Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wendel Moment #2 - Game Six

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.

On May 27, 1993, the Leafs faced off with the Kings in game six of their conference final. The Leafs lead the series 3-2, and were a win away from meeting the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup final. It would turn out to be the most memorable game of a generation for Leaf fans.

With the score tied 1-1 after one period, the Leafs took the lead in the second when Wendel Clark drove to the Kings net on a solo rush and slipped a backhand past Kelly Hrudey. But the Kings stormed back, scoring three times and taking a 4-2 lead into the second intermission. Playing their 20th game in 39 nights, the Leafs were flat. The tank was empty.

The Kings had the lead, the home crowd, and all the momentum. The Leafs had a captain who wasn't done yet.

Midway into the third Clark brought the Leafs to within one on another solo effort, this time storming into the Kings zone and using Marty McSorley as a screen to beat Kelly Hrudey on a long wrist shot. That set the stage for the final minutes, with both teams trading scoring chances. With 90 seconds to play, Leafs goalie Felix Potvin headed to the bench.

Clark, the sixth attacker, stepped onto the ice and crossed the Kings blue line. Doug Gilmour spotted him and, realizing the Kings hadn't picked up Clark coming off the bench, delivered a long tape-to-tape pass. Wendel was still well out, at least 35 feet, but he had time to get off a clean shot.

Here's the thing about those next few moments: There wasn't a single Leaf fan anywhere who had any doubt about what was about to happen.

It was a strange feeling. Leaf fans live for doubt. It's all we know. Deep down, under all the bravado and chest-thumping, we're a miserable and pessimistic bunch. We've been kicked by the hockey gods so many times that we've learned to always expect the worst. We know that if something bad can happen, it will. And then it will get worse. It always does.

Not this time. As soon as Clark wound up, we knew where the puck was going.

Wrist shot. Top shelf. Tie game.

Clark had recorded a playoff hat trick, virtually on his own. There were no goal mouth tap-ins, no accidental deflections, no easy rebounds to shovel home. Just three individual efforts, each one buried with more authority than the last. Wendel Clark had single-handedly dragged the Leafs to within one goal of a trip to the finals.

Everyone knows what happened next.

Glenn Anderson. Kerry Fraser. Wayne Gretzky. The end.

One of the (many) things that fans of other teams don't understand about Leaf fans is why we're still so angry about the Fraser non-call. After all, who's to say the Leafs would have scored on the powerplay? Who's to say the Kings wouldn't have won anyways? Bad calls happen, it's been 15 years, just let it go.

This is why we're still angry. This is why we know that non-call cost us a spot in the Finals. Because anyone who watched that game knows, without question, that Wendel Clark was going to score the winner. The Kings couldn't stop him that night. Nobody could have.

Forget the powerplay. The Leafs just needed one more even-stregth shift. And they didn't get it, because when it came time to make the biggest call of his career, Kerry Fraser choked on his whistle.

After a career of false starts and bad backs and bad luck and terrible teams and blood and bruises, after all the hours on the trainer's table, after all the fights with guys twice his size, Wendel Clark finally had a chance to play for the Stanley Cup, and he responded with arguably the greatest game ever played by a Maple Leaf.

This was his moment. This was what everything had been building towards. And Kerry Fraser took it away.

So yeah, we're still a little cranky about that.

But we'll move on. The Leafs lost game seven despite two more goals from Clark (including the Blues and Sharks series, Clark scored a pair of goals in three straight game sevens). They made one more run to the conference finals the next year, lost to the Canucks, and then dealt Clark to the Nordiques.

They never got as close to the Cup again. Some days we wonder if they ever will.

But the one time they did, their captain put a tired team on his back and almost won the game on his own. It was the most memorable highlight of a long career.

Except for one...


  1. Fantastic, DGB. The thing I remember most about that game (other than the obvious) was Bob Cole's call on Wendel's tying goal. The long, drawn-out "Wennnndellll Clark!" I still get chills seeing that highlight years later. Partially because of Bob Cole's call, partially because of the Herculean effort Wendel put forth that evening, and partially because of what could have/should have been.

    I can't wait for moment #1...I've got the kleenex ready for what promises to be a very dusty couple of days indeed. If Wendel were here, he'd punch out all my tears.

  2. Bang on. Forget that Clark probably scores the winner on that cum-rag wearing Kelly but if the Leafs beat the Habs then Clark would have started getting the respect he deserves for being such a great leader.

    Instead, the Kings and Barry Melrose were allowed to go to the Final like it was some sort of shortbus outreach and they still can't get a decent crowd.

  3. Congrats. Beautifully written.

    (I watched the game but was listening to the radio and heard Joe Bowen's earth shattering, distortion level: SCOOOORRRRRRES!!!!)

    After the game I wasn't that bothered by Fraser's non-call (stark realization would come later), instead I was reliving Wendel's 3rd goal over and over again in my head because it was (and still is) the greatest thing I've ever seen anyone in a Maple Leaf uniform do.

  4. This goal, this moment, is my number one Clark memory.

    What a warrior.

  5. i don't think i can handle moment #1...

    the way you described this game, is bang on. the way you describe our collective emotion regarding the non-call on Gretzky is perfect. This has been a great series.

    but if #1 is as heart wrenching as this one, well, you may just turn me emo

  6. "My goal with this site is to go as long as possible without posting about the Fraser non-call. Because when I eventually do, it's probably going to be 30,000 words long, get me fired and then put in jail."

    All things considered, I think you did incredibly well. You have a lucrative future in hosting anger management seminars once the carpal tunnel kicks in.

  7. Funny thing about missed calls...

    Right at the beginning of the video a Kings player is very clearly pulled down with a hook, yet no call.

    Had that call been made, Clark wouldn't have gotten the goal a few moments later, and who knows how the momentum of the game would have changed.

    Which is not to say that Fraser didn't choke on the non-call, just that arguing non-calls is pretty pointless.

  8. @Anonymous...

    True, I guess, but you have to consider the era. Hooks like that went uncalled all the time in the early 90s. In OT, I'm not sure hooking/holding penalties were ever called. Officials had all sorts of leeway, and every clip from that era includes plays exactly like the one you're pointing out.

    On the other hand, high-sticking was black and white. Stick + face + blood = five and a game, every time, no questions asked. (There's actually far more room for interpretation today, in part because of the Fraser non-call.)

    It would be like a ref today watching a player shoot the puck over the glass, then shake his head and decide not to call it. It's not a judgement call.

    1. DGB himself has made the point in his columns later that every call is a judgement call, and I agree.

  9. DGB, thanks for your reply. I had forgotten about the days of the refs putting their whistles away in overtime. The takedown of Jeremy Roenick going in on Patrick Roy comes to mind as a perfect example. (Which, if I remember correctly, led to Roy's comment about having his two Stanley Cup rings in his ears.) I agree that in that timeframe the hook typically wouldn't have been called.

    By the way, I came across your blog from a link in the New York Times hockey pages; I've had fun reading it and I'll be a regular visitor.