Holding Out For A Hero
by Deb Beckers
Ah the 80’s, those halcyon days of my now faded youth... or some such shite. The decade started off with US dominance, moved into Canadian rule and ended up with Canada’s heartbreak. And you thought it was just all about the Hockey hair...
In 1980 there was the “Miracle on Ice”. Leave it to you Americans to give what the Canadians had done, let’s say better, already in 1972, a loftier title. We just called ours “The Summit Series” and kicked ass. The only movie that we made about it is the actual footage of the game. Take that Kurt Russell.
The NHL in the 80’s
What had once been a game of skill and style had become what basically amounted to a boxing match on skates (yes I am looking at you Philly). I don’t know what made the players so angry, I can only guess that the death of Disco had SOMETHING to do with it, but something needed to change.
What we needed was a balance, someone to show the world that hockey was a game of skilled players, not goons! Well, not ALL goons anyway. The 80’s became a decade that was dominated by one man, THE GREAT ONE, but that comes a little later...
The 80’s were dominated by two teams, the NEW YORK ISLANDERS and the EDMONTON OILERS.
1979 – 1983
Top of the heap in 1979, the Isles exited the playoffs, losing to their hated rivals (NY Rangers), who were considered (at the time and still by some) to be a vastly inferior team. After that major disappointment the Isles focused on post season play for their 1980 Stanley Cup run, it worked and the Isles went on to an amazing four (4) year run as Stanley Cup Champions.
Their biggest challenge came in the 1983 finals against the Oilers. Some up-and-coming whippersnapper named Gretzky was shattering scoring records and making the opposing teams scramble to come up with a way to shut him down. The Isles had his number, they swept the Oilers in Four (4). Gretzky didn’t get a single goal.
The 1984 finals found the same two teams fighting for dominance. The Oilers squeaked a 1-0 win in the first game and the Isles came roaring back, winning 6-2 in the second game. Unfortunately, that was pretty much it for the Isles (sorry Michele); they lost the last three (3) games 7-2, 7-2, 5-2. The longest post season win streak in history was over, a new team was emerging.
In 1984 the Oilers had a franchise record of 57 wins (119 points) AND the Stanley Cup. The team carried their momentum over into the ’85 season, defeating the Philadelphia Flyers for their second taste from the Cup.
The Oilers continued their domination during the regular season, breaking franchise and league records, only to lose their division final to the Calgary Flames in seven (7) games (a feat that Edmonton has never really forgiven Calgary for – the bad blood continues to this day). Gretzky may have broken his own scoring record (215 pts – 52g/163a), but a weird bounce off the Edmonton net minder’s skate (Fuhr) ended their quest for three straight cups.
Montréal won that year. I know this not only because I watched the finals, but because the French Immersion teachers at my Middle School went crazy (well crazier) and made us sing hockey songs in French. Oh La La.
Oilers return to the final and win it in seven (7) against the Flyers and their Conn Smythe Trophy winner, rookie goalie, Ron Hextall (who, BTW, according to sources had the hardest shot in the league for a number of years – I believe it – he’s the first Goalie to actually SCORE a goal...).
Oilers win again, losing only two playoff games and sweeping the Bruins in Four (4). Well, really it was in 4 ½. In game four the lights went out in Boston Garden in the second period with the score tied 3-3. The stats from that games still stand, but a full game four was played in Edmonton, where the Oilers won the cup for the last time in ... well let’s just say until they win it again.
88 was also the first year that an “informal” team photo was taken on ice with the Cup. It was suggested by Gretzky and has continued ever since.
1988 – The Darkness Descends, or, Why Canada Hates Janet Gretzky
Gambling problems aside, the darkest day in Canadian NHL history happened on August 9, 1988, when Gretzky announced that he (along with McSorley and Krushelnyski) were being traded to the Los Angeles Kings, for what amounted to a block of wood and a bag of frozen hockey pucks. If we could find a way to blame Bettman for this we would.
An era was over. Canada Wept.
The Calgary Flames won the Cup. They played against the Canadiens. Nobody cares because we are all dead inside. Gretzky is playing in LA.