It has been 25 years, nearly to the day, since the lesson was learned, the one that changed hockey history.
It’s a lesson the Toronto Marlies have a narrowing chance to learn.
Game three of the Marlies-Chicago Wolves Calder Cup Western Conference final goes Tuesday at Ricoh Coliseum.
On May 17, 1983 the New York Islanders completed a 4-0 sweep of the Edmonton Oilers, more a constellation of stars than a team thanks to the presence of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson and Grant Fuhr.
The Islanders had played nearly the equivalent of a full season in winning Stanley Cups the three previous seasons. The final was to have been the changing of the guard and that the Islanders dispatched Edmonton so easily shocked not only the cocky young Oilers but the hockey world.
Marlies Coach Greg Gilbert was a sophomore forward in Islanders dressing room, celebrating hid second Stanley Cup in as many years. He remembers the Oilers shuffling past the dressing room door where their eyes would be opened forever to the ways of the champions.
“They were walking by the dressing room door and they looked in and they saw guys with ice bags on 60 per cent of the bodies. The trainer’s room literally wasn’t big enough. (Defenceman) Dave Langevin had bad knees. Clark Gillies has shoulder injuries. Denis (Potvin) and Boss (Mike Bossy) and Trots (Bryan Trottier). And that’s what it took to win a championship.”
And that’s what it still takes.
The Marlies trail the Chicago Wolves 2-0 in their Calder Cup semi-final and the first two games in Chicago were lost by a 9-1 aggregate. After a commendable effort to eliminate the Syracuse Crunch after losing the first two games at home in round two, the Marlies must turn another series on its ear.
They will return veteran leftwinger Colin Murphy to the lineup but prized defenceman Anton Stralman, who suffered an injured shoulder in the World Hockey Championships, will not be available.
Instead, the Marlies must squeeze something out of a line-up that has been suddenly gone dry. The Marlies have been unable to stop Chicago centre Jason Krog from scoring five goals in the first two contests.
The scoreboard shows the Marlies were just glad to be in Chicago. The playoffs are like a rope bridge. Don’t look back, forward.
“That’s all part of being a pro,” Gilbert said. “You reach these stages of being a pro and you have to overcome the awe of it, the ‘well-this-is-good-enough’ thought process. But it’s never good enough. Champions battle to the bitter end and leave nothing in the tank every night.”
How soon the Marlies realize that will determine how far the series goes.
Forward David Ling was sitting at his locker, Tuesday morning. He had seven fresh stitches above a right eye that is nicely turning the colour of a watermelon.
“I’ve been in it for 13 years and I haven’t gone this far since my first year,” he said. “You think you’ll get these situations again, but you might not. It’s not 100 per cent it’s 110 per cent, this time of year. I remember guys telling me that.
Then he shrugs.
“They may not buy into that. It takes experience,” he says.
The following season, the Oilers swept the Islanders in four. They had acquired the experience that comes from a walk by a dressing room door.