Something about the penalty box at Edmonton's Northlands Coliseum seemed different late last Friday night. Ah, yes—it was empty. After spending an interminable evening in its confines, members of the Oilers and the Calgary Flames were now free to bandage their faces and ice their fists. And the Flames' 6-3 victory could assume its rightful place among the more repugnant contests in NHL history. Not that anyone had expected a cotillion. Only 180 miles apart, Edmonton and Calgary have had it in for one another since 1883 when officials decided to send the Canadian Pacific Railway's Alberta line through Calgary instead of Edmonton, as previously planned.
Before last week's resumption of the teams' Uncivil War—a Thursday-Friday home-and-home series that served as a possible dress rehearsal for the Smythe Division finals—the NHL's Alberta franchises were the league's proudest. Also hottest. Between them, the first-place Oilers and second-place Flames had won 22 of their last 25 games. "These are the two best teams in the NHL right now," boomed Calgary coach Bob Johnson. "We're spoiling these fans, huh?"
But instead of a showcase of sizzling hockey, Albertans got Wrestlemania on Ice—and two Calgary victories. Although Thursday's game featured long stretches of splendid play, Friday's was little more than a three-hour slugfest (see summary). There were 60 penalties in all, a numbing 250 minutes' worth, and six ejections. The thuggery went from distasteful to discouraging to downright boring. Most disturbing was the fact that after falling behind on Friday night, the Oilers essentially conceded the game and seemed intent on avenging Calgary's unpunished cheap shots of the previous evening. Thus it was a far cry from last year's superbly—and cleanly—played division finals when the Flames ended Edmonton's pursuit of a third straight Stanley Cup.
On Thursday night in the Saddledome the Flames won 5-4, with a little help from an old friend from the '86 playoffs, Oiler defenseman Steve Smith. Calgary gunners Joey Mullen and Mike Bullard each scored twice, and enforcers Tim Hunter, Jamie Macoun and Neil Sheehy explored the absolute limits of legal stickwork. The win was Calgary's fifth in six tries against Edmonton this season. How could this happen? Don't the Oilers have six of the world's best players? Do the Flames have six of Alberta's? "Too much talent can spoil the soup," postulates Calgary wing Nick Fotiu, a Staten Island, N.Y., heavyweight who picked up organized hockey at the age of 15.
March 30, 1987
Edmonton G.M.-coach Glen Sather thought "the referee didn't call a lot of the interference, hooking and holding," but Johnson said, "What you saw was a man's game." Badger Bob, who coached Wisconsin to three NCAA titles and keeps his roster stacked with former U.S. collegians, lost 4-1 to Montreal in the Stanley Cup finals last year. "I'm on the back side," he says, employing a golf metaphor to chart his career. "About the 16th hole. I just got to get that Stanley Cup, then I can quit."
If it's going to happen, now is the time. Team leaders John Tonelli, Doug Risebrough and the outlandishly mustachioed Lanny McDonald have three dozen NHL seasons among them and are creaking more than ever. But Mullen, who learned his hockey on roller skates in the Hell's Kitchen section of New York City, will be around a while, as will Bullard, who was acquired from the Penguins last November. So will defenseman Gary Suter, the 1986 Rookie of the Year, who played at Wisconsin; center Joel Otto, who played at Bemidji (Minn.) State; and center Joe Nieuwendyk, who joined the Flames from Cornell just two weeks ago.
Sather has done some minor rebuilding in Edmonton with an eye toward reclaiming a certain piece of hardware. Ex-Ranger Reijo Ruotsalainen, who is in a league with the Oilers' Paul Coffey and Boston's Ray Bourque as an offensive defenseman, and ex-Flame/ex-North Star Kent Nilsson, an all-offense, no-defense forward, joined Edmonton early in March and the Oilers won seven straight games. Sather's thinking was obvious: Stop Coffey and Ruotsalainen will beat you; stop Wayne Gretzky and Nilsson will beat you. Another recent addition, but one without any of the pure skills of Ruotsalainen or Nilsson, was 6'5", 230-pound Wayne Van Dorp, who was called up on March 17.
"Where'd they get that guy?" wondered the Badger after laying eyes on Van Dorp. "Joe's Gym?"
Actually, it was Nova Scotia of the AHL. Edmonton summoned him to replace another enforcer, Marty McSorley, who was serving an eight-game suspension for bashing an opponent's head.
"Sather used to stress how they played European-style hockey, how skilled they were, how we shouldn't push them around," says Flames assistant coach Pierre Page. "But they've always had some pretty big boys who can take care of business." By way of introducing himself, Van Dorp bloodied Fotiu's nose and mouth. Fotiu answered with a flurry of rights and won the decision on points.
Calgary's winning goal at 12:36 of the third period was almost a case of dèjà vu. With Tonelli pushing hard up the left side, McDonald, covered by Steve Smith, cut across the crease. Tonelli's pass glanced off Smith's skate and into the net.
It was Smith, you recall, whose would-be clearing pass late in Game 7 last May hit Oiler goalie Grant Fuhr in the leg, deflected into the net, and gave Calgary the series. His latest faux pas brought boundless joy to Saddledome partisans who had screamed "Shoot! Shoot!" every time Smith touched the puck.
On Friday afternoon in Edmonton Coffey was discussing the physical flavor of Thursday night's game. "Wait till tonight" he said. A homemade sign in the Coliseum, just to the left of one that said SHEEHY THE BUTCHER, read: CALGARY, PENALTY CAPITAL OF THE WORLD. Not for long. The Flames and the Oilers faced off at 7:37. Twenty-eight seconds later, five fights were in progress: One hundred and eight penalty minutes were meted out; six players were ejected. Play resumed at 7:50.
It went downhill from there. The Oilers wanted Sheehy so badly they could taste him. But he allowed them no satisfaction. "I was taking sticks in the gut, chops on the legs. A few guys punched me in the face," said the Butcher, who played at Harvard and is Bronco Nagurski's nephew, "but I wasn't going to play into their hands." Indeed, Sheehy earned his team 11 minutes on the power play.
Not that Calgary capitalized. In fact, the Flames' first two scores were byproducts of the game's sloppy tone. With Calgary down two men, Fuhr tried to flip the puck away from ace penalty-killer Steve Bozek. However, the puck deflected off Bozek, who opportunistically shot it in the goal. Six minutes later Jim Peplinski beat Fuhr for Calgary's second short-handed goal. After that, the 6-3 rout was on.
"These games are worth two points," said injured Oiler defenseman Randy Gregg. "It's not as if we've lost the Stanley Cup."
It did seem, however, that the Flames were seizing on the same flaws Edmonton displayed last spring: an unwillingness to follow the puck into the zone; a tendency to get caught with just one defenseman back; and "A case of the cutes...Shirley Temple disease," as Edmonton Journal columnist Cam Cole calls the Oilers' overpassing.
Sather seemed resigned as he sat on the Ping-Pong table in the Oilers' dressing room and digested Friday's defeat. "I might as well not have been there," he said. "I talked to them between periods, I talked to them on the bench. It didn't make any difference. The next group on the ice wasn't concerned about hockey. I'm more embarrassed by that game than any I've ever been involved in."
Johnson agreed. "An absolute nothing game," he said. "I didn't enjoy coaching it, I don't think they enjoyed playing in it. Absolute nothing."
Flames 6, Oilers 3
Calgary 2 3 1——6
Edmonton 0 1 2——3
FIRST PERIOD SCORING—1, Calgary, Bozek 16, 6:18 (sh). 2, Calgary, Peplinski 15 (Wilson), 12:43 (sh).
PENALTIES—Berezan, Cal, major-game misconduct (fighting), :28; Macoun, Cal, major-game misconduct (fighting), :28; MacTavish, Edm, major-game misconduct (fighting), :28; Lemay, Edm, major-game misconduct (fighting), :28; Maclnnis, Cal, minor-major (slashing, fighting), :28; Roberts, Cal, minor-major-game misconduct (unsportsmanlike conduct, fighting), :28; Lowe, Edm, minor-major (instigator, fighting), :28; Beukeboom, Edm, minor-major-game misconduct (instigator, fighting), :28; McClelland, Edm (elbowing), 1:48; Suter, Cal (cross-checking), 5:32; Sheehy, Cal, misconduct, 5:32; Van Dorp, Edm, misconduct, 5:32; Peplinski, Cal (high-sticking), 5:57; Maclnnis, Cal (holding), 11:21; Ruotsalainen, Edm (hooking), 13:03; Fotiu, Cal (roughing), 15:54; Lowe, Edm (roughing), 15:54; Tikkanen, Edm (roughing), 18:26.
SECOND PERIOD SCORING—3, Edmonton, McClelland 11, 1:59. 4, Calgary, Bullard 28 (Maclnnis), 2:45. 5, Calgary, Bullard 29 (McDonald, Wilson), 5:17 (pp). 6, Calgary, Suter 8 (Reinhart), 10:31.
PENALTIES—Peplinski, Cal (roughing), 3:33; Muni, Edm (roughing), 3:33; Gretzky, Edm (tripping), 4:31; McDonald, Cal (roughing), 5:17; Coffey, Edm (roughing), 5:17; Peplinski, Cal (roughing), 6:32; Anderson, Edm (roughing), 6:32; Eloranta, Cal (holding), 7:31; Reinhart, Cal (tripping), 15:09; Hunter, Edm (elbowing), 17:49.
THIRD PERIOD SCORING—7, Edmonton, Kurri 52 (Coffey, Gretzky), 1:10. 8, Calgary, Wilson 19 (Bullard, Eloranta), 10:32 (pp). 9, Edmonton, Krushelnyski 14 (Pouzar), 19:16.
PENALTIES—Coffey, Edm (holding), 5:43; Lemelin, Cal, served by McDonald (roughing), 8:02; Coffey, Edm (roughing), 8:02; Muni, Edm (roughing), 10:18; Tonelli, Cal, major (high-sticking), 10:59; McClelland, Edm, major-game misconduct (fighting), 10:59; Maclnnis, Cal (tripping), 11:11; Sheehy, Cal, misconduct, 11:11; Van Dorp, Edm, misconduct, 11:11;. McDonald, Cal, minor-major (roughing, fighting), 13:45; Coffey, Edm, minor-major (roughing, fighting), 13:45; Suter, Cal (roughing), 17:31; Tikkanen, Edm (roughing), 17:31; Eloranta, Cal, major (fighting), 17:35; Muni, Edm, major (fighting), 17:35; Peplinski, Cal, double minor (high-sticking), 17:35; Hunter, Edm, double minor (high-sticking), 17:35.
Shots on goal:
Calgary 14 6 4——24
Edmonton 7 13 11——31
Power-play Opportunities—Calgary 2 of 7; Edmonton 0 of 6.
Goalies—Calgary, Lemelin (31 shots-28 saves). Edmonton, Fuhr (24-18).