Tonight “my guy” is honoured….and I don’t mean John.
I mean the best, the most wonderful hockey player in the world….Wendel Clark.
Tonight his jersey gets raised to the rafters.
Leafs don’t retire jerseys per se. They honour them. And tonight is all about Wendel Clark and his #17.
I’m going to post a blog not written by me but Every Leaf fan remembers this moment.
On November 22, Wendel Clark’s #17 will be raised to the rafters as the team honours its former captain and arguably the most popular player in franchise history.
In the lead up to that night, Down Goes Brown will feature a countdown of Wendel’s Top 17 Greatest Moments.
Leaf fans knows the scene by heart. Game one of the Campbell Conference finals, the LA Kings visiting the Gardens. The Leafs are cruising to a win late in the third. Doug Gilmour cuts across the blueline with his head down, and Marty McSorley steps into him. Maybe it’s an elbow, maybe not. Gilmour goes down, stick flying through the air, and he stays down.
And suddenly all the optimism of a miracle season is gone. Dougie’s hurt. Fans who were dreaming about a Stanley Cup moments ago can only stare in horror. Marty McSorley has just taken out the Leafs franchise player.
Wendel Clark is a first liner, McSorely is a hired goon. Doesn’t matter.
Wendel is at the end of a shift. Doesn’t matter.
Wendel is worn out and broken down, spending four hours a day on the trainer’s table just to be able to suit up. Doesn’t matter.
Wendel is half McSorley’s size, giving up at least three inches and over 40 lbs. Doesn’t matter.
The best player on the team is down and out, crumpled on the ice, and the other side’s goon is standing over top of him. That’s what matters. That’s all that matters.
This list has featured more than a few examples of Wendel Clark laying guys out, and I’ve made a point of noting the reactions of various teammates. Stu Grimson’s ridiculous “hold me back” routine. Keith Brown’s comedic refusal to get involved. The two Devils who tackle each other instead of going after Wendel. Charlie Bourgeois dropping the gloves, then quickly changing his mind.
Each one of those guys knew what they had to do. And when the time came, each one hesitated and backed off. Can you blame them? After all, it’s easy to talk about doing the right thing. It’s a lot harder to actually do it.
Not for Wendel Clark. Not this time.
He sees the play unfold, watches Gilmour go down. He takes one look over his shoulder to see where the linesmen are. He doesn’t even break stride.
No questions. No hesitation.
Most people will tell you that Clark heads straight for McSorely, but that’s not quite true. If you the watch closely, you’ll see that he takes a slightly wider angle than he needs to. That’s because McSorley has turned slightly from the impact, and Clark doesn’t want to come in from the side. He wants him to make sure Marty sees him coming.
Bob Cole’s call is one of the most memorable of his career, one that Leaf fans still know by heart:
“Gilmour was hit inside the line by McSorley, and this is going to draw Clark and McSorley into a ruckus. They’re throwing punches, and OH! CLARK IS NAILING MCSORLEY!”The fight is an instant classic. Clark connects early with one of the hardest punches in hockey history. McSorely, to his credit, absorbs the shot and stays on his feet, although the punch decimated half of his face as captured in a memorable front page photo the next day. The two trade shots in a marathon bout, Clark dominating early and McSorley gaining an advantage later once he slithers out of his overly-loose jersey (a cowardly trick that almost every tough guy of the day used, even Probert, but never Clark).
Todd Gill and Dave Taylor fight on the undercard. Gilmour challenges the Kings bench. McSorley challenges a cameraman. Pat Burns challenges Barry Melrose. The Garden fans go insane.
If you saw the game, you don’t need me to tell you what it was like. You remember. You’ll always remember that moment.
The moment that Wendel Clark looked across the ice at a fallen teammate and did exactly what a captain should do. The moment that Wendel Clark dropped the gloves with a giant and taught him a lesson about respecting the Maple Leaf. The moment that somehow managed to perfectly capture everything that Wendel Clark meant to a team, a city, and generation of fans.
The top Wendel Clark moment of all-time.
Now if I can find the picture from the next morning of McSorley’s face you’d all see that Clark was the winner. They called it a McSorley win but I beg to differ.