For you Canucks fans who are too young to know about it or have a short term memory, like I do, here is a great story that happened in the infamous 1981-82 season, where Canucks Head Coach Harry Neale gets into a tussle with a Quebec Nordiques fan.
-The late great Roger Neilson was brought on board (away from the Sabres) to be assistant coach to Neale.
-The Canucks had 9 Europeans on their team, after acquiring Jiri Bubla and Ivan Hlinka from Winnipeg and Colorado respectively via the trade route. That was considered a lot of Euros at that time. (Just an F.Y.I.)
-Kevin McCarthy was the captain of the team. Stan Smyl was in his sophomore season and recorded 78 points. Thomas Gradin became the first Canuck ever to reach the 80-point plateau in a season, reaching that milestone during that Nordiques game. (Sad, isn't it? It took a Nucks player 12 years to finally reach that milestone) He finished the season with 86 points.
-In the previous season, the Canucks were great on the road and terrible at home. The '81-82 season was more or less the opposite, prompting Harry Neale to quote the famous line: "Last year we couldn't win at home. This season we can't win on the road. My failure as a coach is, I can't think of any place else to play."
By Game 75, the Canucks had a 26-33-16 record. On March 18, 1982 the Canucks beat the Habs 4-2, ending Montreal's sickening 27-game unbeaten streak at home. 2 nights later they were locked in a 3-3 tie with the Quebec Nordiques when the Harry Neale incident happened.
I will quote Canucks Central on this one:
It began, as most Canuck incidents seemed to, with Dave Williams doing something. On this occasion, he ran Peter Stastny into the boards. Wilf Paiement (the younger brother of ex-Canuck Rosaire Paiement) came to Stastny's aid, pinning Tiger's face against the glass. This prompted a fan to reach around the glass by the Canuck bench and take a poke at Williams. And this prompted Harry Neale to run across the bench and take a swing at the fan. From there, all hell broke loose. In the end, the NHL suspended Harry Neale for ten games and Roger Neilson replaced him.
Here is the video footage of the event:
The Canucks finished the season 4-0-1 under Neilson, and 6-0-3 in their final 9 games under both coaches. You know what happened in the playoffs that year: A whole bunch of ass kicking (it only took Vancouver 13 games to get to the Finals: 3-0 sweep of the Flames, 4-1 over the Kings and 4-1 over the Blackhawks. There was the emergence of Stan Smyl as leader* and Neilson as head coach of the team, the legend of Richard Brodeur solidified, the birth of towel power in hockey, and unfortunately a 4-0 sweep demise to the New York Islanders in the Finals.
I was only 8 years old at the time. I can remember growing a hate for Mike Bossy because he was just so damned good and a Canuck-killer. Same with Billiy Smith I can also remember crying (while my dad probably did everything within to restrain himself from kicking a hole in the TV set after this):
Damn that still stings.
It's amazing how certain events can inspire a team to charge for the Stanley Cup. In 1982, the Canucks started rolling near the end of the season with Harry Neale, then the suspension happened, and Captain Video Roger Neilson took the reins. It was a great example of a tight TEAM.
*Captain Kevin McCarthy broke his ankle just before the 1982 playoffs started.