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50 Forgotten Stories: Birth or Playoff Berth?

by Sheng Peng @Sheng_Peng / LAKings.com

For many parents, the birth of a child is an unrivaled, not-to-be-missed experience. Markus Mattsson, however, was warming up between the Forum pipes on February 26, 1983 as his first child Niklas was being delivered.

If only someone had told him what was happening, just a mile away at Centinela Hospital.

About an hour before the Kings were set to match the Maple Leafs, Tarja Mattsson went into labor in the Forum press lounge. Coach Don Perry opted not to inform her husband.

"You never want to tell them (a player) before the game," argued LA's bench boss, who didn't want his starting goalie to be distracted. (McManis, Sam. "No Pregnant Pause for Kings, 6-2." Los Angeles Times, February 27, 1983.)

"A couple wives went with my wife," remembers Mattsson, who was told all this after the fact. "It was [Terry] Ruskowski's and Dave Taylor's wife."

Instead, the Finnish netminder turned away 23 of 25 shots, leading Los Angeles to a 6-2 crowning. The Kings were now five points ahead of the Canucks for the final Smythe Division playoff berth.

Mattsson was named first star of the game.

"Everything happened very quick. [Delivery] took only maybe one hour," notes Mattsson. "They told the other players [during the game] a boy was born. But I didn't know."

"We told him when he came off the ice," smiled Perry, but for perhaps a different reason. "Maybe if we would've told him, he would've got a shutout."

The proud parent wasn't upset...at the time.

"I wasn't mad because the baby was healthy and everything," admits Mattsson. "But of course, later on, when I was thinking about it, I realized that was wrong. They should have told me.

"One game is one game. All kinds of things could happen during the birth."

The Kings would miss the postseason. Neither the organization nor Perry explained themselves further to Mattsson.

It was a different era in sports. But even back then, Perry got flak for his decision. Of all people, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda fielded a question about it a week later.

Lasorda went to bat for Perry when asked if there was a responsibility to tell the player, "Spiritually, yes. Emotionally, yes. For the good of the team, no." ("Hey, Baby, Another Lasorda Story." Los Angeles Times, March 5, 1983.)

"They made a big deal out of it," Mattsson says of the media. "They used this as an example of what coaches shouldn't do.

"I guess that's changed now."

 

No Mercy

Canadian Olympic hero Paul Pageau's lone NHL game on February 3, 1981 was a league record -- for eight very wrong reasons.

Bob Nystrom, Denis Potvin, Steve Tambellini, Andurs Kallur, Clark Gillies, Butch Goring, Stefan Persson, Wayne Merrick...

"Everybody on the [Islanders] scored except for Mike Bossy," chuckles Pageau. Bossy was leading the league in goals.

At the time, the 21-year-old's eight goals against were the most ever allowed by a one-and-done netminder.

After LA's 8-1 loss to the defending Stanley Cup champions, Mario Lessard, Dave Taylor, and Charlie Simmer were particularly encouraging. Pageau recalls, "[Taylor and Simmer] said, 'Don't worry about it. You'll get another chance. Next time will be better.'

"He was left alone," lamented Kings coach Bob Berry. "What can any goalie do without any help?" ("No Gold Medal For LA Rookie." St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 4, 1981.)

Pageau laments, "It just turned out that there was never another chance."

Even Nassau Coliseum had sympathy for the bedeviled rookie. The arena's electronic scoreboard flashed "Have Mercy" in the midst of the rout.

Pageau, with more pressing concerns on his mind, didn't notice.

About a month later, Winnipeg's Ron Loustel surrendered 10 in his only NHL appearance.

 

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Sheng Peng is a freelance hockey writer based out of Los Angeles, California. He covers the LA Kings and Ontario Reign for HockeyBuzz. His work has also appeared on VICE Sports, The Hockey News, and SB Nation's Jewels from the Crown.

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