2 years ago
Aside from today being Family Day, Feb. 21 is more significant than being the day after the Edmonton Oilers had their five-game winning streak with Jay Woodcroft calling the shots snapped by the Minnesota Wild, who pumped them 7-3 Sunday.
It’s been 22 years to the day since tough guy Georges Laraque recorded the only hat-trick of his 695-game NHL career Feb. 21, 2000 in a 6-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings. I was working the game for the Edmonton Journal.
I remember the night like it was yesterday because, well, what were the odds the big man wearing No. 27 was going to score three goals in a month against the Kings let alone in one game? Laraque had 53 career goals – he had more than one season when he didn’t score three, so, yes, today is a big deal.
That’s not the reason I called Laraque today. I called to check on him after he tweeted a mention, including a photo, that he’d been involved a collision in Montreal while out and about driving a Toyota RAV 4. “I’m fine,” said Laraque, who took some razzing on Twitter from the likes of former teammate Joaquin Gage: “You fit in a RAV 4?” Yes. Yes, he does.
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When we chatted, it had slipped Laraque’s mind today is the anniversary of the hat-trick until I mentioned it. As those who remember it will recall, this was a feat accomplished not only by an unlikely player in Laraque, but under unlikely circumstances.
Laraque had opened the scoring with his fourth goal of the season and he added his fifth early in the second period. The Oilers were leading 4-3 in the final minute of the game when the Kings pulled Stephane Fiset for a sixth skater. The crowd wanted Laraque, but coach Kevin Lowe didn’t give him the tap. When Janne Niinimaa made it 5-3, hitting the empty Kings net at 19:31, that looked like all she wrote.
Well, no. Lowe put the trio of Laraque, Jim Dowd and Boyd Devereaux on for the final 29 seconds with Fiset back in the cage. With the clock winding down, Dowd gets a loose puck to Laraque in front. Georges does a spinerama – that’s right, a spinerama – in front of Aki Berg and shovels a backhand into the net with 16 ticks left on the clock. Bedlam.
I wrote that night: “I never thought I was going to do it,” said Laraque, sent over the boards after Janne Niinimaa salted it away with an empty-netter. “I just thought we were going to play it safe. There was no angle, but I just shot it. When it went in, it was so much emotion. I can’t describe the feeling, the crowd, the hats. I would never have thought I would see hats on the ice for me.”
Equipment man Sparky Kulchisky had the best line after the game as a crush of notepads and cameras pinned Laraque, still wearing every piece of his sweaty equipment, to the wall. “Georges,” chimed in Kulchisky, “I need your sweater right now. The hall of fame wants it.”
WHILE I’M AT IT
One other noteworthy bit of business on this Feb. 21 Family Day that had slipped my mind until I was reminded about it on Twitter, today is Ryan Smyth’s birthday. Smyth turned 46 today. Happy birthday, Ryan. And happy Family Day to all our readers.
Previously by Robin Brownlee
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