The Stanley Cup and a Stranger

0
394

screen-shot-2014-10-13-at-12-08-40-am

byronchristopherimage

By Byron Christopher

www.ByronChristopher.org

October 13th, 2014

 

It was Saturday, 19 May 1984 — and a warm evening in Edmonton, Alberta. Across the city and clear across North America, hockey fans were glued to their television sets to catch the fifth game of the Stanley Cup Final between the Edmonton Oilers and the defending champions, the New York Islanders.

The Oilers — in only their fifth season in the National Hockey League — had a three-games-to-one stranglehold on the series. One more win and Lord Stanley’s mug would return to Canada.

In 1984, I was working for CBC Radio in Edmonton and our national news desk in Toronto had assigned me to cover what could be the final Stanley Cup game — not as a sporting event [they had sports reporters for that], but as a potential lead news story. In Canada, ice hockey is big sporting news … but a Stanley Cup win is big news period.

Throughout the 1983-84 season I’d covered some Oiler home games for CBC National Sports. That meant live updates to the network on how the game was going — who scored and all that — and after the game, interviews with players in the dressing room, followed by some 45 and 60-second reports for our morning sportscasts.

For the record, the top sports reporters in the city at the time were [in no particular order] Terry Jones, Jim Matheson, John Short and Cam Cole. They were all print reporters, although Short did a fair bit of radio too. They had good communication skills and they knew their stuff.

Covering a potential Stanley Cup final game was an ‘adrenalin’ assignment. If you were born and raised in Canada, you’d have to be brain-dead not to be excited about this.

Hockey fans not only watched the game from the comfort of their living rooms, but from thousands of bars across Canada and the United States. From the moment the puck was dropped, those bars took on a wild party atmosphere.

At a pub right across the street from the Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton, where the Oilers played, one hockey fan was soon to be rewarded with the thrill of a lifetime. I never did know his name … and after 30-years, I no longer remember what he looked like. But I’ll never forget what happened the night the Oilers won their first Stanley Cup. Neither will he, I’m sure.

 

This reporting assignment was easy enough:

  • pick up a media pass from the Oilers office at Northlands Coliseum …
  • take in the first two periods of the game where I would interview fans …
  • once the second period was over, head out to a bar and interview fans watching the game on TV …
  • record the final seconds countdown and grab some post-game comments …
  • file reports for CBC Regional [Edmonton and Calgary] and CBC National Radio News.
  • head home, hit the sack and sleep in.

I brought along extra batteries for my trusty Sony 142 tape recorder [just in case]. Even had an extra mike [just in case].

I parked my motorbike at the Forum Inn, a pub right across the street from where the game would be played. I arrived early at the Coliseum for the [free] pre-game meal for journalists.

Things were looking good for the Oilers. In the two previous contests, they’d whipped the Islanders by identical scores of 7-2. Just one more victory and the Oilers would have their first Stanley Cup …

PLAY IS UNDERWAY

To say the mood was upbeat was an understatement. When the contest finally got underway, things got really wild. Oiler captain and star player Wayne Gretzky scored the game’s first two goals and goalie Andy Moog was flawless.

After 40 minutes, the home team held a commanding 4-0 lead.

I moved around the Coliseum, from section to section, getting comments from crazy-happy fans. No one turned down a chance to be interviewed.

AN OH-OH MOMENT …

When the second period ended, I spotted injured Oilers’ goalie Grant Fuhr,wearing street clothes and standing in the main entrance, giving one happy fan a “high five.”

I was high too — until I checked my cassette tape. Oh oh. The tape was barely moving. I put the tape recorder speaker to my ear but could hear nothing more than voices in very slow motion. What the hell? … dead batteries?? I popped in a fresh set of batteries, but the same thing happened. The tape recorder wasn’t as trusty as I thought. Darn. What a time for it to crap out.

I ran to my motorbike across the street and made a beeline for the old CBCbuilding on 75th Street, near 90th Avenue, several miles away, my helmet strap flapping in the breeze. I sprinted up to the newsroom, grabbed another tape deck and sped back to the Coliseum. What I remember most about that wild ride was that the streets were virtually empty, so unusual for a Saturday night. A hockey game had brought the city to a standstill.

A WILD FORUM INN

I spent the entire third period recording interviews at a bar called the Forum Inn.

But the mood had changed. People were no longer confident of an Oiler win. It now looked like the home team could blow the game, as the Islanders had suddenly scored two goals to cut the lead in half. This was no longer a cakewalk.

The visitors were pressing to tie the score, and at times the Oilers seemed desperate. It was hang-onto-your-seats, nail-biting time. Put another way, the bartender was busy trying to medicate everyone’s anxiety.

I grabbed brief comments from nervous patrons, who never took their eyes off the TV. Normally they’d stare at the microphone, but not this time.

The tension was incredible. Fans cheered once an Oiler touched the puck, and every Edmonton rush up the ice caused them to stand and pump their fists. Same thing with every clearing-pass by the Oilers. The general idea was not to allow the Islanders a shot on goal. The New York Islanders had two enemies: the Oilers and the clock.

THE MAN IN THE BLUE JACKET

One fan in particular caught my attention. He was about 40 or so, wore a blue vinyl jacket and sat alone at the bar. I took him to be a tradesman of some sort. With the Oilers clinging to a 4-2 lead, the guy pumped his fist every time the Oilers had the puck. “Right on!” he shouted. “Right on! Right on!” I can’t quite describe his excitement, but on a scale of 1 to 10 it was 18.5.

I reached around him with my microphone to record one of his ‘right on’ moments. He spotted the mike, turned and said, “What do you want?” I gave him my business card and told him I didn’t care to know his name, I was just after some “wild sound” of people cheering, his antics included. He gave me a what-the-hell nod and went back to watching the game, squirming in his seat and pumping his fist in the air.

I left to do more recording, then it dawned on me: I still had my game pass, and I wasn’t going to use it anymore since my job at the Coliseum had ended. I went back to the man wearing the vinyl jacket and said, “Buddy, there’s still 10 minutes left in the game.” I then pulled the pass out of my shirt pocket, handed it to him and said, “This will get you into the Coliseum … it will also get you into to the Oilers’ dressing room.” The guy held the pass with a blissful look as if I had handed him ten thousand dollars. I winked and said, “You found this on the ground.” CBC brass would be ticked if they found out I gave away my game pass, to a non-media person no less.

The fellow was so stunned he forgot to say ‘thank you.” He called over the waitress, paid his tab and made for the door. I glanced out the window to see him running across 75th Street, like a bat out of hell, straight to the Coliseum, dodging traffic. This guy was not going to waste valuable time waiting for a traffic light to change.

The game ended with the Oilers scoring an empty-net goal, winning 5-2 and capturing their first Stanley Cup.

The pub went nuts. The Coliseum went nuts. Edmonton went nuts. The country went nuts.

 

Photo courtesy of the Edmonton Journal

Early in the second period, Ken Linseman [#13] scored the Oilers’ third goal, which turned out to be the winner. Photo courtesy of the Edmonton Journal.

Read More HERE

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.