The Goliath of Manchester
The saga of the Miracle on Manchester was largely the story of unheralded rookie Daryl Evans and his Los Angeles Kings teammates, who faced tall odds of beating their regular tormentor Edmonton Oilers during the 1981-1982 National Hockey League (NHL) season. In a recent interview with Betway Evans has mentioned his and Wayne Gretzky’s rivalry
In a biblical sense, it was a battle reminiscent of the faceoff between David and Goliath, with the former, a young shepherd, defeating the Philistine warrior in face-to-face combat.
In plain street talk, the conflict was between a scrappy group of neighborhood kids and a mob of invading bullies in a turf battle.
This imagery though is not really fair for Wayne Douglas Gretzky, who was painted the Goliath of the visiting Edmonton Oilers, the “bullies” who were to make mincemeat of home team Los Angeles Kings in the semis of the 1981-1982 NHL season.
In truth, Gretzky was not the burly giant you might imagine him to be. On the contrary, he was a frail (by ice hockey standards), 21-year-old Tom Cruise look-alike who played ice hockey for a living, and did it extraordinarily well. At the time he played for the Oilers against the Kings at the Forum for the so-called Miracle on Manchester, he weighed only 73 kgs, compared to the NHL’s average of 86 kgs.
But his reputation preceded him.
At 16, he was the youngest member of the Canadian national junior team to the 1978 World Junior Championships in Montreal, Quebec, where he was immediately noticed by global ice hockey watchers, especially in the North America, where ice hockey has always been popular among spectators and bettors. He scored 17 points to earn a slot in the All-Star Team and was recognized as the Best Forward by the organizers.
In the 1979-80 NHL season, his first at NHL, Gretzky, then only 19, was awarded the first of eight consecutive MVPs for scoring 51 points in 79 games, the highest point total by a rookie player in NHL history. This record stands to this day.
In his second season, Gretzky’s performance was even more overwhelming. He broke the league record on points and assists en route to the 1981 Stanley Cup playoffs against Montreal, 3-0, where he handed over five assists, a single game playoff record, to enter the quarterfinals.
If this was not enough to sow fear in the hearts of the Kings, Gretzky’s vaunted team had met Los Angeles’ neighborhood squad eight times earlier in the regular season, with the Edmontons winning five, losing only once, and drawing the other two.
The Kings were not royalty against the Oilers – they were in fact the absolute underdog. Gretsky and company were on their way to the division finals and it seemed then the “Los Angeles Kings were just a speed bump” they could zoom over.
But not quite. The Los Angeles Kings gave them a flat tire that dashed their division finals hope altogether. Despite his team’s disappointing loss to the Kings, Gretsky’s numbers were not as bad.
Player No. 99 registered a minimum of two points in 61 of 80 games, beating Mike Bossy of the New York Islanders, which had won the prestigious Stanley Cup for the third straight time. Gretsky delivered an amazing 28 goals in the sprint to the league’s top scoring honors, winning the scoring race by 65 points over Bossy. But he would readily give up these honors in exchange for a team championship.
The Debacle on Manchester had outshone what Gretzky had accomplished during the 1981-1982 campaign, which records show “not only the best season of his illustrious career but the greatest individual performance in NHL history”. With Gretzky further improving his game every competition and the Oilers gelling together as a team, it was just a matter of time when they would forget about the 1982 debacle and move on to win the championship.
And in the 1982-1983 season, that’s exactly what happened. Well, almost exactly. After breezing through the division semifinals, division finals, and conference finals with no major humps whatsoever, the Edmontons were now up against three-time champion New York Islanders for the much-coveted Stanley Cup.
On May 17, 1983, however, not even a fired up Oilers could stop the Islanders from claiming their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup. The Islanders scored 2-0; 6-3; 5-1; and 4-2 in four games to win the best of seven championship series, 4-0.
After the loss, Wayne Gretzky, nicknamed “Great One” by the press, and his teammates were too exhausted to pine over the loss, but the disappointment was not as intense as it was in the last season when they lost to the Kings.
They vowed to do better in the next season – and they did. They met the Islanders twice in the finals of the Stanley Cup (1984-1985; 1985-1986), winning both times.
After earning more titles, accolades, and other superlatives, including being the “greatest hockey player ever”, in a playing career that spanned 21 years, Gretzky would like to be remembered only this way: “The highest compliment you can pay me is to say that I work hard every day, that I never dog it”.
Source: NHL lines site Betway