It was 20 years ago today….

I have it on DVD and will probably watch it today. 20 years ago the Edmonton Oilers won their 5th Stanley. It was a delightful experience, because (unlike the other 4) it didn’t feel inevitable.

The first Stanley was about a young team coming together and using their talent for the greater good. Less 99 cheating at the Yellow pages sign (I don’t remember if it was there in 1984 but you get the point) and more about positioning and finishing your checks. It was a wonderful series because the Oilers defeated the Islanders to stop their drive for 5 (and shove it up Fischler’s ass, an added bonus).

The second Stanley was about destiny, with the Oilers losing G1 and then riding Gretzky, Coffey and Fuhr (stopped two penalty shots) to a 5 game victory.

The third one was about really worrying. The Oilers won the Stanley, but Ron Hextall damn near stole the thing and that’s the truth. 7 games and the Flyers scored early in that one, but Messier answered a little later and then Jari Kurri scored in the middle period and we started to breathe.

The fourth one was a sweep over Boston. In 5 games. You could look it up.

The fifth one is the one I cherish more than any save the first one. Why? You have to remember this was not the dynasty team. Here are the names on the Stanley from 1990:

  • G: Ranford, Fuhr, Reddick
  • D: Lowe, S Smith, Beukeboom, Gregg, Huddy, G Smith, Ruotsalainen, Muni
  • C: Messier, Lamb, Murphy, MacTavish, Ruzicka
  • L: Simpson, Gelinas, Tikkanen, Klima, Semenov
  • R: Anderson, Graves, Kurri, Buchberger, Dave Brown

I think that’s right. Anyway, Gretzky and Coffey aren’t on this team and there are many others who contributed to the dynasty that were long gone. It was an unusual run in that many of the impact players (Ranford, Simpson, in one game Klima) were not Boys on the Bus.

My most vivid memory of 1990 isn’t even part of the finals. It was Mark Messier’s performance in Chicago earlier in the playoffs (he was on this day exactly as I’d read Rocket Richard was another glorious time in hockey history–wild eyed, the other side of crazy and possibly not thinking clearly) that sealed the season. From Legends of Hockey:

  • In the playoffs, with the Oilers down 2-1 in games to the Chicago Blackhawks in the semifinals, Messier took over in the fourth game, scoring two goals and collecting two assists in Edmonton’s 4-2 road win. His one-man display impressed everyone who watched, Chicago players, coaches and fans included, and his all-time performance spurred the Oilers. Edmonton swept the remaining games from Chicago and easily handled Bourque and the Bruins in the finals to give Messier his fifth Stanley Cup ring with Edmonton.

Mike Keenan (Chicago’s coach) said he knew the Blackhawks were up shit creek when he saw Messier’s face in the pre-game skate. He was a beauty.

I don’t think it is possible for an older Oiler fan to impress upon a younger fan just how unlikely the 1990 run was when placed in context.

  • August 9, 1988: After the Oilers traded Wayne Gretzky, John Muckler (who would win the 1990 Stanley as head coach) said “thank God I believe in life after death.”
  • The Oilers point totals dropped from 99 to 84, and they entered the 89-90 season well outside the NHL’s elite teams.
  • They finished third in the Smythe in 88-89.
  • They lost in the first round in 1989′s playoffs.
  • Major playoff disappointments spring 1989 included Jimmy Carson, Esa Tikkanen, Craig Simpson and Glenn Anderson.
  • Jimmy Carson requested a trade, or he would play out his option and sign as a free agent summer 1990.
  • Esa Tikkanen and his agent (Rich Winter) were rumbling about heading out of town.
  • Grant Fuhr retired on June 8, saying he would sell cars in Wetaskiwin and citing Sather’s lack of respect for him as a leading cause for the retirement. (it was about salary).
  • They had a veteran group and they had a terrific goalie tandem (Fuhr and Ranford who would win the Smythe after starting the playoffs very badly).

And they won. The Boys On The Bus were still the heart of the team, but a major part of the 1990 story comes from names like Ranford, Simpson, Gelinas, Murphy, Reijo Ruotsalainen. Lordy Reijo Ruotsalainen. His playoff totals spring 1990? 22gp, 2-11-13 +13.

I’ll never forget spring 1990.

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