Marty McSorley worked hard to rid himself of his reputation as a goon early in his career. He worked hard to improve himself as a player, and became very well respected throughout the entire league, both for his on ice play and off ice class.
However that all changed on February 21, 2000.
With less than five seconds left in regulation time and the Canucks cruising to a 5-2 victory over the McSorley's Boston Bruins, the hulking defenseman closed in on fellow tough guy Donald Brashear and took a two-handed swing at the Vancouver forward's head, connecting with his right temple. Brashear dropped like a rock, hit his head on the ice and lay twitching on the ice. Brashear, who was then carried off on a stretched with blood flowing from his nose, suffered a severe concussion but could have suffered much worse.
McSorley, who has a short fuse and a history of violence, crossed the line of what is considered to be "acceptable" acts of violence in a hockey game. The Vancouver RCMP continue to look into assault charges.
McSorley was genuinely apologetic following the game, though that was not enough.
"I'm in shock with what I did," said a contrite McSorley. "That's not the way I want to be remembered as a hockey player.
"I have to reflect upon what I did. I have to come to terms with what I did.
"I've done that with so many guys, so many times, but I don't know what happened," he said. "There's no excuse. I got way too carried away. It was a real dumb play."
McSorley's act was probably the worst act of violence at the NHL level since Rocket Richard attacked Hal Laycoe and a linesmen back in the '50s. For his despicable act, Richard was suspended for the remainder of the regular season and the entire playoffs, sparking the now infamous Richard Riots in Montreal.
No one will be rioting now, but McSorley too got kicked out for the rest of the year. He was banned officially for 23 games plus the playoffs, the harshest penalty handed out by the NHL for an on ice incident to that point in history.
Its an unfortunate exclamation mark at the end of McSorley's career. No one should ever condone what he did, but it is important to tell the story of the rest of McSorley's career as well.
Marty McSorley went undrafted after playing junior hockey with the Belleville Bulls. The Hamilton, Ontario native signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1982 and made the team in 1983-84 as simply a goon. He record 224 penalty minutes. However Marty would spend most of the next season in the minors.
In 1985 he was then traded to the Edmonton Oilers with Tim Hrynewich and later Craig Muni in exchange for goaltender Gilles Meloche. McSorley was brought into Edmonton with the idea that he could be Dave Semenko's eventual replacement as Wayne Gretzky's "bodyguard."
The move to Edmonton proved to be a great move for Marty as he would be part of back to back Stanley Cup championships in 1987 and 1988.
Then came "the trade." Wayne Gretzky, Mike Krushelnyski and McSorley were shipped to Los Angeles for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas and $15 million. McSorley was supposedly a throw in in the deal but some sources say that Wayne Gretzky insisted that his good friend Marty be included.
McSorley brought his bruising physical style to Los Angeles where he became an instant fan favorite. He racked up a 350 penalty minutes his first year and 322 in the following year. But Marty also became a really good player while in Los Angeles. He scored 15 goals and 36 points in 1989-90. 1990-91 saw McSorley tie Theo Fleury with a +48 rating, tops in the NHL. Marty even recorded a six point game against the Vancouver Canucks.
In 19 92-93 McSorley set the Kings record for penalty minutes with 399. It was also the season of the Kings Cinderella run into the Cup Finals. It was the franchises first time in the Finals. Though Marty had a great year and incredible playoffs, McSorley may most be remembered for happened in Game Two of the Finals. With the Kings in position to win and go up 2-0. Montreal coach Jacques Demers took a gamble and won big by asking the referee to check if McSorley was using an illegal curve on his stick. The move paid off for Demers, as the curve was indeed illegal. On the ensuing power play, Montreal scored to send the game into overtime, where they would win the game and tied the series at 1 game apiece.. The call turned the series in Montreal's favor, who would eventually down the upstart Kings to win the Stanley Cup.
Before the 19 93-94 season began, McSorley was traded back to Pittsburgh. Marty had earned a big pay raise and the Kings didn't want to pay the bill, so they sent him packing. It signaled the start of the downfall for LA as the Kings lost their emotional leader.
He played 47 games in Pittsburgh, but struggled. Much to Marty's relief he was traded back to Los Angeles later in the year. Oddly enough Shawn McEacheran was also involved in both trades. Upon his return to La-la-land he set the Kings franchise record for career penalty minutes. He also made a nice pass to Wayne Gretzky on Gretzky's NHL record breaking 802nd NHL goal.
McSorley was traded by the Kings again, this time March 1996 to the New York Rangers. McSorley was a free agent at season's end, so the Rangers were effectively using him as a rental player for the playoff run. As it turned out McSorley would only play 13 games for New York, including just 4 playoff contests.
After that, he signed on with San Jose as a free agent, but was used sparingly due to his lack of foot speed and defensive blunders. McSorley returned to the Edmonton Oilers in 1998-99, and signed with Boston for the 1999-2000 season.
TH will be remembered for his hideous assault on Donald Brasher, which is unfortunate. Marty McSorley was more than a goon. He started out as a goon in Pittsburgh who went on to become Dave Semenko's replacement as Gretzky's bodyguard in Edmonton and later Los Angeles. But a funny thing happened a long the way - McSorley worked his butt off and he turned himself into a fine player, especially during his first tenure with the Kings. In fact, in my opinion, McSorley was the second most dominant LA King in the 1993 Cup run, after of course Wayne Gretzky.
Though he was an awkward skater, Marty learned to play within his limitations, and as soon as he did that he thrived. Originally a winger, Marty is best known for playing defense where he cleared creases and intimidate attacking opponents on a nightly basis. He did possess a heavy shot.
Marty earned great respect around the league for his hard work, his fine team play, and his articulate intelligence off the ice. That all changed because of a sick stick swinging incident that even left McSorley shocked.
"He'll have to live with this for the rest of his life" said Canucks GM Brian Burke. "That's quite a burden."