LOS ANGELES — THERE was enough of a lull in the second period that the scoreboard camera at one point zoomed in on actor Tom Hanks, sitting in the audience, whose mug appeared on the big screen overhead to rousing applause.
But a moment later the real celebrity of the night, Wayne Gretzky, got a true Oscar-size reception when he sleeved in his 802nd goal. With it, Gretzky surpassed Gordie Howe's all-time goal-scoring record and cemented his place as one of the most dominant athletes in history.
The goal Wednesday night against the Vancouver Canucks gave Gretzky his 61st National Hockey League record. He did in 15 seasons what it took Howe, Gretzky's hero, 26 seasons to do. In the locker room, clutching the record-breaking puck, the man who has gotten his share of adulation over the years said: ``I've never felt excitement and emotion like that before.''
The record-breaker came on a cross-ice pass from Kings' defenseman Marty McSorley on a power play. Gretzky slapped the puck past Vancouver goaltender Kirk McLean - his first shot.
The crowd burst to its feet. Teammates smothered him in a beaver-hut of humanity. Cameras whirred. In a short ceremony, Gretzky was presented with a book made up of score sheets from each game in which he tallied a goal.
``You've always been `the great one,' '' said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. ``Tonight, you became the greatest.'' The Kings lost, 6 to 3.