- Arash Markazi, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Los Angeles in 1993 was a sports city in flux.
The Lakers were fighting to stay relevant two years after Magic Johnson's retirement, the Clippers flirtation with winning under Larry Brown was fleeting, the Dodgers were in the midst of six straight seasons without a playoff appearance, and the Raiders and Rams were near the end of a slow descent that eventually would lead them out of town.
Wayne Gretzky had come to Los Angeles in the summer of 1988 with the promise of raising the profile of the Kings in Los Angeles and the NHL throughout the western United States. By 1993, he and the Kings were the city's lone, improbably shining star on a run to the Stanley Cup finals.
This is the story of that season through the eyes of many who lived it.
I. 'I'm going to get you one day.'
Bruce McNall (Kings owner, 1986-94 ): I was a Kings fan growing up. I was a fan during the early '70s when "Whitey" Widing, Butch Goring, Rogie Vachon and those guys were playing. I loved going to games and became friends with (former Kings and current Lakers owner) Jerry Buss.
I would always bug him about the Kings. "Gee, Jerry, why don't you sell me the Kings? Why don't you sell me the Kings?" He never would but in 1986 he needed some money and he called me and said, "I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll sell you a quarter of the Kings with an option to buy half for $16 million." I said OK and within a few months I owned half the Kings. He put me on the Board of Governors and basically told me I could run the team. I loved it and I kept bugging him about the other 50 percent and he finally sold me the rest in 1987 and I became the full owner.
To me, I was just a fan that happened to be an owner rather than the other way around. It was all about making the players happy for me.
Jim Fox (Kings right wing, 1980-90; now a color analyst on Kings television broadcasts) : Bruce made you feel like a star. When he first became a minority owner, I remember we were in Long Island and Bob Kudelski's luggage didn't make it. We weren't flying on the private planes back then and Bob had just been called up so he's there without his luggage and Bruce just peeled off 500 bucks cash and said, "Go buy yourself some suits." That was the way he was. He gave us a different feeling like, "Yeah, we are important." He really made the players feel special.
Bob Miller (Kings play-by-play announcer, 1973-present): I almost felt like he wasn't my boss. He was such a fan. We'd be on the plane and he'd ask me to tell him stories about (former Kings and Lakers owner) Jack Kent Cooke. He told me how he grew up in Arcadia and used to listen to me call Kings games and he wanted to talk about those games and those players. It was almost like this fan all of a sudden had enough money to buy the team. He had been a fan of the Kings for all these years. He was so excited about being the owner and he always wanted to be around the players and take care of the players. He was also a Hollywood guy and he knew for the Kings to be big in Los Angeles they needed a superstar.
McNall: I was near the ice right after I had bought the team and I felt someone slap me on the back with a stick and I turned around and it was Wayne Gretzky before a pregame skate against the Edmonton Oilers. He said, "Congratulations." I said, "Yeah, thanks, I'm going to get you one day." We laughed about it and later he wanted to go to a Lakers-Celtics (NBA) Finals game with (now wife) Janet, on one of their first dates. So I arranged that and sat with them and I subtly teased him about how great it would be if he came to L.A. and he laughed again. I don't think he ever thought it would happen.
Miller: I don't think anyone believed it could really happen.
McNall: After I had bought the team, Jerry Buss told me he had been having on and off conversations with (Edmonton Oilers owner) Peter Pocklington about the possibility of trading for Wayne Gretzky and said I should pursue that sometime. So I started bugging Pocklington about Gretzky every time I would see him at a board meeting or at a game. I'd say, "So Peter, how about Wayne?" He would always brush it off but in the summer of 1988 Peter called me and said, "If you're really serious about this, let's do it. I need $15 million cash and I need it fast." The rest is history.
The Kings began attracting new fans and national attention with Gretzky but it would take five years for the team to make history on the ice. The Kings made it to the playoffs in Gretzky's first four seasons in Los Angeles but never advanced past the second round.
It looked as if the 25-year streak would continue heading into the 1992-93 season when Gretzky was diagnosed with a herniated disk located between his shoulder blades. The injury was described as "one-in-a-million" by Dr. Robert Watkins, a spinal consultant who spoke at a news conference held at the Forum Club during the preseason to describe Gretzky's condition. "This problem," Watkins said, "has the possibility of being career-threatening."
II. 'I honestly thought that was it.'
Tony Granato (Kings left wing, 1989-96): Bruce McNall called a few of us over and mentioned what came back on the MRI and it was a very somber day because there was a possibility Wayne's career could be over. They described it as a bulging disk, but it was worse than that and they weren't sure how it would heal. We were all in shock. Here we were getting ready for the season and we find out we're going to be losing our best player not only for part of the season but maybe for his career.
McNall: I took some of the leaders on the team at that time aside and I told them, "We have to plan on this season without Wayne. You guys have to step up. We just have to fight through this and make the most out of what we have. Just enjoy your moment. This is a chance for you guys to step up."
Barry Melrose (Kings coach, 1992-95; now an ESPN analyst): About three months earlier, I had taken the Kings job and one of the reasons I went to L.A. was I wanted to coach Wayne Gretzky and then Gretzky gets hurt the first day of training camp and is out. So that was an interesting scenario.
Luc Robitaille (Kings left wing, 1986-94; 1997-2001; 2003-06; now a Kings executive): Wayne actually had a really good physical before camp. We had these push-up tests and sit-up tests and bike tests and Wayne's were the best he ever had. The next day there was a helicopter coming to pick him up from our training camp in Lake Arrowhead and two or three days later we heard he was done for the year and might never play again.
Miller: I remember thinking that may be the end of our season.
McNall: I honestly thought that was it. I thought he would never play again. I was nervous. I was nervous for Wayne personally. This is his life and his career. I also thought we were in real serious trouble as a team. There was no telling if he was ever going to be able to come back and I thought at the time it was unlikely that he would ever play again.
III. 'If you're scared to talk about the
Stanley Cup, you're never going to win it.'
Granato: Barry handled [Gretzky's injury] extremely well in how he prepared us. He didn't let us use that as an excuse or factor it into how we played. After the initial shock, it didn't faze us. I learned a lot from Barry from that season. How your team feels is how your coach acts and he acted in a way that was like, "OK, we have an injury, get back on the ice and get after it."
Melrose: My expectation was always to win everything. Even though I was young, I'd been fortunate as a coach to win a Memorial Cup in junior hockey in Canada and then I had coached in the American Hockey League in 1992 and we won the championship there. I was coming off two championship teams in three years so I expected to win every year as the coach and that's the attitude I went in with when I came to L.A. From day one we talked about winning the Stanley Cup. I'm a big believer that if you're scared to talk about the Stanley Cup you're never going to win it. So right off the bat that was my goal.
Robitaille: We were in Tacoma, Wash., for a preseason game after they made the announcement about Gretzky's injury and Barry Melrose took me aside at the morning skate and he said, "Wayne might miss the whole year and I got to name a new captain, who do you think it should be?" I said, "Well, Dave Taylor?" He said, "That's not who I'm thinking of. Who else do you think it should be?" He had this smile on his face and I said, "I don't know." He laughed and he said, "I'm thinking it should be you." I couldn't believe it. He goes, "I want you to be my captain and I'm asking one thing out of you. Every day, I need you to be my hardest-working guy." I said, "Deal."
Melrose: Luc really responded to being the captain. He had his best year ever. He set a record for goals by a left winger with 63. He just had a fantastic year.
Dave Taylor (Kings right wing, 1977-94): The silver lining in all that was when Wayne started to feel better and finally came back in the second half the season, he was fresh and a lot of the young players had developed some confidence.
Melrose: Believe it or not, it ended up being good for a lot of players on our team. With Gretzky out of the lineup that meant a lot of ice time for a lot of guys that would not have normally gotten ice time. Guys were playing on the power play that would not have gotten that experience otherwise, so it actually really helped a lot of guys during the year.
Robitaille: We came out like gangbusters that year. We had a certain work ethic and that attitude that it was us against the world and we're going to outwork teams after everyone counted us out.
IV. 'One of my goals was I
wanted to meet Tony Robbins someday.'
Darryl Sydor (Kings defenseman, 1991-96) : Barry was a very motivational coach. Players played for him. He had a great coaching style where if we played hard and followed the system good things would happen. He was a positive guy. He was a big fan of (motivational speaker) Anthony Robbins. Actually, Anthony Robbins was around the team a lot back then.
Melrose: I got into Tony Robbins' stuff when I was coaching junior hockey and I really thought Tony's stuff was great for me and for everybody. All his stuff is about pushing yourself and reaching goals and taking action. One of my goals was I wanted to meet Tony Robbins someday so when I got the L.A. job, I wrote Tony a letter and explained my situation and explained who I was and why I wanted to meet him and Tony wrote me back and said he would love to meet me and we met at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Marina del Rey. He actually flew in on a helicopter and we had a great talk and from that point on, Tony and I were friends. I talked to him regularly and I actually got him to help me that season.
Kelly Hrudey (Kings goaltender, 1988-96): I had a two-month stretch during the season, after having my best start ever, where I was, without question, the worst goalie in the National Hockey League. Trust me, that's not a good feeling. I was really struggling with my confidence. It was my 10th year in the league and knowing the average career was around four years, I was wondering if that was going to be my last year in the NHL. That's how bad I was.
Melrose: Kelly Hrudey wasn't playing the way Kelly Hrudey had always played and it was certainly never a lack of effort. Kelly always played hard and worked hard in practice. It was a confidence factor.
Hrudey: I remember sitting in the dressing room on a Saturday afternoon before playing a home game against the New York Rangers in January, and Robb Stauber was starting in goal and I was backing him up. About two and a half hours before the game, Barry walks into the dressing room and he's followed closely by Anthony Robbins. With the team we had with Gretzky, it was normal to see celebrities, politicians and other dignitaries coming through our dressing room to see him. But he walked in and went straight to Barry's office. Shortly thereafter Barry summoned me into his office. I was so low at that point I was wondering why anyone would want to see the worst goalie in the NHL. Barry introduced me to Tony and asked me if I would be interested in working with Tony to get me back on track. I said of course. I was actually so pleased that my coach cared so deeply about me that he would do that for me.
Melrose: I saw Tony work with Kelly in the room and I saw the results and it was amazing.
Hrudey: It took some time, but I was beginning to gain my mental strength back and really believe I was going to be a player again. I think that experience for me and for my teammates, to witness Barry help me the way he did, formed a new level of trust with all of us. I really think that had a lot to do with us getting to the finals that year.
Melrose: Another big turning point happened a couple weeks later. Gretz was back, but he was struggling (he hadn't scored a goal in more than a month) and the team was struggling (the Kings hadn't won a game in more than two weeks). No one was playing well and Gretz asked to see me. We were in Quebec City and Gretz came in and we had a meeting. It was him, me, Bruce McNall and (assistant coach) Cap Raeder. Gretz was very honest. He wasn't happy with the way he was playing. We talked about it. I wasn't using him enough. He said, "Barry, I'm not helping the way it is right now. I need to play more. I can't play 15 minutes a game. I know you guys have played well without me and you guys have been awesome, but if you want me to help out with this team, I have to play more the rest of the season." We agreed with that and from that day on I started playing him over 20 minutes a night, depending on how he was playing and how he was looking and he got better and better and better. When the playoffs started he was in great shape physically and mentally. I'll always remember that night in Quebec City, where we had that meeting and I think that was the turning point of the season for Gretz and for us.
The Kings played well late, going 12-6-3 in March and April to finish the regular season with 88 points. They were still a distant third in the Smythe Division behind the Calgary Flames (97 points) and the Vancouver Canucks (101 points) and if they were to finally get past the second round of the playoffs, they would have to do so by getting past Calgary and Vancouver -- something they were rarely able to do during the regular season.
V. 'I never really had a lot of
confidence that we could really do this.'
Melrose: Kelly struggled against Calgary and I went with Robb Stauber after we were down 2-1 in the series, and Robb played great.
Robb Stauber (Kings goaltender, 1989-94): That locker room was really together and Barry was a huge part of that. He was young and bold and he got us to believe in the team concept. Who scored the big goal or who made the big save honestly didn't matter as long as we were winning.
Hrudey: I think Barry made the right choice to go to Robb in Game 4 at home and Robb was outstanding and really helped us win that series in six games. I still believed in myself and felt I just needed a chance. After we lost Game 1 of the next round in Vancouver, Barry called some of the veterans into his office, told us the reasons why we were going to win the series and when I was about to leave, he told me that I would be playing in Game 2. I was back in the net and I got on a bit of a roll.
Miller: One of the bigger moments in that playoff run happened in Game 5 against Vancouver when Gary Shuchuk scored the game winner in double overtime at the old Pacific Coliseum. It was the longest game in Kings history. Shuchuk was actually injured in the third period. He was hit by Canucks defenseman Gerald Diduck and was woozy and went to the dressing room and it didn't look like he would come back. He not only ended up coming back but scored the biggest goal of his career. It reminded me of that time when one of (former Oilers coach) Glen Sather's players was knocked silly and didn't know who he was and Sather said, "Good, tell him he's Wayne Gretzky."
Taylor: Gary's goal was probably the biggest goal in Kings history at that time. I had been with the Kings since 1975 and we all knew the team had never made it past the second round.
Rob Blake (Kings defenseman, 1989-2001; 2006-08) : That Gary Shuchuk goal in double overtime doesn't get talked about enough. That was probably the turning point for us in the playoffs. That was one of those things that made you think maybe this team had something special.
Gary Shuchuk (Kings forward, 1992-95): Everyone talks about that goal, but the funny thing is I don't even remember it. I remember Gerald Diduck hit me and I went to the locker room and came back, but I honestly don't remember scoring the goal. The first time I actually saw the goal was after the game when I was being interviewed by the CBC. They asked me what happened on the goal. I'm looking at the television monitor and as I'm looking at the play unfold I said, "Um, Luc passed the puck to me and I scored." Honestly, that was the first time I saw the play.
Melrose: Gary had been knocked cold. He was on the bench and didn't know where he was. Today he wouldn't have been able to play. They would have taken him off the ice and took him to the dressing room. But he stayed on the bench and scored that goal in double overtime and then we went home and beat Vancouver in Game 6 and it wasn't even a battle. The double overtime killed Vancouver mentally. That was a team that had our number all year long so that was a fantastic win and really the start of something big.
Tom Leykis (Longtime Kings fan and radio host of The Tom Leykis Show) : The Forum was insane when they beat Vancouver in Game 6. It was totally, absolutely insane. Having been there when there were less than 9,000 people there, it was remarkable to hear that kind of noise coming out of the building. It was pretty amazing stuff. I was blown away by the noise and the excitement. So many people wanted Kings tickets and wanted to talk about the Kings after that game.
McNall: We were always the underdogs and started on the road, so I never really had a lot of confidence that we could really do this. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.
Fox: I'll never forget that Gary Shuchuk goal and winning that series against Vancouver. That was the moment where hope turned into belief. I knew all along you always had a chance with Wayne but that was really the moment where everything changed. That was the moment where I said, 'OK, now we have a chance.' That's the moment right there that everyone started to believe and when we all started to think this thing could really happen.
By the time the Campbell Conference finals rolled around, all of Canada and most hockey fans were anticipating a Stanley Cup final between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. The only thing that really stood in the way was the pesky Kings, after the Canadiens had disposed of the New York Islanders in five games. At the time, many in Canada, including popular commentator Don Cherry, had taken Gretzky's "best hockey player in the world" label and given it to Maple Leafs forward Doug Gilmour.
It certainly looked as if were well-deserved late in Game 1 of the series, with Toronto putting the finishing touches on a 4-1 win after Gilmour had two goals and two assists. That was, until the Kings' toughest player decided to take matters into his own hands .
VI. 'It was one of the last great
fights in the Stanley Cup playoffs.'
Marty McSorley (Kings defenseman, 1988-96) : As the guy who took the responsibility of being the tough guy, there are times where you look to change the game. I had a funny feeling in Toronto. We had a lot of young guys on our team, so over the course of the year I would watch the bench and make sure that my guys were comfortable. I just didn't feel they were in that first game. So I said, "OK, I'm going to put all the eyes back on me. I'm going to give Dougie Gilmour a real good rap and let Toronto know that we're not going anywhere and let our guys know that this is going to be a long, hard-fought series." So I hit Gilmour and got into a big fight with Wendel Clark that the Canadian media just ate up. After the game, in the locker room, I remember I got up in front of the team with Wayne and Charlie Huddy and said, "Guys, we're fine. We're good here. This is going to be a long series."
Melrose: That was the turning point in that series and I say that all the time. Everyone was saying Gilmour was better than Gretzky and Gilmour was the best player in the NHL. So Gilmour was carrying the puck up the ice late in the game and Marty McSorley stood up, just nailed him with a great body check, he just crushed him. And then Wendel Clark came in and Marty and Wendel just went at it and had a great fight. It was one of the last great fights in the Stanley Cup playoffs. They just went toe-to-toe and they both had black eyes the next day. That really was the turning point in the series as far as I was concerned. It told our guys that we were here to play and that we were going to win this series and told Toronto that this is going to be a tough, physical series and if you guys thought we were going to go away quietly, you're sadly mistaken. From that point on we were the better team in that series.
McSorley: My brother cleared off the messages in my hotel in Toronto after the game. I think I had 105 threats phoned into the hotel.
Blake: The whole tone of that series was set when Marty took a run at Doug Gilmour and was answered by Wendel Clark. That was not just an average fight. That was two of the toughest guys in the league at the height of their careers, going at it hard.
John Ondrasik (Kings fan and singer/songwriter aka "Five For Fighting") : After Game 1, I took a redeye to New York, took a hopper to Buffalo, rented a wreck and drove to the border on my way to Toronto to go see Game 2. The border guard asked me what was I coming to Canada for and I said, "I'm going to watch the Kings beat the Leafs." He then held up the front page of the Toronto Sun, and said, "Oh, you're coming for some of this?" And he shoved the paper into my window and the whole front page was a picture of Marty's black eye. It was just beautiful.
McNall: Marty saw they were jostling Wayne around quite a bit. Wayne suffered a cracked rib in the Calgary series, but we wanted to keep that hush-hush, but you could tell they were really coming after him. As Marty would later tell me, there's no point in going after the big guys. You might as well mess with their best player if they're going to mess with our best player.
Miller: Not only were the players getting into it, (Maple Leafs coach) Pat Burns and Barry were getting into it too. Burns was trying to get to the Kings' bench after McSorley's hit and had to be restrained. Burns commenting on Barry's long hair and pointed down to his neck and told him to get a haircut. Barry was puffing his cheeks and telling Pat to lose some weight. After the game when Barry was asked about Pat coming after him, he told reporters he thought Burns was ordering a hot dog. It was just a classic series on and off the ice.
Melrose: I think the players liked to see their coach get involved and see that we care just as much as they do and that we're in there just like they are and we're emotionally tied to the series. They like to see the coaches stand up for their team mentally and physically. I know it got a laugh anyway, which is just as important.
Blake: I thought it was great. We were the Hollywood act coming into the hockey hotbed and not only were the teams clashing but so were the coaches.
In Toronto, Game 6 of the 1993 conference finals is viewed the way Game 6 of the 1985 World Series is viewed by St. Louis Cardinals fans: Their Don Denkinger will forever be Kerry Fraser. With the score tied, 4-4, in overtime, Gretzky clipped Gilmour with a high stick, drawing blood. Under the rules at the time, it should have been an automatic five-minute penalty and a game misconduct. Fraser, however, missed the call. Some in Canada feel he simply didn't want to make the call, not at that moment in the game and not against Gretzky. Gretzky stayed on the ice and seconds later scored the winning goal. The play continues to live on as the most controversial play in Toronto Maple Leafs history. It is a play that seemingly grows larger over time as Toronto hasn't been that close to the Stanley Cup Final since and has missed the playoffs the past eight years.
VII. 'Was it a high stick? Yes.'
Kerry Fraser (former NHL referee): I unfortunately missed the high stick. The penalty was missed. I didn't see it. The linesmen couldn't help me. We missed it.
Melrose: It happened real quick off the draw. Kerry Fraser didn't see it and he can't call it if he doesn't see it and no penalty was called and we ended up scoring and winning the game. The thing Toronto people that still complain about that call today somehow forget is that they had Game 7 in their building. I don't know why they forget that. It's not like that play won or lost the series. They had Game 7 in their building and couldn't put us away. Toronto people have selective memory when it comes to that stuff.
Fox: Was it a high stick? Yes. We've all seen it now. We know that it happened. You chalk it up to the breaks any team has to have to be successful and let's be honest, it was a break. He missed it. It was interesting because it was the two top dogs at the time, Gretzky and Gilmour. It's not like it was a fourth-line guy clipping somebody. It was Gretzky clipping Gilmour. Let's face it, that's what drew more attention to it then and why it's still talked about today.
Miller: The thing about Kerry Fraser was he was always consistent and he was always recognizable because he didn't wear a helmet and he had that great hair. His hair never, ever got missed up. It was unbelievable. He must have had cement on that thing.
Fraser: I had a sense something was wrong. Doug Gilmour was bent over and I saw Gretzky reach, but I was blocked and I thought maybe Wayne had shot the puck. It was a guess. I stopped the play and went over to Doug Gilmour. He had blood dripping from his chin and I said, "Killer, what happened?" He said, "Wayne took a shot and the follow-through of his shot got me in the chin." I said. "Well, if that's the case, that's not a penalty. I didn't see it but if he followed through with a shot it's not a high-sticking penalty." He said, "OK." But something just didn't seem right for me. Gretzky wasn't there pleading his case as he often would. He had moved away. He was off to the side board. He was becoming more distant and removed as I was talking to Gilmour. That was uncharacteristic of him. Wayne was always there. He wanted to sell or tell. He wanted to be part of every conversation that the referee had.
Hrudey: It actually drives me crazy when people in Toronto talk about that play because we had to play Game 7 in their building. It's ridiculous that you would think that had some bearing on the outcome.
Taylor: Calls and non-calls are as old as the game itself. We were fortunate, there's no question about it, but you have to move forward.
Fraser: I gathered the linesmen. It was Kevin Collins, who has just dropped the puck on the faceoff, and Ron Finn, who was on the blue line on the same side of the ice as I was. I gathered them off to the sideboards at the hash mark at the corner and I said, "Guys, help me, what happened? Did you see Gretzky high-stick Gilmour?" Ron Finn said, "Kerry, I was looking through players' backs, I can't help you." Kevin Collins said, "I don't know. I don't think it was a high stick. Gilmour was bent over." Based on that, I couldn't impose the penalty. Gretzky remained on the ice and shortly thereafter scored the winning goal to force Game 7. I saw the play later that night on the news and I missed it. There's nothing I could have done at that point but wish I had been in a position where I could have seen it.
Melrose: It was a great win, but I'll always remember that by the fluke of timing we landed in Toronto the same time as the Maple Leafs did after Game 6. We were basically walking out of the airport together and their team looked completely beat. They were dead. They weren't used to this kind of travel and we were used to it, doing it all year long. I turned to Cap Raeder and I said, "Cap, look at that team. They're done. They're beat." I knew right then and there we weren't going to lose.
VIII. 'Don't worry about your
job at 10:30 because mine starts at 7:30.'
Hrudey: Most of us grew up in Canada and Game 7 was going to be on a Saturday night at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto on "Hockey Night in Canada." It really cannot get any bigger than that. When we're all playing hockey growing up, we dreamt about this very moment. It was really about as magical as you could get.
Taylor: Everyone in Canada wanted a Toronto-Montreal final and they thought they would get it. We were definitely hated in Toronto.
Charlie Huddy (Kings defenseman, 1991-95): It was unreal. I was with Gretzky all those years in Edmonton, but I had never seen him play the way he did that night in Toronto. There was something about Toronto that always got him fired up. Whenever he went in there, he wanted to show that he was the best player.
Miller: Wayne got in the elevator at the team hotel in Toronto to go down to the lobby the day of the game and there's a security guard in the elevator and Wayne says, "How are you doing?" The security guard says, "I'm doing fine now but, boy, tonight at 10:30 my job is going to be terrible." Wayne says, "Why is that?" The guard said, "Well, the city is going to be going nuts and the fans will be going crazy." As the elevator gets to the lobby and the doors open, Wayne starts to get out and turns back to the security guard and says, "Don't worry about your job at 10:30." The guard said, "Why is that?" And Wayne said, "Because mine starts at 7:30."
Nick Nickson (Kings radio announcer, 1981-present): Before Game 7, [Bob McKenzie] wrote a column in the Toronto Star that Gretzky was playing as if he's got a piano on his back. That's all Gretzky had to read to play one of the better games of his career.
Huddy: I know he saw that article. I remember riding over in the cab with him to Game 7 and I remember him saying how fired up he was about it. He said he was going to be ready for this game and you could see the look in his eyes that he was going to have a special game. When I saw the way he looked, I knew we had a real good chance of winning that game. We had the best player in the game fired up and playing at a different level that night.
Sydor: It's funny, before the game, I remember John Candy walked in with about seven or eight minutes left before we were supposed to take the ice and everyone was really intense and focused, and he came in and cracked a joke and it just kind of lightened us up.
Huddy: I think John said something like, "Go get a win, I want to shave this beard off." He had this big, huge playoff beard. We were all trying to get focused and here's John Candy busting through the door.
McNall: Before the game, I was crazy nervous. Here we are, Game 7 in Toronto at Maple Leaf Gardens. We were obviously big underdogs and Dougie Gilmour was playing terrifically. I was a nervous wreck and Wayne came up to me and said, "Bruce, just relax. I got this. You know who I am; you know what I can do. Relax, OK? Relax." It was the most emotional game I've ever been a part of. Of course, Gretzky goes out there and has a hat trick. He said it was the greatest game he's ever played and it was certainly the biggest win the Kings ever had.
Melrose: Gretz's dad, Walter, was there and Walter had almost died that year (he suffered a brain aneurysm in October 1991) so to have Walter at the game and healthy and knowing that he was going to live was amazing and very emotional for Gretz. Walter sat right across the ice from our bench. As soon as we won the game, Gretzky went over to Walter to share that moment with him. When you have a player like Gretzky you expect him to do great things on the big stage and he did that night.
The Kings had started every playoff series in 1993 on the road in a Canadian city and as the sizeable underdog. By the time Game 1 of the centennial Stanley Cup Final rolled around, the Kings were comfortable with their roles. They boarded a flight from Toronto after Game 7 to Montreal and showed no signs of fatigue 72 hours later during a 4-1 win over the Canadiens in Game 1. They once again controlled the action for much of Game 2 and held a 2-1 lead with 1:45 left in the game when Montreal coach Jacques Demers made one of the most controversial and talked-about decisions in Stanley Cup history -- and once again, Kerry Fraser was in the center of the storm.
IX. 'I remember right away
my stomach just turned.'
Fraser: The stick was beyond illegal.
McSorley: Did I have an illegal stick? Yes, I did. Did I stand up after the fact and say I had an illegal stick? Yes, I did.
McNall: I thought it was chicken s--- that Jacques Demers would do a thing like that.
Fraser: I refereed 30 years in the NHL and I think I was requested to measure a stick maybe eight times. Jacques Demers would later tell me that if they didn't win Game 2 and force a split, they would have been finished and the Kings would have won the Cup. As much as Jacques would say later that he hated to resort to that sort of tactic, he felt if he would not have done it at that point, the series would have been over for Montreal.
Miller: We had a shot on television of the Montreal bench with less than two minutes remaining in Game 2 and they were hanging their heads. They were done. They were defeated. They think they're going to go down 0-2 in the series. After the second period that night, Dick Irvin, the longtime announcer with the Montreal Canadiens, said to me, "Bob, if you win tonight, you'll win the Cup. You'll sweep. They'll never come back from two games down." And then with 1:45 left in the third period, Jacques Demers made the rare decision to challenge the curve in Marty McSorley's stick. When I made the call that they were going to check Marty's stick, I looked over at Jim and his head was just down. At that point I knew this was a bad situation for the Kings.
Fox: I remember right away my stomach just turned. It just ... it just ... Ugh. The Kings had been playing so well and I could just feel it in my stomach that something was wrong and I don't think I've ever felt that way again. All of a sudden with that play, everything changed.
Miller: When that penalty was called, Montreal pulled Patrick Roy out of the net, so they had a two-man advantage and Eric Desjardins scored the tying goal and then scored the game-winning goal in overtime. It changed the momentum of the whole series. The Kings never had a lead again.
Fraser: I remember Jacques Demers sent Guy Carbonneau and Kirk Muller out to ask me to measure Marty McSorley's stick after a stoppage with 1:45 to play in the third period. So the stick was measured. Wayne Gretzky was standing off to the referee's crease. After taking the stick from Marty and taking it to be measured, I had [referee] Ray Scapinello hold the stick while I grabbed the stick gauge and measured it. The slide gauge wasn't touching at any point in the middle of the stick curve. It was well in excess of the acceptable curve at the time. I showed it to Wayne, which I didn't have to do, but I measured it specifically and carefully twice because I knew the magnitude of the call. I showed it to Gretzky and he rolled his eyes. I'll never forget the look in his face. He was pained.
Melrose: I was never worried about Marty's stick. The two sticks I always checked were Robitaille's stick and (Alexei) Zhitnik's stick. Those guys had big curves in their sticks so I always checked those going into the third period and both of those were good. I never once thought to check Marty's stick. So when they took Marty's stick and took it over to the penalty box, Luc Robitaille was over there by the penalty box watching what was going and he came back to the bench and I said, "Is it over?" and he started laughing. I knew it was over then.
Robitaille: It wasn't even close.
Hrudey: I really sensed from the players on the Canadiens that they were in trouble late in the game so when I heard they were going to call one of us for an illegal stick I was really hoping they were going to call me. I had always tried to bait teams with an illegal stick, but it never actually worked. At the morning skate I would always leave an illegal stick or two around that I used in practice, hoping somewhere down the road if they were thinking of doing something that bold that they might be fooled by my fake stick. Unfortunately they didn't choose mine, they chose Marty's.
McSorley: Let's be honest about what happened. Let's not sensationalize it. Let's be factual. They pulled our stick rack into their locker room. That's honest and that's frank. Am I sitting here and complaining? No, but that's what happened. Would they have called someone else if I wasn't on the ice? Probably. They knew there were numerous other guys [with illegal sticks]. To make a call like that was gutsy but to find out later what they knew and how they knew was really, really disappointing.
McNall: They probably could have called on a number of guys, but they picked Marty because he was our best penalty killer.
Melrose: They obviously knew it was illegal. You wouldn't make that call unless you were certain it was illegal. So they had measured it or had someone measure it, I don't think there's any doubt about that. The question is where and when they did it. It's still our fault, No. 1 for having the illegal stick, and No. 2 for having the sticks where they could be measured.
Granato: There have been plenty of theories about what happened, but I would hope for the integrity of the game and the integrity of the people involved that they didn't do anything like that and if they did do something they have to live with it, not me. I certainly wouldn't go into another team's locker to measure sticks and even if I knew another guy's stick was illegal I don't know if I'd call it.
Melrose: That was the Stanley Cup right there. We would have won the game because Montreal hadn't had a sniff up until that point and we would have been up 2-0 going back to Los Angeles, where we had been playing well against a team we had just beaten twice in their building. There are plays that change series. You see it all the time and that play won Montreal the Cup, I don't think anyone can deny that.
McSorley: My stick never changed from series to series. I actually used the same curvature stick in Game 3 and Game 4. People could say that's stubborn, but we knew they weren't going to call it again.
McSorley: I've read about the "The Curse of Marty McSorley" and I think that, to a large degree, is sensationalism. The fact that they measured it at that time, we were shocked on our bench. I'm good friends with a lot of the guys on that team now. I play in alumni games with them and they've chuckled and they've said, "We had five guys on your team. We knew there were five guys for sure." Truth be told, after the game, we knew something a little fishy had happened. Shortly thereafter the police officers on the bench talked to Luc and told him what happened and I've had three players on their team tell me, "Yeah, this is what we did." So the question I have to ask now is what's the bigger story -- me being caught with the stick or how they found out?
The supposed "Curse of Marty McSorley" is a curved, double-edged sword. Kings fans believe their team may have been cursed for using an illegal stick. Not only did the Kings lose three straight overtime games in the series as Montreal beat them in five games to win the Stanley Cup, but Los Angeles would go seven seasons without a playoff win after the incident, failing to make it past the second round of the playoffs until this season. Meanwhile, some in Canada believe it's the other way around, that perhaps they're the ones cursed as punishment for the way the Canadiens found out or for even making the call. Montreal has failed to make it back to the Stanley Cup Final since 1993 and no Canadian team has won the Cup since then.
No one, however, was more cursed after the magical run in 1993 than McNall. In December 1993, McNall defaulted on a $90 million loan and was forced to sell controlling interest in the Kings. Within a year he pleaded guilty to five counts of conspiracy and fraud, and admitted to defrauding six banks out of $236 million over a 10-year period. He was sentenced to 70 months in prison and by 1995 the Kings were forced into bankruptcy. Current Kings owners Philip Anschutz and Ed Roski purchased the Kings out of bankruptcy in October 1995 by paying $113.25 million and assuming the team's debts. Their motivation in buying the Kings was to build a new downtown arena for the team and four years later Staples Center opened.
X. 'The Feds shut down every
one of my accounts. I had no money.'
Melrose: The first inkling I got that things weren't right was when I read an article about Bruce around the playoffs. It basically described how Bruce's empire was a house of cards. That was the first clue I got that things weren't quite right.
McNall: I was already dealing with the whole mess that had come my way during the playoffs. The Feds came in and it was a big distraction for me and the team. I think the team was somewhat affected by what was going on and I take responsibility for that. I already knew at that point I wouldn't be the full owner of the team after that season and that this was going to be the last time I was going to be in control of everything. I had no idea it would all come down the way it did for me.
Miller: I just remember flying back from Montreal with the series tied, 1-1, Bruce McNall was on the plane, laughing, telling jokes and having fun. I remember thinking in my mind, "Finally, after all these years, this team is headed in the right direction. We're going to have a chance to win year after year." What I didn't know and would later find out was McNall's empire was starting to collapse. Even on that flight back from Montreal, I later discovered McNall had to borrow $5 million just to meet the payroll. He gave no indication of that on the plane at all. I would have been with my head in my hands thinking, "What the hell am I going to do here?" He was acting like there wasn't anything wrong when in reality everything was wrong.
McNall: The Feds shut down every one of my accounts. I had no money. When I told Gretzky what was happening and what I thought was going to happen he immediately put up cash for my attorneys and everything else. Rogie Vachon put up his house as bail for me. When I was in prison, Gretzky would constantly come with Janet and the family, Luc would come with his wife Stacia and the kids. I ended up being sent to Milan, Michigan, which is in the middle of nowhere near Detroit, and Luc and Rob Blake came to visit. I remember they wanted to retire Wayne's jersey and he kept refusing to do that until I was out and able to be there. That meant a lot.
Blake: Bruce was one of the guys. Whether it be playing poker on the plane or taking guys on his private jet to Vegas for a couple of days. I remember we were in Montreal and Quebec for a back-to-back and I had the flu. I played in Montreal and Bruce let me fly on his private jet after the game to Quebec so I could get to bed earlier. He was like one of the players. We were always going to support him after everything he did for us.
McNall: If you can believe it, one of the very first calls I get when I got out of prison in 2001 was from (AEG president and CEO and current Kings governor) Tim Leiweke. He wanted me to come down to the Staples Center. I had obviously never seen it before. I was in a halfway house so I had to work out a time when I could get over there. So he brought me down there and personally toured me around Staples Center and he said, "Look at this, Bruce, this wouldn't be here without you and we know that. Everything and anything you ever need here is yours. Treat this like your home." It's been that way ever since. I was actually there for the Western Conference finals last week, sitting in a suite with Luc, Tony, Marty, Rob and a lot of those guys from the 1993 team. That was a special team. I just hope these guys this year can now finish off what we couldn't.
In 1993, another Kings team captured L.A.'s heart. The members' journey.