Lighting the Lamp, with Rick Ackerman
A couple of years ago, St. Louis Blues alumni sponsored a comedic roast of Bobby Plager at a local downtown hotel. Many former players attended, including Noel Picard, Bernie Federko, Curtis Joseph and Geoff Courtnall, as well as several current Blues. Since it was open to the public, of course I was there, too. It was a gala affair, affably hosted by Kelly Chase and Bruce Affleck.
I was able to chat with Geoff Courtnall and among other things, asked him about his best memories playing in the NHL. He recounted his first goal for Boston in 1984 (Courtnall was signed by the Bruins after being passed over in the amateur draft), having Wayne Gretzky as a line mate in the 1987/88 season and scoring his last goal for the Blues during the 1999/2000 season. And, of course, having his name engraved on Lord Stanley’s Cup in 1988 was the culmination of a dream held since childhood.
Courtnall also remembered being part of one of the biggest trades in Blues (and Canucks) history on March 5, 1991, when he, along with Sergio Momesso, Cliff Ronning and Robert Dirk was sent to Vancouver at the trade deadline for Garth Butcher and Dan Quinn. Three years later, the Canucks made a run to the Stanley Cup Finals with those players (only to lose to the Messier-led Rangers), while Dallas swept the Blues in the first round. That series in 1994 marked the first time the city of Dallas had ever been represented in the NHL playoffs, and the fourth game on April 24, a 2-1 Stars victory, was the last game played at the Old Barn on Oakland.
Courtnall said perhaps the questions most asked of him concerned an incident that occurred on April 27, 1998, at the Great Western Forum during game three of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. The fourth-place Central Division Blues (98 points) faced off against the fifth-place Pacific Division Kings (87 points). The Note had taken the first two games in St. Louis by scores of 8-3 and 2-1, and the Kings had been hard pressed to take the first game in California, especially with Grant Fuhr tending goal for the Blues.
Behind goaltender Jamie Storr, playing in his first NHL playoff series, the Kings took a 3-0 lead in game three on goals by Sean O’Donnell, Ian Laperriere and Yanic Perreault. And then in the third period, a memorable sequence of events took place. What happened depends on whom you ask.
Beat writer Jeremy Rutherford of the Post-Dispatch wrote, “The puck came behind Storr’s net and he casually went out to leave it for teammate Sean O’Donnell. Courtnall, skating by, clipped Storr with his left shoulder, knocking the netminder to the ice and sending his stick flying. O’Donnell jumped on Courtnall, threw several punches and was whistled for a five-minute major penalty.” Referee Don Koharski made the call at 8:34.
In the same article, dated May 5, 2002, Courtnall said, “I was going full speed for the puck and he stepped out a bit. It wasn’t one of those things where I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to be able to hit this guy and take him out of the game.’ But that’s sort of what happened.”
Storr remembered, “You realize the guy is on you, but you don’t think he’s going to hit you. It’s almost a little bit of a blindside. You step out and all of a sudden, he’s right on you. To be honest with you, it’s blatant why it would happen. There was an urgency to change the momentum [of the game]. Do you just let the last 10 minutes of the game run out and just accept losing, 3-0? Or do you try and make something happen?”
Terry Yake, currently director of the Blues Alumni, recalled in the same article “The [referees] obviously treated things differently back then. If you jumped on a guy and just started beating him, and the guy didn’t fight back, one guy got five and the other guy didn’t. Courts took enough punches that they gave [O’Donnell] a five-minute major and we didn’t get anything.” Actually, Courtnall was assessed a two-minute penalty, but it was negated by a minor boarding penalty on Laperriere.
The Blues took advantage and went on to score four goals on the ensuing five-minute power play in the next three minutes and four seconds. First, Pascal Rheaume knocked in an Al MacInnis rebound, then Brett Hull blasted one into the net on a nice setup from Jimmy Campbell at 11:03. Pierre Turgeon deflected in a MacInnis slapshot to tie the score at 11:59. And then with almost seven minutes left in the game, defenseman Steve Duchesne ripped a shot that Storr caught, and subsequently dropped. A wide-eyed Terry Yake tapped the puck into the net for the winning goal. Yake later said, “Kid in the candy store!” And so, the Blues won game three, 4-3, going on to win game four, 2-1, and sweep the series, 4-0.
It’s always a raging, hard-fought war when the Blues and visiting Kings share the same ice. Blues Nation easily remembers that Los Angeles eliminated St. Louis from the playoffs in both 2012 (losing in the second round in six games) and 2013 (swept in four in the first round). However, last season the Blues took two of three matches, losing 0-3 at home in November and then going on to win two games later in the season by identical 2-1 scores, one in overtime and one in a shootout. Both teams could only combine for nine goals in three games last season.
Expect more of the same tonight.