On July 22, 1996, Wayne Gretzky signed with the New York Rangers as an unrestricted free agent. He would play the final three seasons of his NHL career with the Blueshirts, including a 1997 appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals alongside Mark Messier.
In his first two years on Broadway, Gretzky put up back-to-back 90-plus point seasons, including 97 in 1997. In his final year of 1999, Gretzky managed just 62 points, which was still good enough to lead a very bad Rangers’ squad.
“The Great One” has always spoke very highly of his time in New York, especially his final game in April against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“My last game in New York was my greatest day in hockey,” said Gretzky. “Everything you enjoy about the sport of hockey as a kid, driving to practice with my mom and dad, driving to the game with mom and dad, looking in the stands and seeing your mom and dad and your friends, that all came together in that last game in New York.”
Gretzky finished his career with 894 goals, 1963 assists for 2857 assists.
I’m too young to remember Gretzky in his days with the L.A. Kings or any of his time in Edmonton, but I do remember watching him with the Rangers and knowing I was watching the greatest hockey player to ever live.
I remember my father in 1999 giving me the option of going to a game in January to see the Rangers play the Sharks, or waiting until the final game of the season to see the Blueshirts play the Penguins. Being 10-years-old, I didn’t want to wait until April, and chose the January game. I’ve regretted it ever since.
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