Few other players or coaches spent such little time with the Los Angeles Kings and made such a lasting impression. Hired out of the Detroit Red Wings minor league system, Barry Melrose arrived to coach hockey at the Forum in 1992. Few had heard of him, although everybody knew his biggest star. With Wayne Gretzky already surrounded by several elite forwards, Melrose helped round out the roster with what he called plumbers and pipefitters, guys with supreme character. In less than 12 months, the Kings were in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.
Along the way, he had a major goaltending controversy, the greatest player in the game missed several months to start the season, significant trades took place, young stars emerged, and then it all disappeared just two years later. The most recognizable face of ESPN’s hockey coverage for the past two decades, Melrose returned to Los Angeles on Thursday night to be honored by the team. After the first period, he shared the following comments…
On Kelly Hrudey:
“I should have thought about this before Vancouver, but Kelly would have been a captain of any team he was every on. Kelly was the leader in the dressing room. I always use Kelly as my moral compass. If I brought a new guy to the team, I would let him be in the dressing room for a while and then I would call Kelly in, and I’d say, ‘Kelly, what do you think about this guy?’ Because I always knew, if Kelly Hrudey didn’t like him, I didn’t want him on this team. Kelly was so fair and such a good guy, everyone loved him. I just knew that he had a good beat on that person in the dressing room, so I always used him to just bring him in and talk to him about the new guys or if a guy was having a problem. It was never about snitching or anything like that. [He is a] great guy, great competitor, great leader.“
On goaltenders Robb Stauber and Rick Knickle:
“Robb Stauber [had] immense talent… I knew [him] from the American League. Rob was in New Haven when I was coaching in Adirondack and the guy was great. I did my background on him, [knowing he was] college hockey’s first goaltender ever to win the Hobey Baker Award. I saw him play. I knew this guy could flat out play. He was an asset and I want to let him know that if he came and did the things that he was supposed to, he was going to get some ice time, and he did… Rick Knickle was a great story. He hadn’t played in the NHL. I had some buddies in the International League, actually Bruce Boudreau. I called Gabby, I said I had to find a goalie, we’re beat up. He said, ‘Give this Knickle guy a try, for a backup goaltender, the guy is unbelievable. He’s always the best goaltender in the IHL; just nobody has given him a chance to play in the NHL’. So I brought him here and he won some big games for us.”
On adding Gary Shuchuk to the team, a player he first had in the minor leagues coming out of college:
“I still think up until the couple of overtime goals the Kings scored [in last season’s playoffs], his double-overtime winner in Vancouver was the biggest goal in LA Kings history… [We had] Warren Rychel, Patty Conacher, Dave Taylor. When I got here, Dave Taylor was a role player. Dave Taylor in his prime was one of the best players in the NHL, but he was still such an important player to our team, in the dressing room, on the ice. I played him with Rychel and Conacher as a shutdown line, and he was very, very important in whatever he did. Stars are easy to like, but for a guy like me, I fall in love with the guys that pay the biggest price. Those guys are always my favorite guys on the team.”
On if Corey Millen and Mike Donnelly would have a tough time playing in today’s NHL:
“I disagree. I think those guys could play now easier than they played in ’93 because with the rule [changes], there is no hooking and holding now. In the ‘90s you could use lassoes. Those big wingers would put their sticks across and hook and hold you all through the neutral zone. Now, there is no touching. Fast guys now, they have the Life of Riley. They never get touched, they never get slashed. So, Donnelly, Millen, and [Tony] Granato would eat defensemen up with this style of play.”
On Granato’s dirty work back in the day:
“When Tony played against Ulf Samuelsson, at the end of the night it was like 46 slashes to 45 slashes. Which one could slash each other the most? Tony was great, a great competitor. One of my favorite guys.”
On if Tomas Sandstrom is underrated or overrated:
“Very underrated. Tomas Standstrom is a great hockey player. A great guy. I remember they always called him a Chicken-Swede, but Thomas was brave. When we went to the Finals, Toomas was second in scoring in the playoffs. Played great. So very underrated. Tomas was an immense talent.”
On what he would do differently he could go back to the playoffs in 1993:
“I’d be the smartest guy in the world. I’d check one more stick. Marty [McSorley] takes a lot of heat over that [curved stick vs. Montreal], but we would never had made the [Stanley Cup] Final without Marty. He kept the flies off a lot of guy’s back; he protected a lot of guys – plus that, he was a very good player. He played forward, played defense, people forget. We talk about [Dustin] Byfuglien, we talk about [Brent] Burns – Marty did that 30 years ago. He was playing forward and defense, sometimes in the same shift. We couldn’t tell if Marty was playing forward or defense sometimes, but that was a great group of guys.”
In part two with Melrose (available here), he talks about Slava Voynov, the NHL in Las Vegas, Bruce McNall, role players vs. skill, and much more.
Also, we have a ton of content centering on those early ’90s Melrose-coached teams – including some rather raw comments from Hrudey, Stauber, and Shuchuk – linked below. Do yourself and favor and check them out, as well.
MayorsManor Live – McSorley opens up, Luc reflects, and Bruce McNall stops by
Hugging the post with Kelly Hrudey – what really went down back then
MayorsManor Podcast featuring Tony Granato – talking Kings memories
1993: Looking Back at the NHL’s Best 7-Game Series Ever – Kings vs Maple Leafs
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