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NHL Centennial

Marty McSorley's illegal stick still part of Stanley Cup Final lore

Penalty against Kings defenseman on June 3, 1993, helped spark Canadiens to championship

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

One hundred and eight times during his 961-game NHL career, give or take a deflection or two, a puck left Marty McSorley's stick and found its way into the opposition's net.

But one of McSorley's sticks that didn't score a goal, one that in 1993 had a blade curved a little beyond the legal half-inch, has become the stuff of legend.

Video: Memories: McSorley's illegal stick leads to a loss

The Montreal Canadiens sniffed out McSorley's illegal stick with 1:45 left in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on June 3, 1993. With McSorley in the penalty box, Montreal scored a power-play goal to tie the game 2-2 and send it into overtime; the ice was still wet when Montreal won in OT. The victory tied the best-of-7 series 1-1, setting the stage for the Canadiens to win the next two games in Los Angeles and Game 5 back at the Forum to capture the 24th and most recent championship in franchise history.

Acting on a hunch or inside information, depending on whom you listen to, Canadiens coach Jacques Demers called for a measurement of McSorley's blade. Referee Kerry Fraser used the gauge provided in the penalty box to size up the stick, penalizing McSorley when the blade was deemed to have too sharp a curve.

With goaltender Patrick Roy on the bench for a sixth attacker, Canadiens defenseman Eric Desjardins scored the tying goal 32 seconds into the ensuing 6-on-4 power play. Desjardins completed his hat trick in overtime, scoring the winner 51 seconds into OT.

Five years ago, with the Kings on their way to winning the 2012 Stanley Cup, McSorley revisited the illegal stick incident yet again, telling Vancouver Province sportswriter Tony Gallagher that while he full well knew he was using an illegal blade, the full story is seldom told.

"It's now been well-documented that Luc Robitaille, a member of the Kings at the time, was contacted a year later by a Montreal policeman who said his conscience was bothering him over the incident," Gallagher wrote. "Apparently, the cop was told to leave his post for a few minutes between periods while the Habs examined the Kings sticks so they'd know who was using an illegal one."

McSorley has said that Montreal's Gary Leeman has related how the Los Angeles stick rack was even in the Canadiens' dressing room.

Gaetan Lefebvre, then the Canadiens' athletic therapist, said Friday from Montreal that this is simply not true.

"I can guarantee you the Kings' rack wasn't in our room," said Lefebvre, who some to this day swear that he had secretly scoped the Kings sticks. "I don't recall anybody measuring sticks, and I'm not trying to cover anyone's rear end almost 25 years later.

"Here's what I remember: I'd be on our bench during warm-up -- both teams' benches were on the same side in the Montreal Forum -- and I'd look at the other team to see who was skating well or coming back from injury, taking notes for Jacques [Demers]. A few people noticed that McSorley had a pretty open blade, to say the least.

"I know (Canadiens center) Guy Carbonneau had a great eye for eyeballing a stick, leaning over on a faceoff. So we're down 2-1 and I remember Jacques leaning over to Carbonneau to ask, 'Should we call it?' I don't remember what Carbonneau said, but Jacques said something to me like, 'I'm not 100 percent sure that the stick is illegal.' Just to relax him, as a joke, I said, 'Jacques, here's all I'm sure of: I'll die one day and I have to pay income tax this year.' "

McSorley maintained in his 2012 talk with Gallagher that the Canadiens had measured the Kings' sticks beforehand.

"They knew who was using an illegal stick before they made the call because they'd measured our sticks," McSorley said. "There must have been five of us who had them because it was never called by anybody. They just picked me because I killed all the penalties. …

"Was I using an illegal stick? Yes, I was, but it's not as if I took a torch to it. They came from the factory that way. I used the same stick in the next game and tied Game 4 with what might have been the same stick."

Indeed, before Game 3 in Los Angeles, then-Calgary Herald writer Eric Duhatschek measured a new batch of McSorley's Christian USA sticks, with the player's permission, and discovered that they all needed to be blowtorched and bent into a legal curvature.

Video: 1993 Cup Final, Gm2: McSorley's illegal stick

Kings coach Barry Melrose suggested tongue-in-cheek that his players all "would check the length of their bootlaces" along with the curve of their sticks before Game 3.

"I don't believe in winning that way," Melrose said, adding that he had great respect for Demers.

"[Montreal] is a pressure-packed place to play, and pressure breeds things like that," he said.

The unusual victory in Game 2 didn't decide the series winner. Montreal needed three more wins to get the job done, and the Canadiens ran them off with surgical precision, beating the Kings twice in overtime in Los Angeles, then winning the Stanley Cup back home with a fairly easy 4-1 win on June 9.

And if Game 2 would become legendary for McSorley's illegal stick, then Game 4 in Los Angeles is always remembered for "The Wink." After robbing Robitaille in overtime, Roy gave a bold wink of equal parts confidence and cockiness to Kings forward Tomas Sandstrom, who was parked just outside the crease awaiting a rebound that wouldn't come.

Twenty-four years after the fact, meanwhile, Lefebvre chuckles at the fact his name is part of illegal-stick espionage.

"The writing wasn't on the wall that we were going to win the Stanley Cup that year," he said. "I remember we were taking a team picture in March. We were having a tough time but Jacques made us believe we could go through a fire without being burned."

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