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This Day in Buffalo Sports History: The Great Gretzky

   Feb. 24, 1982 -- Memorial Auditorium may never have been as electric as it was on this particular night.

   Edmonton's Wayne Gretzky had scored 76 goals already that season, tying Phil Esposito's all-time record. It was almost inevitable that he'd get number 77 somewhere. But where? The Aud was Gretzky's next stop on the schedule. Gretzky's family and childhood friends came down from his hometown of Brantford, Ontario, for the game, and Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn took time out from filming "Best Friends" in the Buffalo area to attend it.

   Gil Perreault threatened to steal the show for a while. He had a hat trick early in the game, playing one of his best-ever games as a Sabre. Then Gretzky went to work after having his first seven shots on goal stopped by goalie Don Edwards.

   Gretzky took the puck away from Steve Patrick and came down left wing with about seven minutes to go in a 3-3 game. He  beat defenseman Richie Dunn, and took a shot on goal. Edwards couldn't stop this one, giving Gretzky #77 and prompting an explosion of noise. Phil Esposito was part of a brief on-ice ceremony.

   The air in the building was definitely out of the balloon at that point, but Gretzky showed why he really was The Great One that night. He scored two more goals in the last few minutes to finish with a hat trick; he added two assists in a 6-3 Edmonton win. That gave Gretzky 79 goals in 64 games. The man knew how to rise to an occasion.

   Gretzky finished with 92 goals for the season. That record still stands. And I've still got the program from that game.

--- Budd Bailey

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