This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Canadiens’ last Stanley Cup championship.
The Canadiens had a 2-1 series lead on the Los Angeles Kings heading into Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final on June 7, 1993 in L.A.
Below are the columns by Michael Farber and Red Fisher that were published in The Gazette in 1993 to set up Game 4.
Jacques Demers, who coached the 1993 Habs, was a guest on the HIO show earlier this year and discussed that Stanley Cup team. You can watch that show by clicking here.
(Gazette file photo)
Demers really measuring up as Canadiens coach
PUBLISHED IN THE GAZETTE ON JUNE 7, 1993
SANTA MONICA, Calif. – This might be nothing to shake a stick at, but Canadiens managing director Serge Savard has a theory.
Savard said if Luc Robitaille had his usual lumber, he would have buried the third-period breakaway against Patrick Roy in Game 3 and the Los Angeles Kings would have won.
“The puck rolled off his blade and if he had the old one, it probably would have stayed on,” Savard said. “That’s speculation, but I know what an illegal stick is.”
Robitaille also has a theory.
“Serge,” he said, “thinks too much. Serge should take care of his team, not worry about sticks.”
Of course the reason Robitaille apparently was not playing with his Michelle Pfeiffer curve in Game 3 – His Luckiness was non-commital about his equipment – is the Canadiens fingered him along with Marty McSorley in the Great Blade Raid of Game 2. Although Canadiens coach Jacques Demers got the stick call on McSorley and won another ho-hum overtime match, Robitaille took the hint.
The Canadiens photocopied the ending in Game 3 after Robitaille’s shocking miss and take a 2-1 lead heading into Game 4 tonight. If you follow Savard’s logic, Demers’s stick call won that game as well – i.e. Robitaille is forced to change stick, ergo Robitaille misses big opening, Q.E.D., Demers’s request for the measurement beat Los Angeles twice.
We measure, therefore we pleasure.
Not that the Canadiens can put Descartes before the horse in the Stanley Cup final. The law of averages hasn’t been repealed despite nine consecutive overtime wins, even if it looks like the Canadiens have invoked the notwithstanding clause, so maybe the Kings will rally before two more Montreal wins make it two dozen.
Picture 24 long-stemmed Stanley Cups. Wouldn’t that be beautiful?
But this success is not built only out of sticks. Demers isn’t coaching both teams, but he got the matchups he wanted against Wayne Gretzky home and away the past two matches and has had his team well prepared for overtime.
“We just can’t go into overtime with this team,” Kings coach Barry Melrose said, a tight grin on his lips. “It’s a coaching mistake to go into OT.”
Demers worked on a Coca-Cola truck as a teenager to pay the family bills, so maybe he does know a little bit more about overtime than Melrose. Think about it. Gretzky might be the comeback story of the final because of his back, but Demers had to return all the way from a radio booth.
Demers was fired by Detroit after the 1990 season. And in the interim until Savard signed the best available bilingual coach without a heart condition, National Hockey League teams hired 32 coaches.
“The phone wasn’t ringing on a regular basis,” Demers said. “Actually it wasn’t ringing at all.
“Except for my creditors.”
The NHL was recirculating coaches the way the jets recirculate air, but Demers was out of the loop. He saw coaches with less experience and less success get jobs. After helping three rather ordinary teams into the Final Four – one in St. Louis and two in Detroit – he wondered if he had been blackballed. It only takes one person with a certain stature to spread the word, and someone in Detroit didn’t seem to be giving him very good references.
Demers, who remains close with Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, was assured by his agent, Don Meehan, it wasn’t true. One team even approached him last summer before Montreal. But Demers said this team fired its coach every year (read: New Jersey).
“I was still young to be out of the game,” Demers said. “But I liked what I was doing on radio. I was thinking maybe it’s really time to do something different when the call came from Montreal.”
Demers believes in fate, what he calls Someone Upstairs. This is a force bigger than the someones on the second floor of the Forum – bigger even than Savard – and Demers has an acute sense of his own destiny. Coaching the Canadiens is what he always wanted. The job hasn’t made him more confident, because he always knew he could coach, but it has humbled him. He understands he has become as much a caretaker for a tradition as a coach.
“They have 23 Cups,” he said. “When I die, this franchise probably will have 50.”
Demers is 48 so obviously he plans on living a good, long time. This is terrific considering his bout with mortality March 9 when he thought he had suffered a heart attack. He hadn’t, but he couldn’t dismiss the warning. He tried to lose the extra 30 pounds he had gained during the season but found it difficult.
“I eat my emotions,” Demers said.
He usually accompanies them with a side of fries and a pizza, all-dressed.
If Demers is not a new man, at least he has a new team. Savard found him Vincent Damphousse and Brian Bellows, and Demers discovered the old Patrick Roy in the playoffs by himself. The chemistry changed, and it was a different man in the laboratory. He was positive, upbeat, a change from the blunt Pat Burns, who dared to touch on what he perceived to be the French-English chasm in the locker room last spring before he resigned. Burns struck a nerve in a franchise that tries to rise above the daily, grubby subject of language.
J.J. Daigneault said he never noticed a split and suggested any internal difficulties were a result of the Canadiens’ inability to reach the semi-finals three straight years. Mike Keane said there might have been some language problems.
But they agree Demers has been the unifying presence.
“Jacques is completely responsible for the closeness on this team,” Daigneault said.
“Now we go out together, eat together, there’s not that bunch of cliques that there was,” Keane said. “I love Pat. He was very good to me. But Jacques is more of the father figure, and the players needed that. Sometimes you need a pat on the back.”
Demers can X and O and OT all night, but his lasting contribution to this team was getting it to play like one when it counted most.
Demers came with the reputation of three-year contract, two-year act, but he bought himself time in reaching the final and proved “I’m not done as a coach as people contended.”
“I’ll always take for my guy,” Savard said, “but I can’t say Jacques has outcoached (Melrose). They’ve led more minutes in this series than we have. And the other guy has done a helluva job getting his team here.
“But Jacques is well-prepared. He doesn’t just show up to coach a game. He’s in his office at 8 a.m. But yes, obviously the call for the stick was a major call.”
Demers has measured up.
Schneider compares LeClair to Lindros
PUBLISHED IN THE GAZETTE ON JUNE 7, 1993
INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Mathieu Schneider watches John LeClair on a night when he’s on his game – and who does he see?
“He can be like (Eric) Lindros,” said Schneider.
“Honest,” said Schneider.
It is not true that Schneider has been taking too much sun on the beach of the Canadiens’ hotel in Santa Monica, largely because there hasn’t been enough sun. But yeah, he insists he looks at Long John, The Mountain Man, and sees Eric, the Next One.
“You look at his size,” said Schneider, “and there aren’t too many guys his size who have his mobility. His consistency has been up and down (which probably makes Long John inconsistent) but he can be a 40-goal scorer. Easily.
“He can be a 40-goal scorer consistently,” said Schneider. “No problem, at all. Just practicing against him, for a guy my size, it’s almost impossible to stop him.”
LeClair was on everybody’s lips yesterday for the very good reason that on Saturday, his goal 34 seconds into overtime provided the Canadiens with a 4-3 victory and a 2-1 lead in their best-of-seven Stanley Cup final with the Los Angeles Kings.
It was the 10th overtime game involving the Canadiens in the playoffs. Remarkably, they’ve won the last nine after losing the first, 3-2, against the Nordiques in Quebec.
“For a guy his size,” said Schneider, “guys have to take a penalty or let him go for the net. If you’re a defenceman, you hold him, grab him, pull him down or cross-check him. Even then, it may not be enough.”
Long John has attracted an uncommon amount of attention for a guy who’s scored only three goals and four assists in 18 playoff games. In other words: aw, c’mon, Mathieu – Lindros?
“Let’s make up a new word,” said Schneider, who promptly didn’t. “He’s a power forward. Johnny’s not finesse, like let’s say, Kevin Stevens. He’s got this heavy shot. He’s not fancy. He plows through guys, including me.
“Lindros,” insisted Schneider. “Nobody else.”
“All I know,” said LeClair, “is that the only guy who made it happen was Brian Bellows. He’s the guy who made the pick on what turned out to be three guys. By the time I put the puck in the net, their three guys were sitting on (Kelly) Hrudey, who was face-down on the ice. Even I couldn’t miss the shot.”
The three Kings LeClair was talking about were defenceman Mark Hardy, Tony Granato and Marty McSorley. It started with Bellows thundering into Hardy, who careened into Granato. Even while both were falling, McSorley came into the picture to become part of the smorgasbord.
“I really don’t know what the fuss is all about,” said LeClair. “Aside from the goal, I didn’t think I played that well,” he said.
Fact is, he did. Early in the game, he swept around Rob Blake, moved in on Hrudey, and was stopped. He hit people. He banged ’em. He was, as Canadiens coach Jacques Demers mentioned, a force.
“The goal has to boost my confidence,” said LeClair. “We’ve won the last two in overtime, and that has to boost the confidence of all of our guys.”
“The amazing thing about LeClair,” said Schneider, “is that he can skate down the ice with two guys draped over him, and he won’t fall. On the other hand, he can be alone – and trip over the blue line.
“I think he’s still growing into his body,” said Schneider.
LeClair, alias E. Lindros, was everybody’s darling yesterday. He’s well-loved, but as of yesterday, he still hadn’t called his parents in St. Alban’s, Vt., who love him best of all, even when he’s not scoring an overtime goal which lifts the Canadiens to two games from their first Stanley Cup since 1986.
Hockey’s most celebrated forward, for now, also knew precisely how the conversation with his parents would go.
“The first thing I’m gonna ask them is what’s going on. The next thing is what they thought of the game,” said LeClair.
So what about the game, which left the Kings reeling in their quest for their first-ever Stanley Cup?
It was LeClair, as Schneider mentioned. It was the Canadiens sweeping into a 3-0 lead a hair more than 23 minutes into the game. It was the Kings rallying for three goals from Luc Robitaille, Tony Granato and Wayne Gretzky before the end of the second period.
It was Patrick Roy making a miracle stop on Jari Kurri five minutes into the third period. It was Terry Gregson putting away his whistle in the final period, and Guy Carbonneau falling on a puck in the Canadiens crease late in the game – without a call from Gregson.
It was an amalgam of many things, but the bottom line is that the Canadiens discovered yet another way of winning – and has there ever been a more remarkable series of playoff rounds than these?
Kings go with kids – at practice
PUBLISHED IN THE GAZETTE ON JUNE 7, 1993
INGLEWOOD, Calif. – To their burgeoning ranks of celebrity supporters such as Mick Jagger, Michelle Pfeiffer, John Candy and Magic Johnson, the Los Angeles Kings added one of the all-timers yesterday – Michelangelo.
Or was it Donatello?
Tough to tell, although behind that turtle mask and that turtle attitude, the dude looked suspiciously like 4-year-old Steven Robitaille.
While 20 minutes away in Santa Monica Canadiens coach Jacques Demers was praising his kids, Barry Melrose actually was letting his kids on the ice. There were dazzling, white-blond Ville and Joonas Kurri in home Kings sweaters. Adrian Melrose, 8, smartly turned out in the old purple-and-gold Kings sweater, skated like a pro, while some of the other small fry covered a fair bit of ice in their rubber-soled Nikes. This is, remember, L.A. One of the children had an earring, and it wasn’t a girl.
One night after sounding a tad childish about the Kings not getting a penalty shot after Guy Carbonneau’s goal-mouth coverup, Melrose opened a daycare.
“I like having the kids on the ice,” Melrose said of his non-traditional approach to Game 4. “Everyone’s relaxed and the guys like being around them. A lot of coaches don’t like kids around the room or the rink, but this is something I’ve been doing since I was coaching in Adirondack. I want this to be an enjoyable environment. The rink should be a fun place to be. The teams that don’t like coming to the rink, they’re dead.”
“Like, what can we learn now if we practiced?” said Kings centreman Pat Conacher, who brought Patrick, an 8-year-old, and his buddy named Mike. “This loosens everyone up, not that we’re a tight team to begin with.
“The playoffs are tough on the kids. These kids and the wives deserve so much credit, not just ours but Montreal’s and the other teams’, too. They go through a lot. It’s tough when you do as much travelling as we do, a game about every second night for two months. The kids know what’s going on, but they want to spend time with us. This helps.”
Of course, there are children around the Montreal Forum, too. Once a year. The Christmas party. A splendid photo opportunity. Actually, a strapping young Ewen is a regular at practices and Jonathan Roy comes around and there have been occasional sightings of Savards and Ramages, but the hallowed corridors are not exactly reverberating with the pitter-patter of tiny feet.
This is the Canadiens way. Everything has its place. When discussing the buttoned-down image of his organization last week, Demers said his players were “young businessmen. That’s how we approach it.”
But the Kings are not the World’s Most Serious Hockey Team, which perhaps comes from their environment – Los Angeles is a great but not necessarily serious place to play hockey – but also from their Energizer Bunny of a coach. Melrose, who keeps going and going in press sessions, permits an extraordinary degree of freedom for a coach.
Changes in attitude. Changes in latitude.
“Barry’s let everyone be himself,” Conacher said. “The point is to show up (at game time) and be ready to play. A lot of coaches want regular run-of-the mill factory guys. Yes, sir. No, sir. They’re the boss and they want you to be afraid.
“You saw it happen in the mid-1980s. They started weeding the characters out of hockey. When I broke in (with the New York Rangers in 1979-80), about half the guys on the team smoked. Now you don’t see anyone doing it. Now I’m not saying that smoking and drinking are good things, but it just seems that so many coaches aren’t willing to let guys be themselves.
“You have so many different personalities flowing together in a team, and guys become scared to say something. But you have to be the man that you are. You aren’t going to win with 25 robots. Think of the great Edmonton teams. They had lots of personalities. I look at the wacky qualities as strengths, not weaknesses.”
The Kings figure they will bounce back tonight from consecutive first-minute losses in overtime, that they won’t turtle when faced with the challenge of stopping a team that has an air of destiny about it.
The turtling was yesterday.