All this Gretzky trade talk the last week stirred up the old story machine in my head. Looking at some of the other players involved in the trade I ran across Marty McSorley’s name.
What a career this guy had! Nearly a thousand NHL games, he could hold his own or beat anyone up in the league. He could also play, posting many seasons with thirty points or more – very impressive when you look at his penalty minute totals.
I remember watching him play with the Oilers as I was growing up. Riding shotgun for the skilled players. He never turned his back or looked away when he felt his team mates were getting roughed up. I really respected him for that, even more once I started playing in the NHL. Never turning a blind eye to that and taking care of your guys night in and night out makes for a long season. McSorley was always ready.
The first time I played against Marty I remember thinking he was even bigger than I expected. He had a presence on the ice. I always felt like he was watching over his team like a shepherd over his flock. I knew if I went too far it would be him I was fighting, no one else. Not all tough guys have that ability.
When I was traded to the Vancouver Canucks I started playing with Donald Brashear. He had just come into his own as one of the toughest guys in the NHL. In my mind he was the toughest for many years. I saw him beat on guys that others couldn’t even come close to.
He had a technique that used his immense strength to his advantage. He would get a good grip on the guy by the shoulders and then yank him down a few times to get him off balance. Then he would start pounding the guy with short punches that packed a lot of heat. I don’t remember him losing and there were not many ties!
Brashear was a good team mate for a young guy like myself trying to establish my rep around the league. He always offered advice on guys and how they liked to fight. He was also the first guy to tap me on the pads when I had a good fight or when one got away from me. I really appreciated him as a teammate.
The 1999-2000 Vancouver Canucks team was a close team. We had quite a few good young players like Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi. It was Mark Messier’s last year with the Canucks. The team was starting to turn the tide after a few years of little success.
This is where the story starts.
Brashear was beating up people left and right for the last couple seasons. I remember Marty wanting to fight Brash most games. No disrespect to Marty but Brash would really give it to him in the fights but Marty would always come back and want another shot. He just couldn’t accept losing to Brash.
I think the frustration of not being able to beat Brash finally got to him on February 21st, 2000.
McSorley was playing for the Bruins against Vancouver in what would be his last NHL game.
Earlier in the game Brash had beat up McSorley. I remember Marty wanted to fight him again later in the game but Brash said no. Marty kept chasing him around but Brash didn’t bother and I can’t blame him.
We were beating the Bruins 5 -2 near the end of the third period when Marty just exploded with the slash.
When he hit Brash I think everyone on our team, both on the bench and the ice were just in shock. No one reacted right away except out trainer and Messier. They both jumped the boards to get to Brash’s aid.
Our guys on the ice didn’t really see it because it was behind the play. The only guy who saw it was our goalie, a tough goalie, Garth Snow, now the GM of the Islanders. He went after McSorley. I loved Snowy for doing that.
It got a little crazy at that point. On the bench we are starting to lose it. For a few minutes I thought this was going to end up in a bench clearing brawl. Our guys were pissed and wanted to get even.
It settled down on the ice. Marty was getting peppered by our fans with bottles and drinks as he skated off. It was crazy how much stuff was coming down on him and the Bruin bench, even our fans wanted blood.
We started yelling at the Bruins bench saying we were coming for them and that this last three seconds would be the longest in NHL history. Pat Burns walked over to our end of his bench. He made it clear they did not support what Marty had done. He did not want this to explode into fight club. He just wanted the game to end.
With those words our team started to calm down. The game ended and we went back to the dressing room. We all knew the media was coming in to talk to us about this. Brian Burke never came in the room to address the team after a game as the GM but this game he did. He asked us how we wanted to handle this. We said we were pissed and wanted to say what we wanted. He said no problem, go for it.
Brash ended up being ok after a few weeks. He came back to play for us and we were happy to have him back. Marty was suspended the rest of the season and on. I had no problem with that but I did have a problem with the police getting involved.
Marty went to trial in Vancouver over this issue. That was wrong. I firmly believe what happens on the ice should be dealt with on the ice or by the NHL, no one else. I felt badly for Marty for having to go through that media circus.
Marty would never play another NHL game. I think it was more his play then this slash that brought his career to an end. This event was one second of a lapse in judgment and the wires crossing in Marty’s head.
I will never forget when Brash came to visit us two days after the game and slash. We all expected him to look like the elephant man. It was far from that. He had a welt and swelling on the side of his face. A normal human would have looked like the elephant man but not our tough guy.
It was a pretty crazy night.