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100 Greatest Players

Al MacInnis: 100 Greatest NHL Players

Rode devastating slap shot to Hall of Fame, won Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe Trophy with Flames

by George Johnson / Special to

The shot that has done the most in crystallizing the legend of The Shot was launched at the now-demolished St. Louis Arena, located directly across Interstate Highway 64 from Forest Park's Aviation Field.

St. Louis Blues vs. Calgary Flames, Jan. 17, 1984 -- though for Al MacInnis, the exact date has been blurred by the passage of time.


Video: Al MacInnis rode slap shot to Hall of Fame


The devastation inflicted, however, has only grown in legend.

Intercepting an errant pass near the red line and in full flight, the young Flames defenseman took a couple of strides, drew back his stick and leaned into it.

"I was maybe five feet outside the blue line,'' MacInnis said years later. "The rink's not that bright in St. Louis so [goalie Mike] Liut must have had a hard time picking the puck up.


Games: 1,416 | Goals: 340 | Assists: 934 | Points: 1,274


"But the shot still took off like a golf ball."

Emerging out of the pervading gloom, the puck exploded up high and in tight on Blues goaltender Liut like an all-business, Nolan Ryan brushback pitch, a form of vulcanized rubber chin music.

The wrecking ball of a shot struck Liut squarely in the mask, cracking it. He lurched, then toppled. To add a touch of theatrical effect, the puck somehow dropped into the net.

"There's hard,'' Liut is reported to have muttered afterward. "Then there's MacInnis hard."

In point of fact, there's MacInnis hard, then there's MacInnis harder.

The man with the customized Sherwood broomstick can recall at least one shot that he felt generated even more juice, against Pelle Lindbergh, the brilliant Philadelphia Flyers goaltender, in a game at the Olympic Saddledome.

"That puck,'' MacInnis recalls, decades later, with no small relish, "was in and out of the net and I swear he never even saw it.

"Probably never knew I'd even shot it. It was just a rumor to him."

The Al MacInnis story provides a lovely bit of Canadiana: The kid from way out east in Port Hood, Nova Scotia, pounding pucks at a hunk of plywood at the family home to improve.

He'd go on to tie the Bobby Orr's Ontario Hockey League record for goals with 38 and win the Memorial Cup with Kitchener in 1982 after the Flames selected him in the first round (No. 15) of the NHL Draft the previous year. Not that MacInnis' route to stardom was without its trials. As with any raw, young player, the defensive side of his game required fine-tuning. His skating needed work.

Early on, a newspaper headline had basically written him off, blaring: "Flames picked another first-round flop."

"When I read that article, I was only 19 years old," MacInnis said. "I promised myself that there was no way it was going to happen to me."

With one of the game's great coaches, Bob Johnson, around to harass and cajole, illustrate and exhort, MacInnis improved in all areas.

"Maybe I was a little narrow-minded at the start," MacInnis said. "When you're an all-star in junior staying after practice means shooting, fooling around with pucks. It took me a while to figure out these guys were trying to help me."

He worked at his craft and was selected in 1985 to the first of 12 NHL All-Star Games, the only time the event has been held in Calgary. By 1988-89, both player and franchise were on the verge of exceptional things. The Flames (117 points) won the Presidents' Trophy that season for the second straight time, but because they were swept by the rival Edmonton Oilers the previous spring in the division semifinals, nothing less than playoff glory would quiet the growing skeptics.

During the Flames' run to the Stanley Cup in 1989, MacInnis scored seven goals, including one in overtime in Game 4 at the Chicago Blackhawks in the semifinals to give Calgary a 3-1 series lead, and finished with 24 assists in 22 games.

On the ice at the fabled Montreal Forum, MacInnis experienced a double dose of achievement and joy, hoisting both the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP. And so, amid the bedlam encircling him, he got to deliver the "I'm going to Disney World!" slogan in the TV spot that was all the rage at the time.

"Oh yeah,'' he said later with a laugh about the moment. "They were on the ice with a camera. It was set up before the game -- if this happens, we'll be there and this is what you say. And so I said: 'I'm going to Disney World!' "Why not? I'm not turning down a free trip.

"Thinking back, that Stanley Cup is the one thing I'm proudest of in my career. No question. That's what you dream about as a kid, on the street or down at the local rink. Someone's Danny Gallivan, announcing the game, right? And everyone is pretending to be their favorite player.

"And you always win Game 7, score the big goal and get to lift the Cup.

"And there I was, living that dream."

After the Flames defeated the Canadiens and reached hockey's summit, longtime Calgary executive Al MacNeil singled out the velocity of MacInnis' shot as an advantage in the series.

"It's an intimidation game,'' MacNeil said. "In one form or another. When you mention intimidation, everyone thinks you're talking fisticuffs. I'm talking the ability to overpower, to impose your will, on the other guy.

"And in this case here, Al MacInnis just about terrorized (Canadiens goalie) Patrick Roy. 'Distracted' is a kind word to use. He had him worried, bad, because of the howitzer. No doubt about it. That was an edge we had. When you get a guy that can really fire the bombs, it gives you such an advantage.

"Al was a scary guy."

If the spring of 1989 represented MacInnis' professional peak, then the 1990-91 season cemented his status as one of his generation's finest at his position; he joined Bobby Orr (six times), Paul Coffey (five), Brian Leetch and Denis Potvin as the only defensemen in NHL history to score 100 points in a season. He reached the mark on March 28, 1991, at the Saddledome in Game 78, getting four points (one goal, three assists) against the Edmonton Oilers.

That pushed MacInnis to his season total of 103 points (28 goals and 75 assists), second to Theo Fleury (104) on the Flames. He was named to the NHL First All-Star Team and finished second in Norris Trophy voting to Ray Bourque of the Boston Bruins.

"Did I realize what I was doing that year?" MacInnis said. "Not really. I mean, I look at it now and go, 'Wow. A hundred points.' Seems crazy.

"As a player, you're not thinking about personal milestones. At least I didn't. I know it sounds a bit goofy, but I'd always compare a season to a round of golf: doesn't matter what you shot out there, you always felt you left something on the course. If you shot 77, you felt 'Damn, without those two three-putts, I could've shot 74.' "

New economic realities would lead to the breakup of the old Calgary gang.

On July 4, 1994, the Flames reluctantly traded MacInnis, a restricted free agent, to the Blues, five days after trading Stanley Cup-winning goalie Mike Vernon to the Detroit Red Wings.

"It was probably time for a change,'' MacInnis said. "We hadn't had a lot of success the last couple years and there were changes being made. Vernie, myself, then [Joe] Nieuwendyk and others. A turning of the page, I guess you'd call it.

"St. Louis, I thought, career-wise, hockey-wise, family-wise was the right fit for me. And it couldn't have turned out better -- outside of not winning a Stanley Cup. I know from a hockey standpoint, the change re-energized me. And from a personal standpoint … well, I'm still living here, 22, 23 years later."

His Blues years proved rewarding. He and Chris Pronger would form a stalwart tandem on the St. Louis blue line.

In 1998-99, MacInnis led NHL defensemen in points (62), quarterbacked one of the League's top power plays and averaged more than 29 minutes of ice time per game. And after such a customarily fine season, at 35, he finally won the Norris Trophy.

"I honestly felt that ship had sailed,'' he said. "I was in my 30s. So I kind of told myself 'It's OK. That's the way it is. I'm not going to let it consume me. Just go out and play as hard as you can.' You know, sometimes guys play in an era where there are better players who happen to be the same age. It happens. In my case, Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey and Chris Chelios and a few others. Pretty tough competition.

"But an increasing awareness in fitness, hockey-specific conditioning, allowed me to keep playing at a level I was comfortable with. And I felt the year I did win the Norris that I played as well, better even, than I had when I scored the 103 points. I was a better all-around player."

The Blues fielded good teams, but not good enough to replicate that moment MacInnis experienced on May, 25, 1989, in Montreal. On Sept. 9, 2005, after missing much of the previous season due to an eye injury, MacInnis announced his retirement at age 42 and joined the Blues front office.

"My health is good and my will is strong,'' he said that day. "But today is time to count my blessings. This game has given me everything I've got today. It's time to unlace my skates and give thanks."

He played 23 NHL seasons, and only Bourque (1,579) and Coffey (1,531) have scored more points at the position than his 1,274. He retired a Stanley Cup winner, a Canada Cup champion (1991) and an Olympic gold medalist, having helped Canada end its 50-year drought in 2002 in Salt Lake City.

Armed with talent and determination, MacInnis reinvented himself from one-dimensional into a complete player, a worthy Norris Trophy winner. The Shot made his name, but there was so much more to his game.

On April 9, 2006, the Blues retired his No. 2. In 2007 the Hockey Hall of Fame welcomed him as a first-ballot inductee. On Feb. 27, 2012, he was feted by the franchise that he grew up with, becoming the first honoree in Calgary's "Forever a Flame" program.

In a sense, with that honor Al MacInnis had come full circle. He'd done it all, won it all.


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