Barry Melrose on Kings' 1993 playoff run

December, 18, 2012
12/18/12
11:04
AM ET
In "Dropping the Gloves: Inside the Fiercely Combative World of Professional Hockey," Barry Melrose talks about the Kings 1993 playoff series against the Maple Leafs, getting ripped by Don Cherry and fighting in the game.

An odd situation developed during our first game with Toronto. ESPN was covering the series, and they were pro–Los Angeles because of Gretzky. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was also covering the series, and they were pulling for the Leafs. An all-Canada Stanley Cup final between Montreal and Toronto would have given them huge ratings. We not only had teams from two different countries playing on the ice, we had a network from each country fighting one another.

[+] EnlargeMelrose book
Random House of Canada LimitedESPN analyst Barry Melrose writes about his career in hockey from Kelvington, Saskatchewan, to ESPN.
Don Cherry, who covered hockey for the CBC at the time (and to this day), is an institution in Canada. With his clownish wardrobe and in-your-face delivery, Cherry just may be Canada’s best-known person. He was going crazy over the Leafs. He was interviewing their players and coaches between periods and at every other possible opportunity. He was all over them. My guys got sick of it, and said they didn’t want to do any more interviews with the CBC.

I told the CBC our guys were fed up, and that there would be no more interviews. I told them the decision had been mine because what was going on was too big a distraction for my team. The funny part was I had more Canadian players on the Kings than the Leafs had.

Cherry went crazy on the air that night. He started calling me everything under the sun. He was saying what a terrible player I had been when I was young, what a terrible coach I was, and that the Kings had no chance of winning because of me and my coaching.

Meanwhile, my parents had gone over to Wendel Clark’s parents’ house in Kelvington that night to watch the first game. Wendel and I had played hockey together since we were kids. As I’ve said, his dad had coached us and we were cousins. Now Wendel was playing for Toronto, and I was coaching the Kings. CBC picked up on this situation, and thought it was a great small-town human-interest story. So they sent a crew to Kelvington to shoot a piece about the two families with divided team loyalties watching the game together. Then Cherry came on between periods and started on me, ripping me up this way and that. It was brutal, ugly, and created such an awkward feeling in the Clarks’ living room that my parents decided it would be best to leave. The CBC ended up without their human interest story.

The Clarks picked a heck of a night to watch a game with my parents. Toronto hockey fans still talk about that game. It was a very physical game. In the first period, Doug Gilmour, one of Toronto’s hot guys – he scored thirty-two goals that year and had 127 points – was carrying the puck at centre ice when Marty McSorley came up and drilled him. It was a hard, open ice hit, and I didn’t think it was a dirty hit. But Marty really nailed him – separated him from his helmet as I recall.

Then Wendel Clark came in and fought McSorley. It was a great fight – maybe the last great fight the playoffs have had. Those two went at it toe to toe. Maple Leaf Gardens went crazy, like it was the days of the Roman gladiators. Pat Burns, the Leafs’ coach, was yelling stuff at me and gesturing. We were only thirty feet apart. In the old rinks like the Gardens, there was nothing between the two benches. Pat was a little chunky then. So I looked at him and inflated my cheeks, like a blowfish. He went really crazy after that.

That McSorley-Clark fight is a great example of why we can’t take fighting out of our sport. It was an emotional moment, the right thing for Wendel and Marty to do. Marty had sent a message, and Wendel had to respond for Toronto.

I have no doubt in my mind that McSorley’s hit on Gilmour and the fight that followed won us the series. It fired our guys up, and it let Toronto know we had come to play every night. We lost that game. But afterwards, I walked in the room and told our guys that McSorley had just won us the series.
Excerpted from "Dropping the Gloves: Inside the Fiercely Combative World of Professional Hockey." Copyright 2012 Barry Melrose with Roger Vaughan. Published by Fenn/McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

Barry Melrose

NHL studio analyst
Former NHL player and coach Barry Melrose is an NHL studio analyst for ESPN.

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