EL SEGUNDO, CA — As most fans of the Los Angeles Kings know, one of the key factors in the Kings losing in the 1993 Stanley Cup Final to the Montreal Canadiens, was how they lost in Game 2 of the series.
Many point to the fact that Kings defenseman Marty McSorley was penalized in the waning minutes of the game for playing with an illegal stick—the curve of the blade exceeded that which was allowed by National Hockey League rules.
Leading 1-0 in the series, and 2-1 in Game 2, the Kings came unglued after McSorley went to the box. Their penalty-killers allowed Canadiens defenseman Eric Desjardins to walk in from right point, all the way down to the right face-off dot, completely unchecked. He then ripped a wrist shot past Kings netminder Kelly Hrudey at the 18:47 mark of the third period.
Desjardins scored again very early in the overtime period to give the Canadiens a 3-2 victory.
Behind the lights out play of goaltender Patrick Roy, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that year, the Canadiens went on to win four straight games, three in overtime, to win their 24th Stanley Cup Championship.
With the Kings back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993, there has been renewed interest in McSorley and his illegal stick, so much so that he met with the media during a hastily arranged press conference on May 27.
“I have been asked, and constantly, people have [sent text messages to] my wife,” said McSorley. “They want to hear about the stick in 1993.”
For McSorley, the real issue was not that he was playing with an illegal stick, which he has freely admitted, going all the way back to right after that Game 2 loss in 1993. Rather, it is how the Canadiens knew about it.
“The thing that disappoints me [is that] there has been a big degree of sensationalism, and I don’t think there has been a lot of honesty,” he lamented. “Did I have an illegal stick? Yes, I did, Did I stand up, after the fact, and say, ‘hey, I had an illegal stick?’ Yes, I did. Since then, I don’t think there has been a lot of honesty, and for me, it was very disappointing. If it’s going to come out, let’s be honest about what happened. Let’s not sensationalize it. Let’s be factual.”
McSorley alleged that the Canadiens were guilty of playing dirty pool.
“I think that [former Kings head coach] Barry Melrose, [former Kings left wing and current Vice President, Business Operations] Luc Robitaille, [former head athletic trainer] Peter Demers, different guys around, have said what has happened,” said McSorley. “We all know that they pulled [our] stick rack into their locker room. That’s honest, and that’s frank. Am I sitting here complaining? No, but that is what happened.”
“[After that game], the police officer [on the bench] talked to Luc, which Luc has told everybody about,” added McSorley. “Peter Demers has found out through trainers, and I’ve had three players on their team say to me, ‘yeah, this is what we did.’ I’m good friends with a lot of guys on that [1993 Canadiens team]. I play in alumni games with them. I’ve sat in the locker room, and they’ve chuckled [and said], ‘no, we [knew about] five guys on your team.’ They knew that there were five guys, for sure.”
“I’ll be with certain guys on their team, having a beer, and I’ll look at them, as they gloat a little bit, and they’ll sheepishly say, ‘yeah, you’re right.’”
But don’t expect anyone from that Canadiens team to confirm McSorley’s allegation.
“I’ve been contacted, over the years, by a lot of Montreal media, [who are interested in a story about the stick incident],” McSorley noted. “I’ll say, ‘go and get one of the players from the [1993 Canadiens], and I’ll name three or four players, [like] Kirk Muller, Gary Leeman, Mathieu Schneider, guys who will be honest. Ask them the question, and then, call me back.’”
“They never call me back.”
McSorley indicated that he knows additional Canadiens players, beyond the ones he named, who have told him about how they knew about his stick. Nevertheless, he declined to identify them.
“That wouldn’t be fair to them,” he said. “If I name those guys, they may have [other] guys on their team calling them and saying, ‘don’t disgrace [us].’”
“These are friends of mine, and I don’t want to this to come out as if I’m blasting the Montreal Canadiens, because they are a much different [organization] now, and I’m wishing them a lot of success,” he added. “This is not a shot at the Montreal Canadiens, because Marc Bergevin [recently hired as their new general manager] is a friend of mine. I really hope he has success.”
Many hockey fans, especially those who are fairly new to the game, have probably never seen a game stopped for a stick measurement. Fact is, it virtually never happens in an NHL game, and that was no different back in 1993. The reason: if the team requesting the measurement is wrong about the stick, they get a bench minor penalty for delay of game, giving the opposition a power play (assuming the teams are at even strength when the stick measurement was requested)…not a good thing to do in a key situation, especially when your team is trailing.
As such, players and teams did not think too much about using sticks with just a bit more curve to their blades than was allowed under the rules.
“There were a number of [Kings players with illegal sticks],” McSorley explained. “We treated it, at the time, like [former Kansas City Royals third baseman] George Brett’s pine tar [he was ejected from a game for having too much pine tar on the grip of his bat]. That’s kind of how we treated it. To make a call like that is really, really gutsy. But to find out later that they knew, and how they knew, was really disappointing.”
“Would they have called somebody else [if not him]? Probably, because they knew,” McSorley elaborated. “Some players would have illegal sticks on the bench. [But] it was so rarely called, especially at that time, because if they were incorrect—all you had to do was file the heel a little bit, and file the toe [to correct the curvature].”
McSorley illustrated how difficult it is to tell if a stick is illegal just by looking at it.
“I remember looking at [former Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues defenseman] Al MacInnis’ stick, and going, ‘my God! That thing’s way illegal,’ and then you measure it, and it’s not, so you’re never really sure,” he said.
“The real secret there was, you never knew for sure,” he added. “It was almost something you don’t think about, because if you weren’t sure, you don’t make that call in key situations. If [the Canadiens] were wrong, they probably automatically lose that game. So that was a real gutsy call [if they didn’t have] any information. That’s what shocked us about it, that they made the call.”
In other words, McSorley stressed that a team would not make that call unless they were 100 percent certain, and as he alleged, in this case, the Canadiens were just that.
“I did not take a torch to that stick and bend it,” he said. “That’s how it came from the factory. My sticks never changed, series-to-series.”
“After that game, we knew something fishy had happened,” he added. “I used the same curvature stick in Game 3 and in Game 4. People could say, ‘that was really stubborn.’ No, it was because we knew they weren’t going to call it, and that’s why we were so shocked that they called it in Game 2.”
“The fact that they measured, at that time, we were shocked, at our bench.”
Apparently, the Kings did not know enough about the alleged actions of the Canadiens at the time to take any action, which has contributed to the story still having legs some 19 years later.
“I was hoping that the management of the Kings—[former general manager] Nick Beverley, and those guys, would’ve come out and made a statement about it,” said McSorley. “But nothing was said, so it did take on a life of its own. [At the time], I wasn’t about to stand up and say that something was funny, because I didn’t know.”
McSorley also insinuated that the Canadiens had a history of similar dirty tricks.
“If you ask Peter Demers—he’s been around the game for a long time—things would come up missing out of the locker room [when you were at the Montreal Forum, where the Canadiens played from 1908 – 1996],” said McSorley. “I flew with Wayne [Gretzky] the other day, and he said, ‘in Montreal, you never knew what you were going to get,’ [because] things would be missing, or what have you.”
“The accessibility they had [to the opposing team’s locker room] was probably better than most teams in the league,” added McSorley. “It’s disappointing to know that our team worked so hard, and got to that situation, and something like that [happens].”
McSorley certainly wore his disappointment on his sleeve during the press conference regarding the way the stick incident went down, and how the Canadiens knew about his stick. But he also stressed that the focus should not be on him. Rather, it should be on the current Kings, and the fact that they are in the Stanley Cup Finals for just the second time in franchise history.
“With the Kings being so successful right now, this is a good time to get it out, get it over with,” he emphasized. “But I really hope we can get back to celebrating the time that we’re having. What a great time in Kings history this is. This is really a phenomenal time. It’s something that I’m really enjoying, and proud to be a part of. There’s so many [people] in the Kings organization who I’ve stayed close with, the fan base.”
“This is a great time for us, as alumni, to come back,” he added. “We do feel partly responsible, in a really good way. We believe that we helped to grow the fan base, and we’re part of the history of this team. For the current Kings players—who I stay away from, I give them their distance—you applaud their performance. I hope they’re really enjoying this.”
“Even my three-year-old boy, and five-year-old daughter, are caught up in it. My little boy wears his Kings jersey around the house, and this morning, he wanted to play hockey with Dad. Let’s hope we can carry this on in California in the years to come.”
Whether or not one places all the blame for the Kings’ failure in the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals on McSorley, the stick incident was a factor. It had an impact. The story, and now, the mystery, will live on. There will likely never be complete closure.
After all, even though McSorley stated that the Canadiens pulling the Kings’ stick rack into their locker room is a fact—and it probably is—unless someone from that 1993 Canadiens team comes forward and confirms the allegation publicly, it cannot be considered to be anything more than hearsay.
Indeed, even though McSorley, and other members of that 1993 Kings team, may know what happened, unless witnesses who were part of that 1993 Canadiens team come forward, the legend, with all its myths, distortions, and exaggerations, will continue to live on. Already with a life of its own, the story, and the 19-year-old debate surrounding the impact of the illegal stick, will continue to add to the lore of the game, and of Kings history, for an eternity.
Maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all these years.
Raw Audio Interview with Marty McSorley
(22:59; Extraneous material and dead air have been removed):
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Thank you, McSorley, for your commentary! very insightful!