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Killer Curves: How Marty McSorley's stick may have turned the tides in 1993

Trailing by a game in the finals, and by a goal in the second game of the series, Marty Mcsorley's stick may have been the thing that turned it all around for the Canadiens. Late in the third period, Jacques Demers called for a measurement of Mcsorley's stick.

Kerry Fraser measuring the stick
Kerry Fraser measuring the stick

Hockey is a game that constantly evolves, be it through rule changes, or new technologies that allow for improved equipment. As the world, and the game have progressed through the years, people have always found a way to look at the game and make changes to try and improve it.

This is true for things like helmets, which took a long time to catch on and be used league-wide. For the goalie mask, which prior to Jacques Plante getting his face smashed with a puck were used by nobody. Heck, Toe Blake didn't even want Plante wearing the mask during games at first because he felt it would impair his ability to play well. You look at Plante's first ever mask, and the ones that are worn today, and that is enough to show you how far technology has brought the game. And, what was once something a coach didn't even want his player to wear is now something you can't imagine not seeing.

Curved sticks is another thing that didn't previously exist. I was born in 1990 so I never played with a straight stick and I can't imagine it. I even used to put my mini sticks to the stove to warp them into a curve, being so familiar with that form of stick. It wasn't until the late 50's that people started to look at the hockey stick and wonder how to improve it. The idea of the curved stick was popularized by two players: Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita (A time magazine article from 1969 claims that it was Mikita, and not Hull, who originally came up with the idea.) Both players became known for using curved sticks and it eventually caught on league-wide.

Regardless of who invented the curved stick, it is now the only type of stick you see used by NHL players. Nowadays, players vary in terms of how they structure their curves, and slight tweaks have become a way for players to change the way they shoot. This is what led to the rule that a stick could only be curved to a certain degree. The idea was to prevent players from having a curve to their stick that provided them with an unfair playing advantage. The rule has since been eliminated, but for a time a coach was able to ask for a measurement of a player's stick, and that player would be assessed a penalty if the curve was deemed to be illegal.

This is exactly what happened in 1993. The story goes that General Manager Serge Savard was in a corridor near the ice surface. An L.A. Kings staff member had to carry all the sticks through this corridor and put them down for a bit near the Canadiens dressing room. According to Savard, it was apparent that nearly all of their sticks were illegal. I'm not sure if he conveyed that message to Jacques Demers but the point is a lot of players (on all teams really) used illegal curves back when the rule was around.

With Montreal trailing 1-0 in the series they badly needed a win in this second game of the final series. But, as the game progressed, they were having a tough time and couldn't seem to bury any goals on Kelly Hrudey. Down 2-1 late in the third, Captain Guy Carbonneau had a wicked good idea. He suggested to Demers that he ask the ref for a measurement on the stick of one Marty McSorley. The stick was illegal, and Mcsorley was sent to the box for a deuce. On that powerplay, Eric Desjardins scored his second goal of the game, sending the tilt to overtime. In the extra frame, Desjardins would pick up the hat trick, winning the game and evening up the series at one apiece. He is to this day the only rearguard to score three goals in a Stanley Cup Finals game.

Multiple accounts from players and coaches state that after the penalty, a good number of players on both sides proceeded to switch their sticks. Calling for a measurement on an opposing player's stick was not something that happened every game, so a lot of guys felt comfortable playing with illegal curves. But, on this night in 1993, Carbonneau and Demers expertly took advantage of a rule that it seems most players in the game were not following.

As you may already know, the Habs won the next three games (another two in overtime) and the Stanley Cup. So, was the McSorley penalty the thing that propelled the Habs to glory? You be the judge. It is evident to me though, that this penalty had a massive effect on the series. If not for the call, the Habs would most likely have gone down 2-0, and would be leaving the comfort of the Forum for the next two games. I think that without this penalty, there's only 23 banners in the Bell Centre rafters.