May 27, 1993: Why It Still Hurts

Editor's Note: I was reminded of this game originally last year while trawling around LeafsTV. I've been waiting almost an entire year to put together something a bit bigger and here it is with some massive help from Down Goes Brown and the incredible foresight that had him not only tape every Leafs game (apparently) but to know that it was worth fighting his mom and wife to keep them just in case that interwebs thing took off.

Leafs fans are well aware just how hard it is to make it to the Final let alone win a Stanley Cup. Sure, the Red Wings make things look really easy and random teams seem to make the Final every year but to repeatedly be turned away from that matchup at the final hurdle gives us a special perspective. When your team has stood at the threshold four times in less than a decade and been locked out you realize that along with having a strong team you need a good dose of luck. Sometimes it's a goal that goes in off a defender's knee in overtime (Kris Letang) or an entire conference rolling over to get their tummies rubbed (ottawa senators). Sometimes you just need a human being to have the courage to make a difficult decision.

In another universe today is a major day for Leafs fans for a good reason. It is the day that the rapidly breaking down captain saw a chance for his team to make it to the final and did everything in his power to make it happen. In another universe this clip is being shown to highlight that legend's determination:


This was a game that had varying effects on Leaf fans. It was certainly an interesting exercise to compile the memories of some members of the Barilkosphere.

Alec Brownscombe (Maple Leafs Hot Stove) saw his belief in conspiracy theories emerge that day:

Kerry Fraser and Collins will be forever burned in my memory as the horsemen of the apocalypse.  Wendel was superhuman that series – limping around the gardens before game time, jumping in off the bench to score a hat trick, straightening out McSorley on a semi regular basis. It was hockey nirvana – until the striped shirts conspired to ignore a blatant high stick, on the basis apparently that the Special One would never do anything like that. As a matter of fact, when I slow down the replay – I think I can see Fraser mouthing those very words. Personally, this incident marks the official start of my nhl-delusional-paranoia syndrome. Every year at the draft lottery, when I can't see those allegedly random ball drops, I remember this '93 conspiracy as the start of the competitive rot in the WWE KHL NHL.

Eyebeleaf (Sports and the City) crossed into the land of the die-hards and saw his belief in destiny dented:

A severe injustice occurred that fateful night, 16 years ago. I was only 10-years-old, and I'm not sure I quite understood the magnitude of it at the time. I was young, and full of hope. Not jaded. I simply figured a birth in the finals, and the winning of the Stanley Cup, was guaranteed with Doug Gilmour at the helm of the Toronto Maple Leafs. If not in 1993, eventually.

I watched game six at home, with my 13-year-old brother. (There's nothing like a west coast start-time in the playoffs.) The Leafs' 1993 playoff run - three seven game series - had captivated us, and had led us across the bridge from casual fandom to die-hard. It was impossible not to be enthralled by the '93 Leafs, Wendel Clark's performance in game six part of the reason why.

Clark should have had an opportunity on the power play to score his fourth goal of the game that night and, in the process, send the Maple Leafs to the Stanley Cup final. Instead, Kerry Fraser chose to interfere with destiny. A blatant high stick; a preposterous non-call; two incredulous and very upset young boys; Toronto's own little asterisk.

Looking back, while no Leafs team has come closer, I'm reminded of a quote by the Roman philosopher, Seneca:

"Injustice never rules forever."

Preach on, brother. When the Toronto Maple Leafs do win the Stanley Cup, and it will happen, a lifetime of cursing Kerry Fraser will be washed away. All will be forgiven.

But until then, he can go fuck himself.

Mf37 (Bitter Leaf Fan) remembers that there was one person in Toronto that played a huge part in motivating the Great One:

Believe it or not, I don’t remember much about game six of the Leafs Kings playoff match back in 1993. I know I watched game six, but I couldn’t tell you where I was or who I was with. 

I’d like to think I was livid at Kerry Fraser for his blown call. I’d like to tell you that Gretzky’s high stick on Doug Gilmour is seared into my memory like some sort of Zapruder film ("back and to the left"), but I’d be lying if I told you it was so. 

You see, I was so thoroughly convinced that the Leafs would win game seven that I thought it was best to just put game six behind me. Nothing to see here, just another bad Leaf bounce, just another blown call by the notorious Kerry Fraser. I honestly thought a Leafs-Habs match-up was just too good for the Hockey Gods to pass-up. 

Now game seven I remember. There’s a game that’s seared into my mind like a red hot medallion clutched in the soft pink palm of a Nazi.

I have often dreamt of a Leaf victory in game seven. A dream so palpable that I have stepped out of bed convinced the Leafs did indeed come back and were going on to the Stanley Cup Finals. 

But it’s not to be. 

And I am bitter about that. 

But my bitterness is not for Kerry Fraser. No, my bitterness is reserved one for Mr. Bob McKenzie who penned the infamous article headlined: "Gretzky Playing As If He's Got A Piano On His Back" And if the header's not enough, the body went on to say:

Now just one loss away from elimination, the Kings could desperately use some old-fashioned Gretzky pyrotechnics to light up the Leafs in Game 6 at the Great Western Forum and send it back here for Game 7 at the Gardens on Saturday night.

Yeah, that’s exactly what this series needed: some bulletin board inspiration for the opposition. And the media tells us it’s the fans are to blame for the Leafs’ failures.

As we all know, Gretzky went on to score the overtime winner in game six and net three more goals in game seven, including the winner from in back of the net, bounced in off Dave Ellet’s skate. 

The Leafs mounted a late comeback in game seven but it was not enough. 

And so we wait. 

And when the Leafs get close again, and they will, I may be a little difficult to track down (and there will also be an empty chair on the TSN panel).

RudyKelly (Battle of California), SBN's resident Kings blogger and natural foil to Earl Sleek, has a bit of a different memory. While picking at 16 year old scabs he also reminds us that Kerry Fraser still had one last part to play in a terrible Spring for Leaf fans:

Toronto fans are such whiners.  I mean, seriously, one guy allegedly strikes another in the face with his stick and they act like the world ended on that day.  First off, even if Wayne Gretzky did hit Doug Gilmour it still should have been allowed.  He's Wayne Gretzky.  He's allowed to impale Gilmour on a spit if he's so inclined.  (Besides, everyone outside of Toronto wants to punch Gilmour in the face.  He looks like a Bond henchman.)  Second, it helped my team so go to hell.
 
But say Gretzky did hit Gilmour in the face, and say the Maple Leafs go on to win that game (you people act like Gilmour was on a breakaway against an empty net when he got clipped), you should still feel relatively happy.  Sure, there was some Canadian storyline that got screwed up, but think about how huge that series was here in the States.  Gretzky's hat trick was more important to my development as a man than that time my uncle asked me to take a shower with him.  Thousands of kids watched that series and became hockey fans, and as a direct result we have thriving hockey teams in towns like San Jose, and Los Angeles, and Anaheim, and Phoe- wait, scratch that last one.
 
The point is, nobody cares about your whining.  It's not like Gretzky's stick affected Gilmour's chance to score in Game 7 and if your team wasn't filled with losers like Wendell Clark and Mike Krushelnyski then maybe you would have won.  A penalty (or lack thereof) doesn't make a series and you should be ashamed that you have let such an insignificant play stay with you for so long.  Now, about Marty McSorley's stick blade...

Down Goes Brown (Eponymous) exhorts Leaf fans to never forget the past despite the impending deluge of stories about Kerry Fraser's career once he retires:

There are plenty of people out there who think Leaf fans make too big a deal out of the Fraser non-call, and should just learn to move on. They're wrong. If anything, Fraser got off easy.
 
Look, bad calls happen all the time. Sometimes a referee will just miss a play -- after all, they can't be looking everywhere at once. And sometimes they make a split-second judgement call that turns out to be wrong. Those things happen. That stuff is part of the game, and fans should get over it and move on.
 
But that's not what happened here. Fraser wasn't screened on the play, despite what he tried to claim later. And there was no judgement call to be made. If Gretzky's stick cuts Gilmour, and it's not on a follow-through, it's five and a game. End of story.
 
So it's not that Fraser missed a play or made a bad call. It's far worse. He just intentionally chose not to call the penalty that the rulebook said he had to. And he chose that because he didn't have the guts to make a tough call in a tough situation. He had the spotlight on him, and he choked.
 
Years later, he claimed he was blocked on the play. Not only was that an obvious lie, but it implied that his linesmen (who could also make the call on a high-stick) were to blame. So he's a coward, a liar, and a guy who'll throw his co-workers under the bus to get the heat off himself.
 
If Fraser actually comes clean about the play one day, then maybe Leaf fans will move on. Until then, he deserves to have it follow him the rest of his career and beyond. It's his legacy.

In my case, this was definitely the Spring where my love of the Leafs moved from obsessive to pervasive. It has been a part of defining me ever since. As the month of May inched towards June the Leafs' playoff run began to pick up momentum. Back-to-back seven game victories over the Red Wings and the Blues sent the Leafs to their first conference final against Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings. For a 10 year old whose only memories of the playoffs up to that point involved scouring the television in Florida for highlights of a first round exit this playoff run cemented an unbreakable bond with the Leafs.

Forty-eight hours earlier the Leafs won game five in overtime to put the team one win away from ending 25 years (at that point, geez) of wandering through the hockey wilderness. The Leafs got a dream start to game six as Glen Anderson scored less than a minute into the game. The Kings tied up the game but the team's belief received a huge boost as Wendel Clark scored his first goal of the game to give the Leafs a 2-1 lead in the second period.

Then Fraser struck for the first time. Much is made of his famour call but as the Kings put three power play goals past the Leafs in the second period the number of questionable (and one downright criminal) penalties that Helmet Head called put a dent in the hopes of Leaf fans.  Then came the kind of third period that would have taken on mythological proportions if the Leafs had won the game. Wendel pulled the Leafs to within one before completing his hat-trick with the Leafs' net empty on a wicked wrister over Kelly Hrudey's glove.

The Leafs were one shot away from setting up a dream matchup against the Montreal Canadiens. Then came The CallDGB has the perfect visual representation of the gutlessness of Kerry Fraser: 

Fraser_lies_medium

Take a look at the video to get the full effect of the cowardice of Kerry Fraser:

 

The worst part of watching the video was seeing how quickly Helmet Head tried to put the weight of the decision on the shoulders of his linesmen. While he clearly had a perfect view of Gretzky's transgression he abdicated his responsibility and passed the buck. Wayne Gretzky himself can be seen on the video looking upset because he knows he's supposed to get tossed. All year a high stick that drew blood was a five minute major and a game misconduct. All year. Or at least until Mrs. Fraser's case of spontaneous myopia. On the route to a championship a team needs a certain amount of luck. Some teams win ten games in overtime while others have the greatest hockey player of all time remain in the game despite cutting Doug Gilmour's chin with his stick.

Of course, we all know how things played out. The Kings picked up their fourth powerplay goal of the game courtesy of The High Sticking One and he finished rubbing salt into the gaping wound by playing, by his own admission, the greatest game of his career in game seven to rob Toronto, the country of Canada, and hockey lovers around the world of what would possibly have been the greatest Stanley Cup Final in history.

Some fans wonder why the Leafs' faithful would hold onto such a painful memory for so long. Most will be huge dicks about it. They are likely bandwagon fans. Having everything come together for a title is rare for the vast majority of teams and players. Dan Marino probably thought he'd get a chance to make good on his Super Bowl loss in 1984. The Orlando Magic were a young team on the verge of greatness when they made the final. The Buffalo Bills would surely win their Super Bowl the fourth time. You never know what will happen in sports so the smallest detail grows in importance because that could have been the year.

That is why Kerry Fraser's non-call is so difficult to swallow especially to a fan like me who was encountering human error in sports for the first time. The Leafs have had other opportunities to get to the Final and game seven in that series is a wound all unto itself but in the 42 years since the Leafs lifted the Cup in 1967 have never seen the team closer to the final than May 27, 1993.

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