John Muckler, the strategist

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:55 AM ET

John Muckler knew his team would be in tough heading into the 1984 Stanley Cup final.

Despite dominating in the regular season - and with the exception of a second-round clash with the Calgary Flames - cruising through the playoffs, the Edmonton Oilers assistant coach had been around long enough to know the New York Islanders were not going to relinquish the Stanley Cup without a fight.

"To me, my favourite memory of that spring was the first game of the Stanley Cup final," said Muckler. "We did have some reservations going into that series, having lost to them in the final the year before.

"But after we were able to win that opening game, we were confident we could beat them and we went from there."

Grant Fuhr was outstanding in the first game of the final, outplaying Islanders goaltender Billy Smith as the Oilers went on to win the game 1-0.

Kevin McClelland scored the game winner 1:55 into the third period.

"That was probably the best goaltending I have ever seen in my career," Muckler said. "It was amazing watching two superstar goaltenders playing at the top of their game."

Muckler was already an established coach by the time he joined the Oilers in 1981.

He'd already spent time in the New York Rangers, Minnesota North Stars and Vancouver Canucks' organization and two years earlier had been named the best coach in all minor-league hockey by The Sporting News.

"We were never short on confidence," said Randy Gregg. "You can only go so far on confidence. But we also had a strategy and a sense of direction that I credit to John Muckler. He was a great strategist."

The Ontario native began his career as a player/coach in 1959 with the now defunct Eastern Hockey League's New York Rovers before moving on to the NHL.

"The entire coaching staff was just ahead of the curve in how the game should be played," said former Oilers forward Pat Conacher. "Just as far as puck control and all that. You had to have the team to be able to do that, which of course we did.

"But John Muckler was in charge of the game plan, and the way he approached the game, it was so methodical. The thing that really stood out to me was him talking about goals against. Even though we were such a high-scoring machine he said that if we could (trim) our goals against by a goal, we would win the series."

The Oilers did just that, giving up just six goals in the final three games of the Stanley Cup final. Islanders superstar Mike Bossy was held to just three helpers in the series - two of them second assists - no small feat considering he had scored 51 goals and 118 points in just 67 regular season games.

"We knew going into that series we had to play well defensively," Muckler said. "We knew how effective the Islanders had been against us the year before and we had to play better defence. We were also fortunate to get stellar goaltending with Grant."


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