Last weekend I had a poker tourney with my buddies, and as each person got eliminated, they would go to the “Loser Lounge” and watch hockey as they waited for the winner to be decided. The first game on TV was the Islanders-Stars game, which showcased an impressive lack of defense and goaltending. Anders Lindback made me feel really good about my own goaltending abilities, as he got ventilated repeatedly by the Islanders left and right.
After that game was over, however, we stumbled into the NHL GameCenter Vault, and found the game 7 showdown from 1992 between the Vancouver Canucks and the Winnipeg Jets. We popped that game on, and while I remember watching this game as a child, I had forgotten just how much hockey has changed since the early 90’s. So sit back, relax, and come on a time travelling adventure with me as we take a fond look back at the game of hockey back in 1992.
Hooking, hooking, and more hooking
It cannot be overstated how much hooking there was in hockey back in the day. Not only was hooking seemingly encouraged, it was just accepted as a solid way to play defense. Forget skating ability, as long as you had the arm strength to hook a guy and slow him down, you were golden.
This is why guys like Dana Murzyn and Derian Hatcher loved hockey back then. Their lack of skating didn’t affect them like it would in today’s game. Hell, even lazy defensive players loved this style of hockey because if you lost the puck rushing into the offensive zone, you could just spin and hook a guy until he slowed down enough for your defenseman to get back into position. It is honestly shocking to watch hockey with that much hooking in it.
It is also easy to see why somebody with the strength and speed of Pavel Bure would have blown people away. When he managed to avoid the hooks, he would expose the hell out of the slow footed players in the league, making them look like scrubs as he flew by them at rocket like speeds.
Even someone like Trevor Linden could make people look foolish due to the reliance on hooks. Many times a player would stop skating and would simply hope they could hook their check to death, but if you shrugged off that hook, all of a sudden that guy standing still is in your rear view mirror and the ice just opened up for you. That’s what the picture above shows. In it, Thomas Steen flails away at Cliff Ronning, praying he can hook him before it’s too late, but alas, Ronning skates past a stationary Steen and sends over a pass that Geoff Courtnall taps in for the easy goal.
Rick Tabaracci and Kirk McLean’s pads
Back when I used to play hockey as a kid, one of the go to rules was throw the youngest guy in nets so the older kids could have fun scoring goals while they pretended to be Gretzky. Goaltending wasn’t a very sexy position for kids to emulate (Patrick Roy probably spearheaded the change) as somehow Darren Pang just wasn’t that inspiring to watch.
The goaltending position overall used to be the trash bin of the hockey world, as seen by watching many of the goalies in the 80’s try and stop Wayne Gretzky. There were still some extremely talented goalies, don’t get me wrong, but some teams just had god awful goaltending, as the difference between great goaltending and poor goaltending was far bigger in the olden days.
Part of that reason was due to the pads the goalies used. Watching Kirk McLean use his tiny pads to make save after save is inspiring to watch, especially with knowing the extremes the NHL goalies would soon turn to in an attempt to stop the puck (Garth Snow and his lacrosse shoulder pads come to mind).
If you had a bad goalie with small pads, you were in deep trouble against top scorers. In today’s game, even a piss poor goalie can butterfly his way to at least giving his team a chance to win. Back in the old days though? You just had to stack your pads and pray the puck hit you.
Goalies were more fun to watch
Due to the fact that butterfly goaltending hadn’t taken over the world yet, there were some super awkward looking saves being made by stand-up goalies in the early 90’s. It is honestly very fun to watch because today’s game it’s all about deep net play, making yourself big, and butterflying every single shot you see. Nowadays everything is so technical it’s gotten to the point where some fans cluck their tongues if they see a goalie not utilizing a reverse-VH properly.
Back in the wild west days of goaltending though? You had goalies making a huge glove save and scrambling to play the puck to their defender so as to not get a whistle. You had goalies struggling with rebounds directly in front of them, spinning around as they tried to make a desperation save. You had goalies really struggle with shots down low, as they simply didn’t cover the bottom of the net very well unless they were stacking the pads.
It wasn’t an effective way to play in net, but man, it sure was fun to watch. It’s also shocking to see how well Kirk McLean could play using a very stand up style of goaltending.
Also, an easy way to tell if someone grew up in the 80’s/early 90’s? Get them to play goal in ball hockey, and if they kick their leg up the same time they make a glove save, they grew up on old school hockey.
Tom Fergus was on fire in 1992
Five goals in thirteen games in the ’92 playoffs. Tom Fergus was a beast in these playoffs! Never forget the Fergus!
Jofa helmets used to be a thing
If there was a big book of iconic images from hockey, one of them would be Gretzky wearing his god awful and terribly unsafe Jofa helmet. Look at that thing. It looks like if you spat on it strongly enough, the spit would tear a hole right through it. The only reason Gretzky is probably alive to this day is because he had a freaky Spidey sense that allowed him to dodge almost all body checks thrown his way.
Except from Bill McCreary.
Regardless, seeing Ronning running around in his goofy Jofa helmet (a much safer version of one) brought back some happy memories of a time when hockey players wore awful gear and nobody cared. Ah, Cooperalls, you glorious disgusting pants you….
Winnipeg is good at making Vancouver look good
The Canucks can’t make fun of too many teams, due to the fact they’ve had a pretty poor history of winning. Except the Jets. Canucks fans can always make fun of the Jets. The Winnipeg Jets were the one team Vancouver could always beat up when they need a series win to feel better about themselves.
Fun Fact: The Jets were so bad their first couple of years in the NHL (they got only 9 wins in 1980-81) that it allowed them to net a first rounder by the name of Dave Babych, with the second overall pick in the 1980 draft, who actually was an offensive dynamo in his early years. He had a 74 point season in ’82-’83! Though part of that can be contributed to it being the ’80s.
Fun Fact Number 2: The Jets were a dominant team in the WHA before moving over the NHL. Their last series win in the WHA? They beat the Oilers in the last ever WHA final to win the Avco Cup. Then never beat Edmonton in the playoffs again in the NHL.
One day the Jets will win the Cup, and that will be a sad sad day for Vancouver fans if they haven’t won it by then.
Maybe Luca Sbisa belonged in the 80’s?
Look at the glorious giveaway by Ulanov. Right through the middle of the slot. To Pavel Bure of all people. Sbisa would have fit right in.
Ah yes, how hockey has changed. The only thing that hasn’t changed? Soul crushing losses in the Finals by the Canucks. That is something that never seems to change.
Excuse me while I go put on a Jofa helmet and beat myself with a baseball bat.