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FOREWORD

BY NHL COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN

I was a hockey fan even then.

I believe they clinched the cup within a matter of days from my 33rd birthday. This is an extraordinary collection of players that constituted this championship team. These Oilers were phenomenal. I don't know if there's ever been a team quite like them.

ORAL HISTORY OF THE OILERS 84-85 TEAM

AS TOLD BY THE 84-85 OILERS

The 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers were voted the greatest NHL team of all-time, following a fan vote that received more than 3.6 million responses. Over a six-week period, this storied squad battled with other legendary teams, rosters, and seasons to see who would come out on top.

This team, in particular, defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup Final to win their second straight championship.

Why were the 84-85 Oilers chosen?

We let members of that team tell the story.

PART I

November 11, 1984
The Spectrum
Philadelphia, PA

Editor's Note: Coming off their first Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history, the Oilers ended the 1984-85 season with a 49-20-11 record, scoring 401 goals in 80 games. Despite opening the campaign with a 2-2 tie against the Los Angles Kings, Edmonton pieced together a 15-game unbeaten streak to start the year.

Their first loss would come in Philadelphia on Nov. 11, a city and a team that would become an important part of the end of their story and run.

 

Andy Moog (Goaltender, Edmonton Oilers): The first loss came in Philadelphia. I remember the streak. 

 

Charlie Huddy (Defenceman, Edmonton Oilers): We had a good thing going. You want to keep the streak going but at some point, it was going to come to an end.

 

Moog: We were playing so well. You just couldn't beat us.

 

Huddy (Defenceman, Edmonton Oilers)When you get on a roll like that and end up losing the first game, it's always tough because you've got a lot of confidence in playing the way you're playing and the roll you're on.

 

Moog: I think there was a night in New Jersey, might have been the second last game, where I think we were down by one with like five seconds to go. Gretz wins a faceoff and we score a goal to tie with like two seconds to go to keep the thing alive. There were some magical moments for sure. [Ed. Note: The Oilers defeated the New Jersey Devils by a score of 3-2 on Dec. 8, 1984.]

 

Huddy: You felt like you could win every game but unfortunately in a season, you're not going to win every game.

 

Billy Carroll (Forward, Edmonton Oilers): The start of the season saw so much success so early, and we were able to cruise on so early. [Ed. Note: Carroll was picked up off waivers from the New York Islanders on October 9, 1984 after winning three Cups with the franchise.]

 

Kevin Lowe (Defenceman, Edmonton Oilers): There were still some questions as to how good we were, even though we won the Cup the year before. You have to go out and repeat. I think we opened up the eyes of the hockey world at that point.

 

Pat Hughes (Forward, Edmonton Oilers)For us, it was just another reason to get up for the games because we didn't want to get embarrassed by anybody.

 

Lowe: I don't think anyone truly gave us the respect we deserved. There seemed to be an eastern bias towards teams, like the Islanders, who had four in a row. Nobody believed the style we played could really have success long term. There was some envy for sure. We knew teams would be gunning for us.

 

Grant Fuhr (Goaltender, Edmonton Oilers): You were going to see their best games. So you know you have to be better, and I think we did a good job of managing that, where we knew they would be hard games, but we also managed to stay healthy. You have to have that.

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Hughes: Going into any city, and with any team that's won the Cup, you're the defending Stanley Cup Champions and you're going to have to be on the top of your game because everybody is coming to knock off the champions. The 84-85 team had a great season record, and we handled everybody pretty well that year.

 

Lowe: That's something Billy Carroll brought to our attention when he came to us.

 

Carroll: Coming from New York, we had done that so many years and there were really no nights you could take off because a team could lose five in a row and if they beat you, as defending champion, that made their night and gave them confidence. Teams were always gunning for you.

 

Lowe: I think really the fact, although it was a difficult season, it probably wasn't as difficult as we thought it might be because it was just a testimony of how good the team was. We won all the individual awards, we romped through the season. I think the Flyers actually had more points than us, but we had a great record. It's no wonder that 84-85 team was voted the top team of all-time because it was a pretty darn good team.

 

Paul Coffey (Defenceman, Edmonton Oilers): We knew we were a good team. We weren't the predator anymore; we were the hunted. When you're the hunted, every other team in the League wants to beat you because you're the previous Stanley Cup winner the year before. It makes it tougher and we knew it was tougher. We were still hitting our stride.

 

Carroll: The lasting impression (the 15-game run) left on me was just how talented the Edmonton Oilers were. It was just a lovely, talented group of guys who came to play hockey and came to play every night. That group of guys never seemed to take a night off.

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Ed. Note: Midway through the season, the Oilers traded Terry Martin and Gord Sherven to the Minnesota North Stars, in exchange for Mark Napier. Right away, Napier realized this was a special team, built on character and immense talent. Throughout the season, the Oilers depth emerged as an integral piece of their championship run. Role players played their role, while the top-end talent led the way. But above all else, the 84-85 Oilers had fun.

 

Mark Napier (Forward, Edmonton Oilers): At the time, I was playing for a decent Minnesota team. I think we went to the semifinals against the Oilers the first year they won the Cup, and I got traded the next year. It was probably one of the nicest calls I had gotten in a long time. Lou Nanne called me into his office after one of the game and said, 'I've got Glen Sather on the phone and he wants to talk to you. By the way, I traded you to the Edmonton Oilers.' 

I had a very pleasant conversation with Mr. Sather that day and the next morning, actually, my brother-in-law Patty Hughes picked me up at the airport.

 

Carroll: I joined the team out in LA, and it was a great experience because I was coming from a group of married guys and kids to a whole bunch of young, single guys who were at the top of their game and profession. They were the best around and they were just having fun. The music was playing and it was a whole lot of fun right off the bat.

 

 

Huddy: Every day was a lot of fun coming to the rink. We had a great team and we had a great bunch of guys.

 

Napier: They're such a great group of guys and I got really lucky.

 

Huddy: We played hard out there and we were fortunate to have a lot of great players. And to be able to play with a lot of great players. 

 

Napier: Right away, Glen put me with Glenn Anderson and Mark Messier, on that line. I thought I was in pretty decent shape until I played with those two guys and found out I better get in shape pretty quick to try and keep up with them. I used to think I was pretty quick until I played with them.

 

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Huddy: You dream of playing in the NHL and then you get on a team that we had, it was more fun and enjoyment coming to the rink by playing in games with those guys. Seeing how competitive we were and the desire that we had to win hockey games.

 

Napier: For me, to be welcomed with open arms the way they did, just shows the character of the team and how special they were.

 

Coffey: Wayne was good but he wasn't great yet. If that makes sense. He was always great but he wanted to be greater. We all wanted to be better than we were and that's what made that team special.

 

Moog: The thing that stands out in my memory about the character and depth players of our group, was there was never a time when anybody fulfilling that role for the Oilers didn't feel as though they weren't important.

 

Coffey: We had great leadership. Lee Fogolin had given the captaincy up a couple years ago, he was a great leader on the team. We had great players, Hall of Fame players and the greatest player of all time, but we had a team. Everybody that roped, pushed and pulled the same way. That's what made us go.

 

Moog: The leaders on the team, it was so effortless for them to let us know we were important to the whole thing. That resonates with me as much as anything. You always felt like you had a role and were contributing. Those guys were responsible for making you feel that way.

 

Coffey: When your best player is your hardest worker and the most unselfish guy, wants to put up numbers and wants to be great, if you don't fall in line - shame on you. 

 

Carroll: When your best players are your best players every night, which this group was all the time, it certainly makes for winning.

 

Huddy: Glen knew that we had a lot of great players and a lot of skilled players with Wayne, Mark, Glenn Anderson and Jari Kurri. But to be successful, you need to have the role players that know their jobs out there.

Ed. Note: Gretzky set a record for most assists in a single season (135) - beating it a season later with 163 - and an NHL record for most points in the playoffs with 47.

Twenty-four hat tricks were scored, eight Oilers attended the NHL All-Star Game in Calgary, seven had 50 or more points, four scored 40 or more goals, three players reached triple-digit point-totals, while Gretzky and Kurri both tallied over 70 markers each.  

Gretzky won the Art Ross Trophy, Hart Memorial Trophy, Conn Smythe Trophy, Lester B. Pearson Award and the NHL Plus/Minus Award.

Coffey won the Norris Trophy and Kurri received the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy.

 

Gretzky: Glen was a big believer it was always about the team, but he also wanted the individual players to be successful. He wanted to win the Stanley Cup, but he wanted to win the Art Ross, he wanted to win the Hart, he wanted to win the Norris - he wanted to win every trophy there was.

 

Lowe: Now that I think about it, I think Glen said 'this isn't going to last forever. Take advantage of it while you can.'

 

Gretzky: He didn't want the players to take anything away from their individualism, and yet he wanted to make sure it was all about the team. We all pushed ourselves.

 

Lowe: I give him a lot of credit and he deserves a lot of credit for really getting us to think big picture, like why not be one of the greatest teams of all-time?

 

Hughes: Sather was always tweaking things and trying to improve. We made some improvements that year. We now finally burst through the prior year so we knew what it took to win.

 

Fuhr: There was no mystery as to what kind of team we were. I think that was the fun part about our team. Everyone knew we were a kind of run-and-gun team.

 

Hughes: I think with the adjustments we made and the additions to the team, the fact we had already done it, I think we were a much more confident group going forward, too.

 

Huddy: Slats did a real good job of putting the pieces together.

 

Lowe: Two solid lines up front, two very useful lines on the bottom half of the lineup, and then six defencemen that had played and won the Cup the year before. Nothing had changed. The same group of six was still pretty young too, led by Paul Coffey. He won the Norris that year.

 

Fuhr: We learned to play good defence. We weren't bad defensively and we didn't play defensive hockey - but we could. I think a lot of people overlooked the fact that, yeah, you could check us and maybe not let us score five or six goals, but at the same time, we could play good enough that you couldn't score. We were good in all aspects.

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Lowe: And then we had two great goaltenders. I saw both goalies had votes for goaltender of the year that year. I'm sure that's pretty rare that both goaltenders get voted for top goalie. 

 

Fuhr: I had a great partner in Andy Moog. I think people forget that. That's what pushed us to be so good. We were able to push each other and force each other to be good. I'm not as good without Andy.

 

Hughes: Being the fringe player I was, I had a great seat just to watch the magic. Now that we won it one year before, Wayne had more confidence. Then you've got Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson, and that whole group that knew they were going to win those games.

 

Huddy: The first year we won, there was a line of Dave Hunter, Kevin McClelland and Pat Hughes. Kevin McClelland scored in the Island in a 1-0 game. The only goal. It was the perfect example of a fourth line being able to win you a hockey game.

 

Lanny McDonald (Forward, Calgary Flames): I hated them. Everyone would ask, 'Do you know when you're playing the Oilers next?' and we would always say, 'No, we have no idea. Haven't looked at the schedule.' But really, we had it blocked off. OK, two weeks' time. OK, there's the next one, six weeks down the road.

 

Hughes: They did some things on the ice that I would be sitting next to Dave Hunter or whoever I was with and I would say, "did I just see what I saw out there?" Everybody played with such a high level of creativity.

 

Huddy: Even them just changing the momentum of a game. Getting the puck in, getting some zone time and getting the momentum changed for the other lines to get going. If you ask most guys, you need 20 guys to be able to win the Cup because it's such a long grind.

 

McDonald: We knew every time we had to play them. Man, if you couldn't get up for a game against the Oilers, then get out of the game. Sorry, you don't belong here.

PART II

Ed. Note: The Oilers were a dominant team all season, but their worst stretch came at an inopportune time as they drew closer to the playoffs. The team went through a period of time in February and March in which they had just two wins in 10 games.

Carroll: I remember that stretch very well, because we didn't play very well going into the playoffs. But things eventually settled down. We had a little bit of a scare against LA with some close games. That stretch was probably the best thing that could have ever happened to the team because it made everybody a little more aware and appreciate what hard work and winning can bring.

I certainly remember that stretch, because there were a lot of guys worried.

 

Huddy: You'd always go through rough patches. I remember we lost five in a row one time and had to get things going. Sometimes it's a wake-up call that you're not going to be able to win - like the streak at the start - every game. You're going to have some ups and downs and you're going to try to control those.

Gretz always used to say, 'Never lose two in a row,' but you get through points of the season where things happen. Maybe you get some injuries, travel through the cities on back-to-backs, there's a lot of things that go into it. We're in the playoffs and other teams are battling to get into the playoffs so they have more jump. You're just not ready for those games, you get down and you can't come back. It's always a good wake-up call that you're going to lose hockey games. You just have to fight through those and turn it around.

 

Fuhr: You learn. Every year you learn what you have to do a little bit better. It was the natural progression. We knew we had to be a little better defensively, and we had the personnel to do it. That's what we learned: That we had to be just that better.

You go through streaks where you're not winning. You may still be playing good hockey, but you're not winning. That happens. Every team goes through it, every year. It's just a matter of whether it is the right time or the wrong time. Ours would happen in certain spots, but would never happen going into the playoffs.

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Lowe: It's such a difficult League to run the table. I can't even imagine the Canadiens, who lost eight games one year. I always think those difficult periods are lessons. You need those repeatedly, to remind you how hard it is. There are often times when you're on good teams and you're winning games when you shouldn't be winning them, and then you go on a prolonged losing streak where you actually now deserve to lose them, then you start playing better but aren't winning. You really have to buckle down and you learn to do that so the formula for winning because easy again.

When it happens late in the season, it's more of a recent memory that you know how quickly things can fade.

 

Ed. Note: The Oilers opened the Stanley Cup Playoffs with nine consecutive wins, not losing until Game 3 against the Chicago Blackhawks. They'd lose two in a row to their opponent, before closing out the series with 10-5 and 8-2 wins in Game 6 and 7.

Then came the Final, which brought with it some comical moments ahead of Game 1. The team had several days off before heading to Philadelphia to face the Flyers, and much of the team went to Las Vegas. Before Game 1, on their way from the airport to the hotel, their bus broke down on the side of the road.

They were rusty... and it showed in a 4-1 loss. Starting on the road didn't help either...

Napier: Thinking back, the first two rounds, I don't think we lost a game. We beat LA and then Winnipeg. Then we ran into the Hawks, and the first two games against the Hawks, I think we blew them out both games. I don't think we thought it was going to be easy, but they sure surprised us in Game 3 and Game 4 in Chicago. It kind of gave us a wake-up call that we had to really bear down, especially going into Game 6 in their building. You never want to go to Game 7. I think we played a really good game in Game 6 to beat them in there.

 

May 21, 1985
Philadelphia, PA

Moog: I remember the bus from the airport to the hotel prior to Game 1 broke down and we were all standing on the side of the road with a broken-down bus.

 

Fuhr: It was just one of those things that happened. That's just the way the world works. It's one of those things where you just go about your business. There's nothing you can do about it. You don't really worry about it.

 

Hughes: As you progress through, everybody has done the same thing to get to that (Stanley Cup) Semifinal and Final. They've all been tested too. You know for Chicago to get where they did, they had beat some good teams to get there, they were going to be competitive. Philly as well. Philly had a great year that year. They played a little bit more of a physical type of game, and tried to play that type of game with us, but there was only so many things you could do back then.

 

Huddy: We had to start in Philly and we lost that first game. I think that part of it was just everything that had happened before. Just the layoff. We were fortunate to be able to win in four or five games then everything was set up for TV and how long the series went.

Through the years, there was a lot of time where we did have five, six or seven days off in between series. You can only practice for so much. It was good on one hand because you could give some guys a break and let injuries heal up but if the other team was coming out of a longer series, they've got some momentum and a jump on you. That's what happened against Philly. They had the momentum at that time and it took us a little bit to get going.

 

Napier: The Final in Philly, the first game was a bit of a wake-up call for us. It was hot, the ice wasn't very good and nobody made any excuses, but I don't think we played very well.

 

Moog: I remember they beat us really good. They pumped us. It was a tough game but they were at the top of their game.

They were pretty stacked, too. As far as a team was concerned with star talent up and down the lineup. The backend they had with (Brad) McCrimmon and Mark Howe was just unbelievable. Then go down through the group, they had Brian Propp and Dave Poulin, Tim Kerr. They were loaded with talent. There was no shortage of star power in that final. Pelle Lindbergh, who won Goalie of the Year that season. He was Mr. Everything for them that year as well. It was a star-studded Final. There were lots to write about and lots to pay attention to because there were superstars on both.

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Coffey: The Philadelphia Flyers were a great team. I think that was Coach Mike Keenan's first year. He had a really good group of young guys. Different guys that came and offered some zip to the game but of course they had Mark Howe and their other guys up front were phenomenal. That was a series we had to win. I remember losing the first game then waking up the next morning and the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer had the parade route. We had sat out nine days prior to that.

 

Lowe: Slats read us the riot act. I think we had 11 days off in between the Semis and the Finals. We had, I want to say three or four days completely off - which is unheard of in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Some guys went to Vegas (the week before). I know part of Slats' speech that night after the game was, 'Guys are pissing around, screwing around. You brought this on yourself.'

 

Carroll: The part I remember the most about that was Glen didn't get that way very often. When he did, he usually had good reason.

 

Gretzky: Glen was pretty upset. He was pretty adamant that myself and No. 7 weren't very good in Game 1, and lit a little fire under our rear ends.

Glen never said anything he didn't mean. We didn't play well. The entire team was bad. Paul and I were probably at the head of that group. We rebounded in the next four games and played extremely well.

 

Carroll: The top end of that team always responded to Glen, as they did there. We won the next four games. I don't think they were all that close either.

One of the pluses Glen had was he knew when to press the buttons and when to let us run. He was the master at it.

 

Huddy: The one thing about Slats was he knew the right buttons to push to get guys fired up for the next game. He was a master at doing that and knew how to handle it. To come out and lose that first game, everybody was disappointed and again, we needed a little bit of a wake-up call. He was a master at pushing buttons and getting us going.

 

Lowe: I think we were just rusty, honestly. Then we buckled down and finished it off.

 

Fuhr: Sometimes I think it's easier starting on the road because there's not the pressure of being good at home. At home, you have to play good and almost pretty hockey. Whereas on the road, you can play ugly and get away with it. It's a little easier starting on the road.

 

Ed. Note: The Oilers would rebound from their Game 1 setback to sweep the next four games and hoist their second-straight Stanley Cup.

Napier: Game 2 could have been our best game of the series, because back then it was two, three and two. We knew we'd be going back home for three games and we certainly didn't want to go back to Philly to play. Once we got home we got pretty comfortable and played pretty well there.

 

Gretzky: I was fortunate enough to win the Conn Smythe, but Messier could have won it, Coffey could have won it, Grant could have won it - so many guys played so well and took their game to another level. If you're going to be successful as a team, your best players have to play well under the microscope and under the gun, and in that series, our best players played very well.

 

Fuhr: Each year is special in its own way because everything happens differently. Obviously, '84 was fun but getting hurt in the Finals kind of sucked a little bit. You don't really get to enjoy the Cup as much. The next year, I got to play in the Finals and won the Cup. So, you remember that in little pieces. Each year has goof moments, each year has bad moments. But they're all different and they're all fun.

 

Carroll: I think after you win it a few times, and (the Islanders) had won it three in a row, then you lose it and start to think you'll never win one again, especially with the powerhouse Edmonton was. Everybody could see the next 5-10 years was going to take an awful lot of luck and circumstance for somebody to knock Edmonton off in a seven-game series, so you're kind of thinking it's over and then you just get the fortunate circumstance of being picked up off waivers by Edmonton and have another chance to get back into the winner's circle. It was a pretty exciting year for me and a dream come true for me.

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Gretzky: There have been so many great franchises and so many great teams all the way to the Red Wings in the 50s, the Canadiens, the Islanders, the Penguins, the list goes on and on, like the Flyers of the 70s. It's hard to pick one team that's better than another team. But for the fans to vote for us, it's a great honour. It's something we're very proud of as a team and an organization, and obviously, the city of Edmonton is a big part of that and a big part of the success of that team. We feel very honoured we were voted the number one team.

 

Hughes: It's amazing, is what it is. It's a huge honour. When you look at all the great teams that have played all of the years, Montreal, Detroit had their run of it, Toronto - there have been some really, really good teams - and to be voted the number one team over the last century is special. We're thrilled about it.

 

Lowe: You can't dispute with the fans. They voted 84-85, so we're going to go with that.

 

Coffey: Definitely wasn't the '88 team because I wasn't there (laughing). I always felt the '85 team, no disrespect to every other team or the other four Stanley cup teams in Edmonton. That is my thought and that argument will go on forever but the proof is in the pudding. That team, to me, is special and that's why we're here today.

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This oral history was pieced together by EdmontonOilers.com's Chris Wescott and Paul Gazzola, with quotes gathered through numerous interviews conducted by the two, along with Oilers TV's Tom Gazzola. Special thanks to Oilers TV, the 84-85 Edmonton Oilers and Director of Alumni Relations Barrie Stafford.