July 13, 2013

1994 Vancouver Canucks: Captain Kirk


The following is an excerpt from my unreleased book: Remembering The 1994 Vancouver Canucks. Please see below for the full table of contents.

Kirk McLean, like most of the Canucks of that era, will always be remembered for his play in the 1994 playoffs. The team struggled through an underachieving regular season, but backed by the brilliance of McLean's puckstopping went all the way to game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals before finally bowing to the New York Rangers.

McLean's signature moment came in round one against Calgary. With the team clawing its way back from a 3 games to 1 deficit, the Canucks forced overtime in game 7. In the extra frame McLean robbed Flames' sniper Robert Reichal with a sliding, stacked-pads toe save that to this day is considered the single most important save of the Canucks history. It is simply known as “The Save.”

But McLean was never better than in game one of the Stanley Cup finals in New York. The Rangers heavily outplayed the underdog Canucks, but McLean, in his classic stand-up style, committed one of the grandest larcenies in the history of Manhattan. His 52 save performance, including 17 stops in overtime, remains one of the most impressive games I've ever seen a goaltender play. In a game where the Rangers could have blown out the Canucks, McLean kept the score 2-2 into overtime where Greg Adams, McLean's trade companion from New Jersey 7 years prior, scored the game winning goal at 19:26 of the first over time.

When the Canucks brought Kirk McLean to Vancouver in 1987 to replace 1982 Stanley Cup playoff hero “King” Richard Brodeur, they had no idea he would duplicate those great playoff moments seven years later.

He did, and like Brodeur before him he left as the greatest goalie in franchise history.

Utilizing his big size, Captain Kirk was one of the last classic stand-up goalies to succeed in the National Hockey League. Canucks radio colour commentator Tom Larscheid described him best: "He's like one of those bubble hockey goalies, always standing perfectly straight and just letting the puck hit him."

His stand up style was ideal for his big frame, although in some ways his style made him unappreciated. While other goalies were acrobatically turning away pucks, "Mac" made all saves look routine by calmly getting in the way of it and making sure the rebound was under control. To the novice fan it looked routine, even boring. But to the hardcore fan it was a pleasure to watch one of the last great stand up goalies.

One of the coolest customers you'll ever meet, McLean seemed unflappable, even in the early years with Vancouver when the team was extremely weak. He had a tremendous glove hand, which made up for vulnerabilities to the low posts. He also loved to handle the puck, usually in the far corner of the rink in what is now part of the restricted zone. He would almost without fail deke out an oncoming forechecker by faking a puck dump behind the net and around to the other corner, but then pull back with a backhanded flip the other way, usually to a waiting Canucks defenseman.

All in all, Kirk McLean was one of the best goalies of the early 1990s. He was a three Vezina trophy nominee (twice he was runner up) and NHL All Star, and he briefly deserved to be mentioned among the likes of Patrick Roy, Bill Ranford, Tom Barrasso and Mike Richter.

Roberto Luongo would come along years later and obliterate McLean’s team records. I do not think there is much debate that Luongo surpassed McLean’s legacy in terms of the franchise’s greatest goalie ever. But for me stand up Kirk McLean will always be my favorite Canucks goalie.

One last thing about McLean: Had the Canucks won the Stanley Cup in 1994, I don’t think there is any question he would have won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player of the Stanley Cup playoffs. He was that good.

June 11th/14th, 1994 - The Highs, The Lows

Bure-ing The Flames
The Russian Rocket
Captain Kirk

Shooting Down The Stars
The Elbow
The Mighty Pat Quinn
Cliff Ronning: The Little Man That Could

Be-Leaf It Or Not!
Forever A Canuck: Trevor Linden
Greg Adams! Greg Adams!

New York: All The World Is A Stage
The Penalty Shot
Nathan Lafayette And That Damn Goal Post
What A Mess!
Doug Lidster: The Lone Ranger
It Was A Riot!

June 15th, 2011: Looking Back At 1994

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