Friday, November 21, 2008

Wendel Moment #1 - Clark vs. McSorley

On November 22, Wendel Clark's #17 will be raised to the rafters as the team honours its former captain and arguably the most popular player in franchise history.

In the lead up to that night, Down Goes Brown will feature a countdown of Wendel's Top 17 Greatest Moments.

Leaf fans knows the scene by heart. Game one of the Campbell Conference finals, the LA Kings visiting the Gardens. The Leafs are cruising to a win late in the third. Doug Gilmour cuts across the blueline with his head down, and Marty McSorley steps into him. Maybe it's an elbow, maybe not. Gilmour goes down, stick flying through the air, and he stays down.

And suddenly all the optimism of a miracle season is gone. Dougie's hurt. Fans who were dreaming about a Stanley Cup moments ago can only stare in horror. Marty McSorley has just taken out the Leafs franchise player.

Wendel Clark is a first liner, McSorely is a hired goon. Doesn't matter.

Wendel is at the end of a shift. Doesn't matter.

Wendel is worn out and broken down, spending four hours a day on the trainer's table just to be able to suit up. Doesn't matter.

Wendel is half McSorley's size, giving up at least three inches and over 40 lbs. Doesn't matter.

The best player on the team is down and out, crumpled on the ice, and the other side's goon is standing over top of him. That's what matters. That's all that matters.

This list has featured more than a few examples of Wendel Clark laying guys out, and I've made a point of noting the reactions of various teammates. Stu Grimson's ridiculous "hold me back" routine. Keith Brown's comedic refusal to get involved. The two Devils who tackle each other instead of going after Wendel. Charlie Bourgeois dropping the gloves, then quickly changing his mind.

Each one of those guys knew what they had to do. And when the time came, each one hesitated and backed off. Can you blame them? After all, it's easy to talk about doing the right thing. It's a lot harder to actually do it.

Not for Wendel Clark. Not this time.

He sees the play unfold, watches Gilmour go down. He takes one look over his shoulder to see where the linesmen are. He doesn't even break stride.

No questions. No hesitation.

Most people will tell you that Clark heads straight for McSorely, but that's not quite true. If you watch closely, you'll see that he takes a slightly wider angle than he needs to. That's because McSorley has turned slightly from the impact, and Clark doesn't want to come in from the side. He wants him to make sure Marty sees him coming.

Bob Cole's call is one of the most memorable of his career, one that Leaf fans still know by heart:
"Gilmour was hit inside the line by McSorley, and this is going to draw Clark and McSorley into a ruckus. They're throwing punches, and OH! CLARK IS NAILING MCSORLEY!"
The fight is an instant classic. Clark connects early with one of the hardest punches in hockey history. McSorely, to his credit, absorbs the shot and stays on his feet, although the punch decimated half of his face as captured in a memorable front page photo the next day. The two trade shots in a marathon bout, Clark dominating early and McSorley gaining an advantage later once he slithers out of his overly-loose jersey (a cowardly trick that almost every tough guy of the day used, even Probert, but never Clark).

Todd Gill and Dave Taylor fight on the undercard. Gilmour challenges the Kings bench. McSorley challenges a cameraman. Pat Burns challenges Barry Melrose. The Garden fans go insane.

If you saw the game, you don't need me to tell you what it was like. You remember. You'll always remember that moment.

The moment that Wendel Clark looked across the ice at a fallen teammate and did exactly what a captain should do. The moment that Wendel Clark dropped the gloves with a giant and taught him a lesson about respecting the Maple Leaf. The moment that somehow managed to perfectly capture everything that Wendel Clark meant to a team, a city, and generation of fans.

The top Wendel Clark moment of all-time.


  1. You've brought an old fool to tears.

  2. I'm at work, and I'm crying. This is fucked up. Great series, Sean.

  3. This has been such an excellent trip down memory lane - the only downside is it really highlights how hard it is now to really get as emotionally invested in the NHL of today.

    I still love the team and watching them play, but I can't think of much in the past 10 years even that I'll be rewatching as obsessively on youtube in the future.

    Well, maybe some Tucker stuff, and the Bell hit on Alfie, and classic Mats/Mogilny..

  4. anyone else hear the radio call of the fight?

    my dad was driving me back from some little league baseball game, and joe bowen was absolutely going insane.

    for listening to it, i was imagining mcsorely's brains flying all over the place.

  5. This is just so well put together.

    Even though it's a clip of a live broadcast, you can't script it any better than the shot at 1:55 behind Gill as he follows Clark into the lockerroom.

    The Maple Leaf. In all it's glory.

  6. Watching the interview with Ulmer gives me the perfect line, from the Toronto Sun after Wendel retired:

    Real Men Do Cry

    You tease DGB. You said the top moment was going to be a disappointment. That was awesome.

  7. Sad to say, but if that same scenario had occured in the NHL today, Wendel would have suspended for game 2 for intigating a fight in the last 5 minutes of the game. Suspended for doing...the right thing.

  8. One of the greatest write-ups on Clark of all time !!

    That fight with McSorely was unbelievable and makes me heart swell with Leafs pride once again.


  9. What the hell is this water in my eyes? Where is it coming from?

    Oh yeah, I remember that fight vividly. And it wasn't the hardest punch in NHL history; it was the hardest THREE punches in NHL history.

    Those 3 perfect shots to Marty's face would have felled Ali, or a Redwood. The only reason Marty is still standing is because Clark is holding him up. The only reason Marty even lands a punch after that is due to a brain stem/nervous system convulsion, like a chicken after its neck has been snapped.

    Thank you, DGB. And I will be parked in front of my TV tomorrow, wearing my Leafs sweater, cheering for good ol' Wendel.

  10. Bravo! Thank you for taking the time to do this and for treating it with the care and respect it deserves. You've done something very special and very moving, of the highest quality and excellence.

    Tremendous. Meaningful.

    Just thanks.

  11. No words, DGB.

    This is why we read blogs.


  12. DGB, after a few beers, is it wrong that I want to hug you for doing this?

  13. We all new this was coming. What else could be #1? Didn't matter, it was still fucking awesome.

    I wasn't alive when Henderson scored, Kennedy was shot, or man walked on the moon. I remember where I was for this. It was beautiful. That whole playoff run was something that I'll never forget.

    This whole series has been brilliant. Rock on!

  14. I'd never read this blog before this series but you've earned yourself a reader. I was 3 when this fight happened, 10 when Clark retired and I can't recall ever seeing him play live. But, simply through reputation, word of mouth and YouTube, he's become my favourite Leaf of all time. When I started reading this series I had no doubt what the top moment would be. I wore #17 throughout my minor hockey career and I can't wait to see it raised to the rafters tomorrow night. Thanks for this.

  15. That is until we have to watch Jason Blake tomorrow. How about a series on him?

    That would be more like a Top One moments series. I we have to wait until he's traded or retired to get that one.

  16. Shivers, goosebumps and tears.

    My hat is off to you good sir. That was brilliant.

  17. Ah...the '93 playoffs. Back when 2500 tickets (mostly in the greys)
    would go on sale before each series.

    I was at game 3 vs Detroit. Leafs win 3-2.

    I was at game 7 vs St. Louis. Leafs blow them out and Wendel takes of Cujo's head.

    And, thank the hockey gods, I was at game 1 vs Los Angeles. I was sitting in the greys right at the blueline where all this occured. The night was electric before the game started. But once the McSorely hit happened the place went bonkers. Wendelmania at its zenith. The place rocked the rest of the night and when the buzzer went you'd have thought the Leaf's one the cup. Outside the Gardens all everyone could talk about was the fight. It reminded me of coming out of the theatre after seeing Rocky for the first time. Unbefreakinleavable!

    By far the greatest Wendel Clark moment. This has been a fantastic blog series. Anyone that doesn't "get it" is missing out big time.

  18. Great series!!! Will this be archived on the blog as a perm link? It would be nice to revisit this list again and again. :D

  19. Will this be archived on the blog as a perm link?

    Yep. You can find a summary of the list here, and all the posts on one page here.

  20. Unreal series, just spectacular.

    Does anybody have a link to that Sun front page shot the next day of McSorely? I can't seem to find it anywhere.

  21. The only fitting end to an absolutely tremendous series, DGB.

    Another thing on this clip - Harry Neale "I think it was a clean hit" Then on the replay when he notices how cheap it was "Oh it might have been an elbow.. but you can't cross the ice with your head down." Well, can you leave your feet (take a look, Marty clearly jumps) to jump into a guy's head with your arm, Harry?

    Gilmour taking on the bench, classic. I am going to reread each one of these and then I am ready for tonight.

  22. best comment
    "There's another fight if your interested"


  23. A buddy just sent me this link... I've got goose bumps as I'm writing this comment. I've only really been a fan of hockey for about 7 years now. Reading this makes me wish I had been a fan a lot earlier. All I know is, that Wendel Clark is my new idol...

  24. "Does anybody have a link to that Sun front page shot the next day of McSorely?"


  25. Just read this one again. For me, the best moments here are - of course - Clark nailing McSorley and at the end of the video (2:26) where Clark drops his gloves. That's the moment that commands my respect towards Clark. As DGB said, no hesitation. No backing down. Just a "Let's go!".

  26. I had the privilege to meet Wendel at a bar back in '92. He was there with Zezel and Ellett. I asked him how it felt to be the coolest guy in the NHL. He laughed and said, "Nah, I'm not the coolest". Wendel rules!

  27. I was eleven and somehow my old man got us tickets for the next game at the Gardens. We were down behind the visitor's net watching the Kings come off the ice when my Dad leans in and yells "Look, it's Marty McSore-Eye" McSorley lunged at him and some players had to hold him back. I was pretty proud of the old man.

    Great stuff Down Goes Brown.

  28. NJ devils fan here but love old time hockey and grit. Great article. I especially liked to call out about probert and the jersey. I would disagree with you a bit in mcsorley being a pure goon--he did compile 359 career points and was often a defenseman and he played a regular shift on that kings run to the cup finals---but that is minor quibbling.

  29. quick question, how many stanley cups did wendel clark win? I feel its between 0 and 0.

  30. Great list. Wendel was my favourite player growing up. A couple things about #1 though:

    McSorley was not just a hired goon, he was a pretty good player for half of his career and even led the NHL in +/- once.

    What do you mean about Clark being on the trainer's table for 4 days just to be able to play? The Leafs played 21 games in 42 nights that season. Game 1 was just two days after game 7 of the St. Louis series.

  31. Failing to win a fight in a playoff series his team lost - yep, sounds about right for a Leafs "legend".

    1. Let me get this straight : You hit me 5-6 times on my protective headgear, but I close your eye with one punch.. and you win the fight? Try again

  32. Every new Maple Leaf needs to read this blog and most especially this one post.

    Then maybe we'd see a little heart and soul out there on the ice.

  33. wow, I really wish Wendel could have been born later so he could be playing for us now. I just get so depressed looking at our team, and even though i wasnt even alive when Wendel Clark was playing, he's my favourite player of all time. Thanks for the list Sean.

  34. Kind of amazing to look at the difference in the culture surrounding hits like that in the NHL today as compared to the NHL 18 years ago when this happened. All the focus is on the fact that Gilmour had his head down (which doesn't look to be completely true...) and "maybe it was a bit of an elbow". If that exact same hit happened today, McSorley would have gotten 5 and the gate for the elbow to the head and he'd probably be looking at a suspension (although who really knows when it comes to Campbell's wheel of justice), and much more of the focus would be on the fact that Gilmour had long since passed the puck before getting clocked. Say what you will about Betman being the worst commissioner in sports and Colin Campbell being absolutely terrible at his job (both true statements), I am happy that that sort of bullshit cheap shot is taken much more seriously by the league than it used to be.

  35. 2 thoughts:

    1) I STILL miss Wendel;

    2) I wish that cop hadn't restrained Burns.

  36. From a Kings fan : Marty wasn't a hired goon, he's a legend in LA and whipped little dougie and wendall. Congrats to LA winning game 7 and going to Montreal who had to cry to the refs to aviod being down 2-0.

    LA best team in NHL

    1. That is true about McSore-ley. I wonder if it is still possible to get an autograph on one of the straws that Marty had to use to eat the rest of the playoffs.

  37. Number of times Wendel fought someone his own size or smaller = 0
    Number of times Wendel started a fight = 0
    Number of times Wendel lost a fight = 0
    Number of times Wendel threw a dirty hit = 0
    Number of times Wendel made you proud to be a Leaf fan = Too numerous to count