Steve Bozek returned to Los Angeles at the end of December for Legends Night presented by McDonalds. He was one of five Kings honored as part of a special on-ice 'Miracle on Manchester' goal-scorers' reunion.
Approaching the 35th Anniversary of that famous playoff game, Bozek scored the fifth goal -- in the final seconds of the third period as the Kings were down one more goal -- to help force overtime. It capped a rookie campaign in which the Northern Michigan University product tallied 33 regular season goals and four more over 10 playoff contests.
Bozek answered these questions from LAKings.com as the club's 50 KINGS series (featuring 50 former Kings over 50 weeks during our 50th Anniversary celebration) continues:
LAKings.com: When you look back at your time with this team what comes to mind?
Steve Bozek (SB): "We were certainly the Purple and Gold back then. We played in the Forum at that time and we would average about 8,000 people a game, unless either Detroit or a New York team was in town, and then we would sell out. When I think about where the LA Kings have come since then -- obviously, the Gretzky trade changed hockey in Southern California -- but even with the most recent teams winning the Stanley Cup twice in the last couple years, it's a pretty incredible transformation for hockey in Southern California. That's probably the biggest thing. When we were down there, we were probably the fifth or sixth page of the sports section. There was nothing on hockey, it was all either baseball or football. They actually did have football there which I know it's come back recently with the Rams. The Lakers were really the headlines for sports in LA."
LAKings.com: The game is different now, but you broke in with 33 goals as a rookie. Is that something you envisioned as you remember training camp wrapping up then, or was that a surprise to even yourself?
SB: "I was kind of a goal scorer in college, so when I stepped out of college I didn't know anything different. I came to the NHL, and Charlie Simmer had broken his leg at that time so the Triple Crown Line was no longer together, and they were looking for someone to fill in, so I just kind of filled in. I was playing like I did in college. It was like as soon as there was a power play I was over the boards and playing on the power play, so things really clicked. If you look back, I actually had 27 goals in the first 34 games, so it was a pretty incredible start. I had a center, Danny Bonar, and Dave Taylor, and we were doing great as a line, but we were not doing great as a team. We were losing pretty badly. That first year, I came out of the gate and I didn't know anything different than the way I was playing in college, which was completely offensive, and I carried that on in the NHL. Unfortunately, we were losing as a team, and we ended up having a coaching change. Don Perry came in and the philosophy of how we were going to play and be successful as a team completely changed. At that point, I became kind of an up and down winger. I remember him (Perry) telling me that he was going to fine me 100 dollars for every time I went more than one stick length away from the board, so my game completely changed. Fortunately, the team started doing better and we had some success under him in the playoffs. We had Bernie Nicholls and a great rookie crew that came in and really started playing, at least a little bit, over our potential towards the end of that year and into the playoffs."
LAKings.com: What are your recollections of your shift that you scored a goal as part of the Miracle on Manchester?
SB: "I honestly don't have a lot of recollections. It was kind of mayhem. We were down five-to-nothing going in to the third, and we just started chipping away. We were just kind of chipping and chipping at it and all of a sudden one goal goes in, two goals go in. I was on the ice and it was just a big scramble. I don't remember a whole lot of it, other than the puck was all of a sudden there in front me and I knew there wasn't really any time left in the game. I just backhanded it and it went right between Grant Fuhr's legs. The whole place just erupted in pandemonium for the first time, and then when we scored in overtime, it was that times 10. I do remember it was almost like we won the Stanley Cup at that point. It took me 24 hours to get the smile of my face."
LAKings.com: How did you end up in Calgary for the start of the '83-84 campaign?
SB: "I hurt my knee my second year. After that, I never felt like I was the same type of player. I wore a brace for the rest of my career. I didn't have that free-wheeling attitude about hockey that I had previously. It was a little bit different. I hurt my knee that year, didn't play much, then came back at the end of the year and George Maguire, who was the GM at the time, I think for some reason he thought I didn't come back as soon as I possibly could have. We had a little bit of a falling out, and he was looking for a change. At the time, Calgary was a big bruising team, and they were looking to compete with the Oilers, who were a real skating team. My entire career, skating was my forte, so at the end of that year I found out that I was going to be a Calgary Flame the next year, so my time with the LA Kings ended."
LAKings.com: Did you leave the Flames just before they won the cup?
SB "Yeah, your math is correct. At that time, we had a great team. I was up in Calgary for five years. We had won the Presidents' Trophy over the Edmonton Oilers several times. We were coming up against them every year in the playoffs. We beat them the one year in '86, but the other years we had lost to them. Brett Hull had just broken in. He was an up-and-coming rookie, but Calgary had a lot of talented offensive forwards. They really didn't see a place for Brett Hull, and they were trying to build a Stanley Cup team. They realized they needed some backup goaltending and Rob Ramage was the other guy, so I ended up in a trade to St. Louis with Brett. That ended my time there. The next year I was with Vancouver. That was the year that Calgary won the Cup. We had a team that really matched up well against Calgary. We met them in the first round of the playoffs. We went seven games, and lost to them with a fluke goal off of Joel Otto's skate that went in to the net to lose in overtime in the seventh game to Calgary. They ended up playing the Kings and beat them four-to-one and just waltzed through the rest of the playoffs to win the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately, I didn't get a ring on my finger.
LAKings.com: At the end of your career, a member of the first-year San Jose Sharks, did you feel like a rookie again with the expansion team up north?
SB: "That team was really the Bad News Bears. We were such a rag tag outfit. We had three coaches and the organization was finding its way more than anything. We had no identity as a team. We had some veteran players but we didn't have a good core group of guys. That year we only won 18 games the entire season. We were playing at the Cow Palace, which if you think about what the arenas are now it isn't even in the same conversation. In the inaugural season, it was all exciting, but we felt a little bit like a minor league team in the NHL. Whenever we came up against the top teams it was, 'Let's try to keep it close' type of thing. It was a wonderful experience, but if I look back on it now, a lot of things in the organization all the way down to the coaching could have been handled and done quite differently."
LAKings.com: We're approaching the 35th anniversary of the Miracle on Manchester, then you get a call this past November from the Kings welcoming you back to Los Angeles, what were your feeling as headed into the weekend?
SB: "In my professional career, that game was really kind of the highlight. It really was a Miracle on Manchester. The funny thing is, they made a tape that was put together that year that was really done well by Bob Miller. I remember the year in 1986 when I was with Calgary and we were playing Edmonton in the seventh game, and we had played Edmonton in the fifth game when I was with LA. I told the team, 'You have to watch this tape' from that very first year when we beat Edmonton because I think it will inspire you guys. So I basically put my team through watching the LA Kings game, and sure enough that night we got sort of a 'miracle' goal from Steve Smith and we ended up beating them in the seventh game and put the mighty Oilers out that year. I still kick myself in the seventh game at Calgary with Vancouver. I didn't show that LA Miracle on Manchester tape to the guys before that game. I have this feeling that I'm sure we would have won it. There was some magic that happened that night in LA.
Special thanks - Erica Sheer