split with San Jose," Wilson said, "and we pick it up on the road like we do. I'm not saying I like our chances, but we're a relaxed team. San Jose is putting a lot of pressure on themselves and L.A. . . . a lot of people are under a lot of pressure there."

It's not just Gretzky chasing Howe anymore.

Now it's the Kings chasing the expansion Ducks of Anaheim. And, their self-respect.

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