In 1982 I was only 8 years old, but I can remember crying after the Islanders destroyed the Canucks in 4 straight games in the Stanley Cup Finals, ending a miraculous and unexpected playoff run by Vancouver. I have been told by a friend of mine that my older cousin Johnny (R.I.P.) actually kicked his TV off the stand after game 4 was over. I can remember the Canucks never showing any quit, but I can also remember the Islanders dominating in pretty much every area of the game in that Stanley Cup Finals.
The Islanders finished the regular season with 41 more points than the Canucks did in 1982. Vancouver got into the playoffs with a losing record of 30-33-17 but their mutual heroic efforts in that run will forever be etched in my brain, even though the Islanders paraded the Cup around the Pacific Coliseum ice in victory. The fans were disappointed, sure, but it didn't take long for the appreciation to set in.
Even though I was so young at the time, I recently decided to take you back in time once again to that Canucks team, mostly to share with you how that team that played in the Finals was built. Many of you may not have even been born by 1982. So consider this a history lesson to you younger ones, a refresher for others, and/or a trip down memory lane for the older folks.
The GM: Jake Milford. Canucks' GM from 1977-82. Previously the GM of the Los Angeles Kings from 1973-77.
The Coach: Roger Neilson. Nielson, who was the Canucks' assistant coach at the time, replaced Harry Neale as coach because Neale was suspended for 10 games for an altercation with Quebec Nordiques fans with only 5 games left in the season. The Canucks finished the season 4-0-1 under Nielson and stomped their way through the playoffs.
Even after Neale's 10 game suspension was over he let Neilson remain as coach in order to not "jinx anything", according to Wikipedia. Neilson was affectionately dubbed "Captain Video" because he pioneered the use of video to analyze games. He was also the innovator of "Towel Power" in hockey, as he propped a white towel on a hockey stick and waved it in the air in a gesture of surrender to the refs after numerous calls against in game 2 against the Blackhawks in the semifinals. Classic stuff.
-Stan Smyl was drafted 40th overall by the Canucks in 1978. He was called "The Steamer" because of his relentless work ethic. Late in the 1981-82 season Smyl was named captain in replacement of Kevin McCarthy, who wrecked his ankle at practice. Smyl finished 2nd in Canucks scoring in the '82 playoffs with 9 goals and 18 points in 17 games. Just think: Smyl was about 5'9" and weighed about 185 pounds. He was a bulldog.
-Thomas Gradin was drafted 45th overall by the Blackhawks in 1976. Chicago never could lure him to the NHL and so, in 1978, traded him to the Canucks for a 2nd round draft pick in 1980. Gradin was one of the best players outside of the NHL at the time, and proved he could play in the NHL right away after joining the Canucks. In the 1981-82 season, Gradin scored 37 goals and 86 points in 76 games. In the '82 playoff run he led all Canucks with 9 goals and 19 points in 17 games. Unreal. Gradin was 1 of 4 Swedish players on that Canucks team. The others? Anders Eldebrink, Lars Molin and Lars Lindgren. More on those guys in a bit.
-Ivan Boldirev, drafted by the Bruins in round 1 in 1969, was the oldest Canuck. The ol' Yugoslavian was terrifically skilled. He became Chicago's scoring leader after Stan Mikita retired. He put up decent numbers with the Golden Seals, Blackhawks and Flames before being traded to Vancouver, along with Darcy Rota from the Atlanta Flames in exchange for Don Lever and Brad Smith in February 1978. Rota was originally drafted by Chicago in the first round in 1973. He had career years with the Canucks and his contributions to the team were huge. Ironically, both Boldirev and Rota played for the Blackhawks in the mid 70's, both were traded to the Flames and then to the Canucks together. So some familiarity there. Rota would score 6 goals and 9 points in 17 playoff games in 1982 after missing a good chunk of the season with a leg injury.
-The Canucks drafted tough guy Curt Fraser 22nd overall in 1978. He made the club right away and played with fellow rookies Smyl and Gradin. That line remained intact for about 4 years. Fraser was vicious and feared no one. In the 17 playoff games of '82 he scored 3 goals and 10 points along with 98 penalty minutes.
-In 1981 the Canucks signed 2 players out of Czechoslovakia: Center Ivan Hlinka and defenceman Jiri Bubla. This is considered the beginning of the migration of Czechs into the NHL. Hlinka was already 31 years old at the time and was a star in his homeland. Somehow, Hlinka was property of the Winnipeg Jets, so the Canucks handed Winnipeg Brent Ashton and a draft pick as compensation in July of 1981. In 12 playoff games in 1982 Hlinka scored 2 goals and 8 points. Bubla, he of one of the greatest Canucks' names of all time, did not play in the 1982 playoffs. He is the father of Jiri Slegr.
-"Tiger" Dave Williams and Jerry Butler were traded by the Leafs to the Canucks in February 1980 in exchange for Rick Vaive and Bill Derlago. (Geez, we had Vaive AND Derlago?) In hindsight that was a lot for the Canucks to give up, but Williams remains a cult hero in Vancouver for his brawling nature, great sense of humor, riding his stick like a horse after he scored, and even for his decent offensive abilities. Hell, in his first full season as a Canuck he scored 35 goals in 77 games. In the 1981-82 season, Williams scored 17 goals and 38 points in 77 games and then 3 goals and 10 points in 17 playoff games. Williams was a spark plug if there ever was one.
-Scrappy role player Jim Nill was drafted in round 6 in 1978 by the Blues. The Canucks traded Glen Hanlon to the Blues in March of 1982 in exchange for Jim Nill, Rick Heinz, Tony Currie and a 4th round pick. Nill scored 4 goals, 7 points and accumulated 67 penalty minutes in 16 playoff games in 1982. He scored the overtime goal against the Blackhawks in Game 1 of what was back then, the longest game in Canucks' history.
-Lars Molin had a solid rookie season in 1981-82 after signing with the Canucks out of Sweden. He scored 15 goals and 46 points in 72 regular season games and then upped his performance in the 1982 playoffs, scoring 2 goals and 9 assists in 17 games.
-Gary Lupul, known as the "Pride of Powell River" was signed as a free agent by the Canucks. Did you know he was the first NHL player to fight Mario Lemieux? That puts him in God status in my books. Lupul played 10 games in the '82 playoffs and scored 2 goals and 3 assists.
-The Canucks claimed Ron Delorme off waivers in 1981. Delorme was another one of those feisty, gritty role players. He had 2 assists in 15 playoff games in 1982. Delorme is somewhat infamous for bloodying Grant Mulvey in Game 5 of the Semi-Finals against the Blackhawks (see video below post).
-The Crow Marc Crawford was drafted by Vancouver 70th overall in round 4 of the 1980 draft. He was a bottom 6 tough guy who spent most of his time in the minors. However, he did play 14 playoff games in 1982, scoring 1 goal.
-"HARRRROLD" the crowd used to chant. Harold Snepsts is a Canuck legend and was/is a fan favorite. Vancouver drafted him in round 4 (59th overall) in the 1974 draft. Never known for putting up a lot of points, but man was he mean. He was a bruiser. He didn't possess great foot speed but made up for it with his moustache, his in-your-face play and his willingness to drop the gloves at any time necessary. He was a giant by NHL standards back then at 6'3" and about 215 pounds. Harold had 4 assists and 50 penalty minutes in 17 playoff games in 1982.
-Doug Halward was the most offensive defenceman that the Canucks had. He was drafted in round 1 (14th overall) by the Bruins in 1975. He had a tough time cracking the Bruins' deep lineup but showed his offensive abilities with the Kings from 1978-1981. In March of 1981 the Kings traded Halward to the Canucks in exchange for a 5th round draft pick in 1982. Halward spent time with the Dallas Blackhawks of the CHL and with the Canucks in the 1981-82 season. In 37 regular season games with Vancouver that season he scored 4 goals and 13 assists. He sat out the first 2 games of the playoffs and then played the rest of the way, scoring 2 goals and 6 points in 15 games.
-The Canucks signed Lars Lindgren out of Sweden in 1978. Lindgren was born in the same town as Mattias Ohlund (Pitea). He was mostly a defensive defenceman with good size and strength but wasn't so bad offensively either. He scored 2 goals and 6 points in 16 playoff games in 1982.
-It is not listed that Neil Belland was drafted by the Canucks. He had a hard time staying in the NHL, but did play the entire 17 games of the '82 playoffs, recording 1 goal and 7 assists.
-Colin Campbell, current NHL Senior VP of Hockey Operations, was drafted 27th overall by the Penguins in 1973. The Canucks claimed Campbell off waivers from Edmonton in October 1980. Campbell is a do-gooder now, but back then he was a tough guy. In only 89 regular season games played over 2 seasons with the Canucks he scored 1 goal, 16 assists and accumulated 206 penalty minutes. In the 16 playoff games he played in 1982, he had 2 goals, 2 assists and 89 penalty minutes. It was the days of the goons, wasn't it?
-The Canucks have a thing for Swedes. Anders Eldebrink was the 4th roster player to play in the 1982 Finals. The Canucks signed him out of Sweden for the '81-82 season. In 13 playoff games he scored no points.
Who else but the King himself, Richard Brodeur. Like Kirk McLean in 1994, Brodeur really stole the show. He almost won the Conn Smythe Trophy that year. Ironically, Brodeur was drafted by the Islanders 97th overall in 1972. But Brodeur couldn't get much playing time in with the Islanders behind Billy Smith and Chico Resch. In October 1980 the Islanders flogged Brodeur to the Canucks along with a 5th round pick in 1981 (which the Canucks used to pick Moe Lemay) in exchange for a 5th round pick in 1981 (which they selected a fugazi with).
Brodeur's backup was that guy they got in the Hanlon trade..er...Rick Heinze.
What a crew. I swear, more guys on that roster fought than guys that didn't. But you had to be tough back then. The dynasty Islanders were big and mean, but super skilled as well.
One thing I noticed is that the Canucks seemingly did not have a great point presence, where the Islanders had a star like Denis Potvin.
As if this post wasn't long enough already, here are some videos of the 1982 Canucks.
CANUCKS TURN IT ON AND THEN MARCH THROUGH PLAYOFFS
COACH ROGER NIELSON RAISES THE WHITE TOWEL IN SUBMISSION
RON DELORME FIGHTS GRANT MULVEY IN GM 5 OF THE SEMI'S