In 1981, the Habs played the Oilers in the first round of the play-off’s. The fading dynasty from the 70’s against the dynasty to be of the mid-late 80’s. I was in high school at the time and we had a hockey pool. Gretzky was good, we all knew that but the Hab’s finished 3rd overall and the Oil 14th. Gretz would probably only be able to pick up points in the first round.
And so, with that great moment in high school grey matter, my mates and I proceeded to leave Gretzky untouched in the first round of the pool. I don’t know exactly when he was picked or who picked him but I do know we all passed on him in the first round of the pool.
I also remember telling my Dad about this bit of wisdom when I explained my picks to him. He thought it was the funniest damn thing going that none of us took him first round. No one was willing to pick him on the outside chance that Richard Sevigny wasn’t Ken Dryden, that Lafleur’s best days were in the 70’s and that maybe, just maybe, Gretzky, Messier, Coffee, etc. etc. might just pull an upset. I argued convincingly, like an experienced quant that while he may have had a point, it was no way to bet.
And so, it is with great humour all these years later, that I recall my Dad’s guffaw’s of laughter listening to the first game of that Hab’s-Oilers series on the radio with me. You see, the Leafs were playing the Islanders that year in the first round (which produced an even bigger shocker when the #1 Isles fell to #16 Leafs and Lanny McDonald’s goal in overtime of game 7 in that series) and so the Hab’s game was not on TV. Making it funnier was that we were listening on a French radio station with lots of static. Neither of us understood French but we understood very clearly how the game was proceeding because every third word was a French-accented “Gretz-keeeee”. Gretz would chip in five helpers that night in a 6-3 Oil win. They swept the Habs in three straight and I didn’t win the pool.