The Detroit Free Press called it an “improbable, tense, weird game,” and the Vancouver Province described it as “one of the most bizarre National Hockey League games the team has been involved in over the 12-year history of the franchise.” For most of the game on February 11, 1982, the 11,117 Red Wings fans at Joe Louis Arena enjoyed themselves. Then, in the third period, referee Kerry Fraser called not one but two penalty shots for the visiting Vancouver Canucks.
The first call came at 5:55 in the third “after a goal-crease scramble in front of Detroit netminder Gilles Gilbert.” According to Fraser, “The puck was grabbed by a hand. It slid under (Jody) Gage’s leg. That is a penalty shot, awarded to a player on the ice at the time.” As Gage saw it, “I was pushing someone out of the crease. He fell. I fell. I fell on the puck. I don’t know if I touched it or not.” After the game, Detroit’s coach, Wayne Maxner, watched the replay repeatedly and heatedly claimed, “Look, on the first one he’s already blown his whistle to stop the play before he awards the penalty shot. Then he makes the call when he gets behind the net. Hell, he can’t even see over the net, he’s too short.” His counterpart for Vancouver, Coach Harry Neale, stated, “The first one was a good call.” The Vancouver Sun stated, “The replay in the press box immediately after the call clearly showed that Gage had covered the loose puck with his glove.”
Since the player had to be on the ice at the time, Thomas Gradin took the penalty shot. He said afterwards, “I came in thinking two things. If he slides, put it behind him along the ice. If he drops, put it between his legs. He slid.” As the Detroit Free Press described the play, Gradin “faked Gilbert to his left, and pushed the puck through to the opposite side.” What’s more, Gradin followed that up with another goal in the last five minutes of the game.
For the last minute or so of the game, Vancouver pulled goalie Richard Brodeur, and Detroit nearly scored on the empty net. Instead, according to the Free Press recap, “Stan Smyl picked it, raced in on Gilbert, but was tripped from behind by Huber. Smyl rammed hard into the goal post, and had to be helped from the ice.” With only 30 seconds remaining, Fraser again made the call when he “pointed dramatically to center ice.” He justified the call “because Huber fouled Smyl from behind, preventing a shot on goal.” Coach Maxner claimed there was a high stick by the Canucks beforehand that should have nullified the call, but Fraser disagreed that there was a high stick. The replay, according to the Sun, also did not show Huber having swept the puck before Smyl’s skates. Naturally, Coach Neale reaffirmed, “Stan was in the clear and he was hauled down from behind, prevented from getting a shot away.” He also said, “It was a gutsy call, but the right one.”
There was a five-minute delay as fans tossed trash onto the ice in protest and “Fraser was verbally berated by Maxner and Gare, who was assessed a misconduct penalty.” During this time, Gradin skated around center ice as if he planned to take the penalty shot again. This turned out just to be a tactic to get in Gilbert’s head because Ivan Hlinka took the shot instead. Neale’s only advice to Hlinka was a teasing “If you miss, you can keep right on skating out the door and back to Czechoslovakia.” Apparently, just as Hlinka began to skate, a spectator slid a puck his way, but “he didn’t even notice it.” Hlinka commented to the Sun, “The ice was poor by now so I, too, went for the fake when he came three metres out as I was skating in.” He told the Province, “I was going to shoot, but when I saw the goalie backing up, I had to deke.” According to the Vancouver Province, he “made a spectacular move to deke Detroit’s Gilles Gilbert and lift the puck into the ceiling of the net on the backhand.” Hlinka summed up the feeling, “I’m three years older after something like that.”
Both Canucks had converted using backhand dekes. As Europeans, they both had more experience with penalty shots. Gradin told the press, “I had two or three penalty shots in my years in Sweden and I don’t think I missed any of them. Maybe I missed one in junior hockey.” As for Hlinka, he explained, “In Czechoslovakia the last two years, if teams are tied after overtime, the game is settled with each team taking three penalty shots. I scored on two of three last year. I’ve had about five or six in my career. The fans find it very exciting.” Having been outmaneuvered twice, Gilbert said, “I’ve been facing penalty shots for a long time. It wasn’t the pressure. They didn’t beat me cleanly. It’s a question of quickness. I did make the right move.”
The final score was 4-4. Coach Maxner was spitting mad, feeling that Fraser had given away the game to the Canucks. “We should have two points,” he groused. “The little guy with the arm band helped to take it away from us.” During his half hour or so abusive tirade after the game, Maxner said things like that Fraser was “incompetent” and “should be fired.” Coach Neale, of course, begged to differ. “Some refs wouldn’t have dared call it twice in favor of the visiting team. He showed some stuff – and I think he was right both times.” The Detroit Free Press reported, “Fraser cited sections in the rule book to support both calls. He was backed by Matt Pavelich, a supervisor of officials, who watched the game from the press box.” Still, as he left the ice, “someone threw a water bottle at him from the area around the Wings’ bench. It came close, but missed.”
These were Vancouver’s sixth and seventh penalty shots ever, since their first season in 1970-71. Two of the first five had been converted. Whereas, since 1963, Detroit had had 25 penalty shots, 10 of which were successful. The penalty shot rule was introduced in 1934-35. The most shots awarded in one season was 14, and the most successful in one season was six. However, as Wings trainer Lefty Wilson said, “In 37 years, I’ve never seen two in one game.” This seemed to be the first time in NHL history that two penalty shots were successful in one game and especially in one period.
- Bill McGraw, “Canucks tie Wings on 2 penalty shots,” Detroit Free Press, 12 Feb. 1982, p. 1D and 6D.
- Bill McGraw, “Penalty-shot call is one of hockey’s rarest,” Detroit Free Press, 12 Feb. 1982, p. 6D.
- Tony Gallagher, “Canucks resort to the bizarre,” Vancouver Province, 12 Feb. 1982, p. C2.
- Arv Olson, “Bizarre rally nets point” and “Penalty shots click two times,” Vancouver Sun, 12 Feb. 1982, p. C1.