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35 Years Ago: The Own Goal

When I think of the biggest gaffes in sports history, I think of the usual suspects.

Zinedine Zidane head-butting Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup Final, Steve Bartman in the 2003 NLCS, the Atlanta Falcons blown 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI, The Yankees blown 3-0 ALCS series lead over the Boston Red Sox in 2004, Bill Bucker’s blunder, JR Smith running out the clock in a tied NBA Finals game, the Seahawks throwing the ball from the one yard line with Super Bowl XLIX on the line, Scott Norwood going “wide right,” or even the 1994 World Cup own goal by Andres Escobar that led to his team losing and Escobar losing his life.

In the hockey world I think of the Patrik Stefan missed empty net goal, Patrick Roy’s showboating that led to a Avalanche series loss, the Islanders’ Alexei Yashin and Rick DiPietro contracts, and the Leafs blown 4-1 lead against the Bruins in the third period of game 7.

I feel like I use the photo in articles a lot. Sorry Leaf fans.

And of course, Steve Smith’s own goal.

That’s right, this article is appearing 35 years to the day that Edmonton Oilers could have beaten the Calgary Flames in game seven (or even earlier if you talk to Oilers fans). 35 years since Steve Smith accidentally interrupted a dynasty that could potentially have won every year from 1984-1990, and did win five of those seven seasons (1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1990).

Just think about the circumstances entering that season.

The Oilers were back-to-back defending Stanley Cup Champions. Wayne Gretzky set records with 163 assists and 215 points in a single season. He ran away with the Hart Trophy that season and defenseman Paul Coffey put up a career-high 138 points. Jari Kurri led the league with 68 goals. In total the Oilers had four players who had over 100 points (along with Gretzky and Coffey, Kurri had 131 points and Glenn Anderson posted 102 points).

Also, for a bit of perspective on that Gretzky record, of his 215 points he had 163 assists. The next highest point-getter that year was Mario Lemieux with 141 total points. Gretzky had 22 more assists than Lemieux had points. Absolutely incredible.

With their high-octane offence led by coach Glen Sather, the Oilers ran through a great regular season, finishing 56-17-7.

That led to an easy first round series against the Vancouver Canucks, in fact Glenn Anderson scored only 38 seconds into the first round series. Coffey scored less than two minutes later and the Oilers cruised to a 7-3 opening win – followed by two 5-1 wins in the best of five series for a three game sweep.

Then came the Flames.

Edmonton Oilers winger Glenn Anderson, right, mixes it up in front of the Calgary Flames net, being guarded by goalie Mike Vernon, left, and defencemen Al MacInnis (#2) and Jamie Macoun (#34), during NHL action at the Saddledome on April 22, 1986. Photo: MIKE PINDER /Edmonton Journal

The Flames had finished second in the division to the Oilers. Whereas Edmonton had an incredible amount of talent on their top two lines (four 100+ point scorers with zero 100 point scorers on Calgary), they lacked the depth Calgary had (eight 50+ point players compared to Edmonton’s five.

Heading into the series, it was fairly obvious Edmonton were heavy favourites. They finished first in the division and first in the league, they had the league MVP, the leagues, top goal-scorer, and the league’s best defenseman. Oh, and they had won 18 straight playoffs games at home in the Northlands Coliseum.

Right away Calgary showed they were going to prove a challenge however, with Lanny McDonald scoring only a minute and a half (1:26) into the first period of game one that ended up a 4-1 Calgary win.

If you get a chance to use a photo of Lanny McDonald, you do it.

The Oilers and Flames would trade off every game in the series with Calgary winning games one, three, and five and Edmonton closing out wins in games two, four, and six. That meant a game seven in one of hockey’s best rivalries.

The Oilers again were favoured, being at home and boasting so many great weapons. This time, however, the odds were a lot closer.

Things didn’t start well for Edmonton, with Calgary scoring twice to take 2-0 lead that they held until midway through the second period. The Oilers bounced back with goals from Anderson and Mark Messier to take the tie into the third period. It looked the all the momentum was in Edmonton’s favour.

However, only a few minutes into the third period disaster struck.

Steve Smith was a rookie who was only filling in for former Oiler captain Lee Fogolin due to an injury Fogolin suffered earlier in the series. He had played admirably in his fill-in games and would go on to have a long career in the NHL.

None of that would matter after the 5:14 mark in the third period.

Smith took the puck behind Grant Fuhr’s net and tried to make a pass up the ice. That’s when it happened.

The pass went through the crease and hit Fuhr’s leg, who was getting back into the net after stopping the puck for Smith.

It trickled back into the net. Smith had scored on his own net. The Flames led 3-2 with less than 15 minutes left in the game. Smith fell to the ice, shocked, knowing his massive mistake.

From that point on the Oilers had the wind taken from their sails, while Calgary while a newfound lead and confidence. The Oilers were devastated and couldn’t put it together to pull out another goal from any of the amazing talents on its roster.

The Flames closed it out and won the game 3-2, and the series 4-3. They would play Montreal in the finals where a rookie named Patrick Roy stole the show, staving off Calgary champagne celebrations for three more years (1989).

The Oilers became The Dynasty That Never Was.

Smith on his knees after scoring on his own net while the Flames celebrate their unexpected turn of fortune.
Steve Auld

Steve Auld

My name is Steve and I am from the very noble Auld clan of Niagara, where we respect our elders and follow the golden rules: elbows up, and keep your stick on the ice. When not tearing up beer league or ball hockey, I enjoy the occasional downtime I have with my fiancΓ©e and son. Love me some music too, all kinds. If you feel I did a good job or you want to argue, feel free to leave a comment!
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