Ice hockey, being a cold weather sport, experienced slow going in California. Remember Charlie Finley’s Seals up in Oakland? That franchise did not just move, they disintegrated.
The Los Angeles Kings had a few things going for them. Their owner, Jack Kent Cooke was a Canadian with a passion for the game, and he built a beautiful arena, the Forum, for his two teams (the Lakers being the other) to play in. There are a lot of transplanted Canadians living in Southern California, and it was these people who kept the team going during lean times.
Still, the champions of the sport were the Montreal Canadians, the New York Islanders, and then along came Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers. The Islander dynasty of the late 1970s had ended, and in 1982 Edmonton, led by the Great One, was ready to embark on a new era.
A small bump on the Oilers’ path to their first Stanley Cup came in the form of the purple-and-gold clad Kings. Nobody really took them seriously. Oh sure, LA was a great stop on the NHL’s cold weather circuit, a chance to soak up some sun, check out hot babes at good night clubs, maybe see some stars.
Dr. Jerry Buss owned the team in 1982. Charlie Simmer had even snagged <ital>Playboy<end ital> Playmate of the Year Teri Welles as his new bride, and she was a regular in and around the Forum Club, a major attraction. If you were a top player, though, you really did not want to play here, you would not get the recognition, and you would not play for a champion. It was an outpost. A glamorous outpost, but still an outpost.
So it was on April 10, 1982. Los Angeles sported a 24-41-15 record. The fact that they snuck a Smythe Division play-off berth out of a mark like that is fodder for editorial on another day, but they did.
Edmonton had Gretzky (212 points in 80 games), Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr and Glenn Anderson—young superstars, a dynasty in the making.
Edmonton had the league’s best record. It was an upset that LA had even avoided a sweep. The team’s came to the Forum locked at a game apiece.
For two periods, Edmonton dominated play and led 5-0.
“They were very confident,” remarked Simmer, “up 5-0, having a great season, and they were in the driver’s seat. A few players were having a chuckle about our players.”
“The Oilers were arrogant, laughing, their coach was just looking at us with a smirk on his face,” recalls legendary Kings broadcaster Bob Miller.
The Kings scored a couple goals, but the crowd was already starting to thin out. Then, Simmer scored to make it 5-3 at 14:38.
“The crowd became a big factor at 5-3,” recalls Jim Fox, a forward on that team who is now part of the team’s broadcasting crew.
Mark Hardy made one from 45 feet out with less than five minutes remaining, making the score 5-4.
“Jerry Buss was with Cathy Crosby,” recalls Miller. “He left with her for Palm Springs. The chauffeur asked if he wanted to turn back, and he said he’d just jinx the team, so he missed it.”
Cars leaving the parking lot, however, were parking every which way, and people were re-entering the Forum.
What happened in the last minute, however, defies logic.
Gretzky, the greatest stick-handler in the game, had the puck. All he needed to do was get it to the blue line. There were 10 seconds left to play. Re-enter Fox.
“I’d like to say it was me, it was going after Gretzky,” says Fox, “but in that game, thinking back I would say it was all emotion, it was a freak.”
Fox managed to check Gretzky, steal the puck, and shoot. Steve Bozek picked up the rebound and banged a goal to send the game into overtime.
“Now it’s bedlam,” recalls Miller. “Roaring, screaming. The Zamboni’s going and it’s still absolute bedlam. I’ve never heard an arena that loud, anywhere, people going around the concourse screaming, hollering.”
Unknown rookie Daryl Evans slapped one through to win it in overtime. That was amazing.
What took the cake was the rest of the series. The Oilers won the next game, but LA came back to take it, three games to two.
“They were incredible, so talented,” says Fox, “but the mental aspect of the game—they learned from that series to finish teams off, and in the long run that’s what made them the champions they became.”
The Miracle On Manchester did help popularize hockey in Los Angeles. Eventually, Gretzky agreed to a trade to the Kings, and this led in part to the building of STAPLES Center.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism