The SBN theme for this week was sports moments that made you cry or a variation on said theme. While I certainly did my fair share of crying as a baby and little tyke, as a highly-logical adult who is well aware that bad things sometime happen to us as we progress through our lives, it takes a lot more than sports to make me cry so I’ll go with the top five moments (and we’ll make them hockey moments as this is a hockey blog after all) that really, really upset me.
The WHA merges with the NHL and leaves the Birmingham Bulls (and Cincinnati Stingers) out in the cold.
I was born in Miami and have lived the vast majority of my life in different cities around South Florida, but in the latter part of the 1970s I lived in Birmingham, Alabama. Oddly enough, this is where I caught the hockey bug and attended my first games at the Birmingham Jefferson County Coliseum (also saw my first concert KISS their) and the brawling Bulls were my team. With both leagues drowning in a sea of red ink, the NHL and WHA officially ended their bloody war in March, 1979 with the older circuit taking in stripped for parts versions of the Edmonton Oilers, Quebec Nordiques, New England (Hartford) Whalers and Winnipeg Jets. My Bulls and the Cincinnati Stingers were paid to disband their professional squads and both ended up in the Central Hockey League for a short time. With the Flames struggling to survive in Atlanta, the Bulls didn’t have a chance to make the jump and were never considered in any of the merger talks between the two leagues. Had the leagues merged a year or two earlier the Stingers, and Houston Aeros, would have joined the NHL. Much like your first girl (or guy), you never forget your first team...
Steve Smith scores into his own net allowing the Calgary Flames to temporarily derail the Edmonton Oilers dynasty.
With the Bulls dead, I was forced to adopt a new team in 1979 and that team was the Oilers. My new team had to be one of the four WHA refugees and out of that quartet I went with Edmonton as it was the furthest away from South Florida and they had some young kid, not all that much older than I was at the time, named Wayne Gretzky who was pretty good, so... Rooting for the Oilers from Miramar pre-internet in the 80s wasn’t easy, but I did it and much to my delight, it wasn’t long before they started dominating the league. After getting swept by the New York Islanders in 1983, the Oilers got revenge in 1984 and then won a second Stanley Cup the following year by brushing aside the Philadelphia Flyers in five games. Edmonton opened the 1986 playoffs by stomping the Vancouver Canucks and then found themselves embroiled in what turned out to be a seven-game classic with the Calgary Flames. The horrifying, deciding goal of the series was scored 5:14 into the third period when usually steady defenseman Steve Smith attempted a cross-ice pass from the side of his own net and the puck struck goaltender Grant Fuhr’s leg and went in to his own net. Perry Berezan got credit for the goal and future Florida Panthers goaler Mike Vernon shut the door the rest of the way. I’ll never, ever forget the sick feeling in my stomach when Smith potted that own goal.
Wayne Gretzky gets traded to the Los Angeles Kings on August 9. 1988.
I am listing my five moments in chronological order, but this is probably the one that upset me the most when it happened. The Oilers had just won their fourth Stanley Cup in five years, and seem poised for three or four more, and all of the sudden Peter “Puck” Pocklington ruins my summer by dealing The Great One to the Kings! What the exact f**k? As time has moved on, I’ve grown to embrace the trade as it helped grow the game in the Unite States and spurred on the opening of hockey markets in the south, but at the time I was completely gutted as Gretzky was and is still is my favorite player of all-time. I followed both the Oilers and Kings for a time, but thanks to the birth of the Panthers I was able to end that five-year bipolar (those playoff meetings between the two teams were really difficult to watch) run of fandom.
Uwe Krupp ends the Florida Panthers magical run with a triple-overtime goal.
Like the Oilers before them, my new, and finally local, team showed competency early on, with solid expansion and second seasons, and it wasn’t long (year three!) before they found themselves in the Stanley Cup Final in 1996. After upsetting the Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, and a Pittsburgh Penguins squad boasting the likes of Super Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, the lunch-pail Panthers ran into a skilled and determined Colorado Avalanche team, with Patrick Roy in the net, that simply would not be denied. After Colorado won the first three games, the Panthers really buckled down and tried to keep the series alive by winning Game 4 at the Miami Arena. Unfortunately, defenseman Uwe Krupp drove in the Cup-winner, and only goal of the game, 4:31 into the third overtime ending the dream after John Vanbiesbrouck heroically stopped the first 55 shots he faced. Even more unfortunate is that the Panthers have never gotten back to that level of early success in the ensuing decades.
Gretzky and other former Oilers help the Rangers “86” the Panthers in the first round of the 1997 playoffs.
While a complete hockey sh*t show was looming on the horizon, the Panthers followed up its magical run with a pretty good 89-point 1996-97 regular season and as the four seed in the Eastern Conference, drew the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs. The Cats looked every bit like the team that made the final the year before by taking Game 1 on home ice by a 3-0 count. An aging, but still dangerous Gretzky scored the game-winner and set up Luc Robitaille’s clincher in Game 2. Robitaille tied Game 3 in the third period on assists from Gretzky and another former Oiler, Mark Messier and the Broadway Blueshirts went on to win in overtime when more ex-Edmonton in the form of Esa Tikkanen scored late in the extra frame. In one of the last truly great performances of his amazing career, Gretzky’s natural hat trick in the second period powered the Rangers to a 3-2 win in Game 4 at Madison Square Garden. Messier scored twice and had an assist and Tikkanen scored yet another overtime winner to send the Rangers on to the second round while the Panthers would go on to miss the playoffs in 12 of the next 13 seasons. It was pretty upsetting to see some of the guys you use to die-hard root on in the 80s help exit your new team in the 90s. Ugh...
Well, those are my five most negative moments for theme week. Please chime in with yours in the comment section.