Photo by Tom Hoffarth/Daily News
Marty McSorley poses with fans and autograph seekers before Game 4 of the Kings-Phoenix Western Conference finals at Staples Center last Sunday.
Marty McSorley can turn surly.
In his NHL glory days, it happened when he came face to face with an opposing player — someone who would stupidly want to pick a fight with one of the league’s most legendary brawlers.
With the Kings fighting their way to the Stanley Cup finals for the second time ever and first time in 19 years, the thing that causes a distinct change in McSorley’s otherwise kind-natured demeanor is when he’s in a face-off with a media member.
Just so you know, he’s not amused by the “Curse of the Curved Stick” storyline.
“You’re not in my shoes,” the 49-year-old admitted.
He’ll attend charity events as a member of the Kings Alumni Association, and once the master of ceremonies spots him, there’ll be a joke made from the podium at his expense.
He’ll sign autographs for hours to please a line of Kings fans, as he did in the concourse at Staples Center before Game 4 of the recent Western Conference finals. Almost on cue, someone will make what they believe is a light-hearted remark about whether the Sharpie he’s using is illegal.
McSorley gives a half-smile, more of a pained look, and tries to set them straight.
“They think it’s funny, they snicker about it, but they get caught up in what they took away from ’93 with a bit of a misguided scenario,” he said. “That shouldn’t be the focus. That’s the part that’s confusing to me.”
Does this thing that many call a “curse” haunt him?
“No,” he said, “because, for me, you play the game as hard as you can. It’s more disappointing to know you played all year and put as much into it, and then you get singled out. For this? Really? For a Stanley Cup final?”
Is this something he’s ever been asked to apologize for?
“No,” he said, “because I can’t believe it’s gotten so sensationalized. It’d be interesting to see if this had happened to any number of other players (in Kings’ history).”
Is anyone coming to his defense? Not so much.
At a time when everyone still seems to want to stick it to him, when does someone stick up for McSorley?
“Sorry Marty, you’re forever a part of King’s lore . . . Thanks to your misfortune, (we) wear your stick like the proud scar of a time tested Kings’ fan. Yes Marty, merely having suffered through only 44 years of losing and losing big, all we’ve had is the ability to indulge ourselves by elevating our martyrdom to near unprecedented levels only seen in towns like Boston and Chicago. Marty, you were a great player. I was there. I saw most every game. And, you gave the greatest core hockey fan base something exclusive that only a select few have been unable to provide us; a touchstone moment in LA hockey history. But hey, lose that stick or even better, enshrine it at Staples.”
== USHA#17, responding to a post on the blog that exists called McSorleys-Stick.com
Seven years after Bill Buckner and ’86 World Series, McSorley became this poster boy for the Kings’ lack of a championship. He’s the one who carried the George Brett pine-tar bat to the Stanley Cup final and got his hands dirty.
He’s done everything possible not to live a Bartman-esque existence since then, but it doesn’t seem to matter to some.
The ’93 Kings, like the ’12 Kings, were under the radar when the playoffs started, but not for the lack of star power. McSorley was part of this Cup-savvy Edmonton connection with Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey and Charlie Huddy who meshed with a L.A.-drafted group that included Luc Robitaille and Rob Blake to break a 26-year spell and get the franchise into the final for the first time.
They were road warriors as well, starting every series away from the Inglewood Forum. Yet, with surprising ease, the Kings took Game 1 on Montreal against the fabled Canadiens and were about to close out a 2-1 victory in Game 2, coming home with the momentum and a Hollywood bandwagon reception awaiting.
With 1:45 to play, everything stopped.
“We’re going to have a measurement of a Kings’ stick,” Kings TV analyst Jim Fox said on the broadcast. “It’s the stick of Marty McSorley. The curve of his stick can only be one-half inch.”
Future Hall of Fame referee Kerry Fraser held up what looked like was a flat white device you might use to scrap ice off a windshield and sized up the blade of McSorley’s stick.
Sure enough, an obscure rule had been violated.
McSorley slowly went to the penalty box for a two-minute minor — unsportsman-like misconduct. The chain of events that happened afterward couldn’t be described as minor.
Not only did the Canadiens have a power play, but coach Jacques Demers pulled goalie Patrick Roy for a 6-on-4 advantage.
Thirty-two seconds later, Canadiens defenseman Eric Desjardins tied the game with a slapshot. Fifty-one seconds into overtime, Desjardins scored again — a hat trick — and Montreal pulled off the heist.
“We didn’t have a choice — we did what we had to do,” said Demers after the game of his decision, which would resulted in Montreal being assessed a two-minute penalty had McSorley’s stick been deemed OK.
NHL director of officiating Bryan Lewis said the curve in the blade of McSorley’s stick was “at least 1/4 inch” beyond the 1/2-inch legal maximum.
Fox interviewed Kings rookie head coach Barry Melrose after the game and asked about the penalty.
“It’s my fault,” Kings rookie head coach Barry Melrose said with his head lowered on the Kings’ post-game show. “I should have been checking the sticks. I just never expected an NHL team to call it.”
Kings goalie Kelly Hrudey admitted in a Prime Ticket documentary done about seven years ago that the team’s locker room “was chaos” between the end of regulation and start of overtime. “I’d never seen anything like it before or after.”
McSorley was beyond upset, and he couldn’t go back into the game because he said all his sticks were shaped that way. He couldn’t believe he had been singled out.
“We always worried about (rookie defenseman Alexi) Zhintik and Robitaille,” Melrose would say later. “We always checked their sticks going into the third period.”
The record shows that the Kings went on to lose Games 3 and 4, both in overtime, at the Forum. They went back to Montreal and, on June 9, lost the clincher, 4-1, which matched the record of the series’ loss.
McSorley, by the way, scored the Kings’ only goal in Game 5, and the last goal for his team in Game 4. They may have even been scored with that same curved stick.
But no one asked.
“I was telling someone today that it’s disturbing that he’s hanging around the Kings these days. I don’t want any bad karma to swing into this locker room. I thought he was dumb at the time and the fact that he’s playing it down and he played with the same stick the next 3 games proves he was an idiot . . . well his baseball swing at that other enforcers head while in Boston pretty much made that clear before he retired.”
== Dan H., responding to a post on McSorleys-Stick.com
Bad karma might better describe what’s been hanging over the 24-time Cup-winning Montreal Canadiens in the aftermath of the so-called “Stickgate” of 1993.
The New York Yankees of hockey haven’t been to a championship series since. No team from Canada has won a title in the same time frame.
And what happened in that Kings-Canadiens final isn’t even the most notorious stick-related incident in McSorley’s 17-year NHL career.
After eight seasons with the Kings from ’88 to ’96 (with a brief stop in Pittsburgh for the start of the ’93-’94 season), McSorley, who is fourth all-time in NHL history with 3,381 penalty minutes in 981 games, saw his career end ingloriously with the Boston Bruins in 1999-2000.
A stick he swung and hit Vancouver’s Donald Brashear in the head with three seconds left in a game left the NHL no choice but to suspend McSorley for the rest of the season and the playoffs.
He was legally charged with assault with a weapon. In Oct., 2000, a jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to 18 months probation. Several teammates, including Gretzky, came to his defense during the trial as character witnesses.
That was the end of his playing career, even though he had one final season in the minor leagues.
McSorley, a part of two Stanley Cup championship teams with Edmonton in the late ’80s, spends most of his time today with his wife, Leanne, a former pro beach volleyball player, and their three young children in his Hermosa Beach strand home.
He’s been involved in coaching, in real estate ventures and he gets work for SportsNet in Canada as an analyst. He frequently makes public appearances on the team’s behalf, but isn’t seeking sympathy.
McSorley will admit his stick was illegal, but “that’s how I got my sticks from the factory. I used it all year and in the playoffs.”
Conspiracies aside, then, are we ever going to know what really happened?
McSorley says he knows that people from Montreal’s staff got into the Kings’ locker room and measured all their sticks, but somehow, his was the one they decided to point out.
Bob Cole, the longtime Canadiens play-by-play man, seemed to know Demers had plotted this strategy when he said on his call of the game for the CBC: “The tip-off is the referee leaves the stick in the penalty box, and that’s where it is now. An illegal stick. Jacques Demers (was) waiting for this moment.”
Demers said after the game: “It’s the rules. You never like to embarrass a man who has as much heart as Marty. He’s a great competitor. I was just doing my job.”
Demers also denied speculation the team checked McSorley’s stick before the game, saying he had “notice it just by watching” and followed a “hunch” after Game 1, crediting Canadiens captain Guy Carbonneau for spotting it while looking at the stick in the hallway before the game.
“Would we have called (for a measurement on another team’s player)? No,” Melrose said afterward. “I don’t believe in winning like that.”
Today, Melrose, an ESPN and NHL Network analyst, still accepts blame for not having checked the sticks. He calls it a life-changing experience in many ways – his personal dream of having his name on the Stanley Cup didn’t happen, he was out of a job with the Kings a season-and-a-half later, and he started a broadcasting career.
“Everytime I see the Cup I think, ‘Jeez, I came close but it’s not there’,” said Melrose.
He believes there were “a number of ways” that someone in the Montreal organization could have found out about the curved stick, and “I know that they knew it or they wouldn’t have called for it. Otherwise, they get the penalty and the game is over.”
The Daily News reported in 2003 that Robitaille, a Montreal native, had been approached by one of the city’s policemen, who confessed to having looked the other way outside the Kings’ locker room so that the Canadiens could go through their stick rack.
Robitaille also said in his Hall of Fame induction ceremony a few years ago that the Canadiens were not “flying blind (in deciding to ask for a stick check), but I don’t think anyone will ever admit to it.”
“It was pretty sad that he took a somewhat disproportionate amount of blame for the game 2 loss . . . people forget that the late PP goal simply tied the game . . . Kings could have won in OT, and the stick measurement would have just been an interesting side note. It was sad because McSorley was really the heart and soul of the Kings D that year — he never played better before or after that season.”
== JamesFlagg, responding to a post on the blog McSorleys-Stick.com
McSorley has tried to stay ahead of the curve when questioned about what happened – even while turning down numerous media requests in the last couple of weeks.
He maintains that “if we’re in our building, our locker, our bench, that doesn’t happen, and there’s no fear of it getting called.”
Interestingly, the last time a curved stick penalty was called in a Stanley Cup final before McSorley was two years earlier. Pittsburgh’s Phil Bourque served a penalty for one in the second period of Game 5 against Minnesota, with the series tied 2-2. The game was at Pittsburgh. The Pens won that game and the next one to wrap up the title.
The penalty hasn’t been called since, to anyone’s recollection.
The McSorley stick isn’t hiding out at Gretzky’s restaurant in Toronto, is it?
“I have it,” McSorley admitted. “For no other reason than I haven’t decided what to do with it. I haven’t given it much thought, actually. There are other sticks I have I hold in much higher esteem – the one Wayne used to break Gordie Howe’s points record. One from the night I had six points. Sticks from many other players who I respect.”
May we suggest the stick be burned in effigy somewhere outside Staples Center next week. Do it up big like how the city of Chicago tried to erase the perceived curse of the Steve Bartman by blowing up that foul ball from Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.
Make the fans realize that stick represents their own fears, insecurities and the need to keep riding a scapegoat.
“No, because to me, that’s part of the stupidity,” McSorley said. “It’s over-sensationalizing something. Why not take 10 sticks from 10 guys off our team and burn them?”
It’s far more disappointing that no one in Kings’ management has come to McSorley’s defense in the years since then. Neither general manager Nick Beverley nor owner Bruce McNall offered support – both, as it turned out, were gone from the organization not long afterward.
The suspicion was that there was some jealousy directed toward all the Gretzky gang that came with him to L.A. after the 1988 trade — a deal that included McSorley, known as “Gretzky’s bodyguard.” Kings management managed to protect their “own” players quite well. Guys like McSorley were left flapping in the breeze.
At the end of the ’93 season, Beverley tried to make McSorley go away. He sent him a fax telling him the team had traded him to Pittsburgh. About 50 games later, the Kings brought him back — at Gretzky’s insistence — and McSorley assisted Gretzky when he broke Howe’s career goals record.
Gretzky continues to defend McSorley’s reputation, admitting in the Prime Ticket documentary: “You don’t blame anybody. Things happen in sports. Unfortunately it happened to us. If it not been for Marty and how strong he was in the playoffs, we’d have never got to the finals.”
If these Kings knock out New Jersey for the championship, perhaps any perceived McSorley stigma would be gone, and he’d be one of the first to join in the franchise’s alumni support.
Until then, McSorley, who calls himself a “social person” and “a fan first,” has to be on the defensive end.
If someone does dare broach the subject of the stick, McSorley will look them in the eye and often reply: “Well . . . maybe . . . maybe . . .”
He’ll turn the question around: “Did they catch me, or did they choose me among the crowd?”
McSorley already has the answer to that measured in his mind.