Gretzky's goal: overcoming fear

March 09, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

Los Angeles Kings star Wayne Gretzky is so good at what he does, no one ever thinks that The Great One might know the meaning of the word fear.

But yesterday, as Gretzky talked about the increasing anxiety of breaking Gordie Howe's NHL goal-scoring record of 801, the word kept sneaking into the conversation.

"My whole sports life I've played in fear," he said during a conference call. "I've always played in fear of failure. When I was 9, I was afraid of not making the teams I tried out for, of not being good enough to do what was expected. I was like that in school, too. I always hurried home to do my homework, because I was afraid of not succeeding. It carried over to the NHL. I think now it translates into respect for my teammates and my team, and it's made me better."

Since March 2, when Gretzky scored his 798th goal in Hartford, he has been stuck in neutral. In the past two games he has not scored, which brings him to tonight's home game against the Chicago Blackhawks.

"I don't want this to drag on," he said. "I'm starting to live with that little fear again. I don't want people asking, 'Will it ever happen?' I hope it happens quickly."

And he believes when he finally does get it, it will mean more than any of the other NHL records he holds. Not only because it is a record that has been held by Howe, his childhood idol, but also because it has taken so much hard work.

"This is the one that will mean the most because it is the hardest to get and will be the hardest to break," he said. "Eight hundred and twogoals. It will be hard for someone to score 802 or 850. There are people who are talented enough, but it will take an awful lot of 50-goal years to do it."

It has taken Gretzky 15 years to get to the brink. He chuckled when asked if he has enjoyed the chase.

"It has been fun," he said. "There's no doubt if anyone asked who the three best goal-scorers in the history of hockey are, everyone would say Howe, [Phil] Esposito and [Maurice] Richard. There are no bones about that. So that makes this kind of unique.

"No one dreamed I'd be this close to the record. All the years I've played, if you asked anyone, they'd say my forte was play-making. They'd come to a game and they'd say, 'Watch his passing,' or 'Watch how well he sees the ice.'

No one has ever said, 'Watch his slap shot.' I'm getting a kick out of this."

When he finally gets 802, the fear may be gone, but not the challenge.

"If I ever get to 802," Gretzky said. "I'm going for 900."

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