Barry Melrose, honored during Thursday’s Legends Night ceremony, was quick to recall the highest points – and some lower points – of his coaching tenure when he met with the media during the first intermission of the game against Calgary.
Speaking dearly about Kelly Hrudey, Melrose said “Kelly would’ve been a captain of any team he was ever on. Kelly was a leader in the dressing room. I always use Kelly as my moral compass.” Hrudey, a Hockey Night in Canada analyst and Flames analyst for Rogers Sportsnet, was at Thursday’s Legends Luncheon before working that night’s game at Staples Center.
Speaking of the coaching bug that was revived when he was hired by the Lightning in 2008 – and then let go after 16 games – he said, “Oh, I got the bug, but Tampa Bay took the bug out of me. I think that was like Mongolian Fever I got.”
There was a recollection he shared at the Legends Luncheon about a battle between Tony Granato and Ulf Samuelsson in a game against Pittsburgh. “At the end of the night, there were like 46 slashes to 45 slashes – which one could slash each other one the most?” Melrose recalled.
The invitation to be honored as part of the Kings’ Legends Night series came about when Luc Robitaille revealed the club’s plans last summer.
“I sort of laughed at him, said, ‘Luc, you remember me as a player?’” Melrose joked.
Honored as a coach, Melrose reconnected with television and radio broadcasters Bob Miller and Nick Nickson, and former longtime Kings Security Representative Lou McClary, while sharing a wish that former Kings Assistant Coach Cap Raeder was in town to be a part of the ceremony.
Though the Kings made the Stanley Cup Final in Melrose’s first year behind the bench, they lost four straight games to the Montreal Canadiens after a Game 1 win. Marty McSorley, penalized for an illegally curved stick late in Game 2 that led to an Eric Desjardins power play goal and ultimately a Montreal overtime win that shifted the series’ momentum back in the Canadiens’ favor, was defended deeply by his former coach, who recalled the varied and versatile contributions by the defenseman, who recorded 41 points (and 399 penalty minutes) in the regular season before adding another 10 points (and 60 penalty minutes) in the playoffs.
“Marty takes a lot of heat over that, but we would never have made the finals without Marty,” Melrose said. “He kept the flies off a lot of guys’ backs, he protected a lot of guys, and plus that, he was a very good player. He played forward, played defense. People forget that. We talk about (Dustin) Byfuglien, you talk about (Brent) Burns. Marty did that 30 years ago, playing forward and defense, sometimes the same shift. You couldn’t tell with Marty, really, if he was playing forward or defense, sometimes.”
There were a lot of great recollections about particulars from the 1992-93 season – John Hoven at Mayor’s Manor has the transcript – but one particular observation is worth noting. It’s about elite skaters Corey Millen and Mike Donnelly, and the assertion that they’d have difficulty playing in the modern NHL.
“I disagree,” Melrose said. “I think those guys could play now easier than they played in ’93, because there’s no hooking and holding now. In the ‘90s you could use lassos. Those big wingers used to put their sticks across and hook and hold you all through the neutral zone. Now, there’s no touching. Fast guys now, they have the Life of Riley. They never get touched, they never get slashed. So, Donnelly, Millen, and Granato would eat defensemen up with this style of play.”
Melrose was asked whether the two Stanley Cup banners raised inside Staples Center resurrected any feelings or nostalgia.
“You wish it was three,” he said.