A player’s actions aren’t the only thing that can land him a penalty on the ice – a fact a certain Kings player learned the hard way in 1993.
In the 1950s, Andy Bathgate and Stan Mikita were the first to take a long, hard look at the hockey stick and ask themselves how it might be improved upon. What they came up with was the curved blade – a concept that quickly caught on among players and now stands as a technological advance that changed the way the game is played. Giving sharpshooters a huge advantage on the ice, it didn’t take long for the NHL to realize that regulations would need to be put in place to decide just how much curve a stick could have – and that’s exactly what they did beginning in 1967-68.
Apparently, Marty McSorley still hadn’t gotten to reading those regulations by the time the 1993 playoffs rolled around. Whoever said knowledge is power clearly wasn’t kidding.
“Before the game, L.A.’s equipment manager had to bring all his team’s sticks down the little corridor just next to our dressing room and leave them there. We didn’t actually go up and measure them or anything, but let’s just say it was immediately obvious that they weren’t regulation. It wasn’t just McSorley’s either. There were about 10 or 12 of them like that,” recalled Serge Savard, the Habs GM at the time of the incident.
Jacques Demers’ decision to follow up on Guy Carbonneau’s suggestion to get the curve on McSorley’s stick measured was executed with perfect timing, indirectly – or directly, depending on how you see it – resulting in the Canadiens winning the 1993 Stanley Cup.
“You should have seen all the players get up to go change their sticks when the ref called that penalty. Probably as many on their side as on ours,” continued Savard, on the subject Kerry Fraser’s ruling against the Kings. “That’s just how things were in that era. Nobody ever asked to measure sticks so we took advantage of that fact.”
It may have only taken Fraser a few seconds to actually measure the offending stick blade, but for the Habs’ head coach, it felt like an eternity.
“It seemed at the time that it was taking them about five minutes to measure that stick,” explained Jacques Demers. “That’s what it felt like, anyways. In reality, it was probably more like 30 seconds. I’m not sure it was a penalty they really wanted to give, but at that point they didn’t have much of a choice.”
With the Kings up 1-0 in those Cup Finals, and minutes away from a 2-1 win in Game 2, McSorley getting busted for his illegal curve can easily be seen as the turning point in the series. Before the penalty, the Kings were looking like they might have just been poised to bulldoze the Habs en route to their first Stanley Cup in team history.
“There were about 90 seconds left and it was 2-1. I pulled Patrick Roy to make it six-on-four and sent [Kirk] Muller out onto the ice,” recalled Demers. “I told Kirk to make sure he won the face off and that’s exactly what he did. When Eric Desjardins scored, it felt like the Kings had already lost.”
After the penalty, the Kings lost four straight games and watched the Canadiens claim their 24th Stanley Cup in team history. Behold the power of momentum! A lot has been speculated about the circumstances surrounding the event, but however you slice it, McSorley was caught with his hand in the cookie jar and the Kings would have to wait 19 more years before taking home their first championship.
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