OTTAWA - I have no idea it is The Great Mystery — not until I ask Morris Lukowich where it is as we speak, and he utters the stunning words: “I don’t know.”
“What? Morris, you don’t know?”
“I can’t believe it, Morris. The first one for a new franchise is so huge, so personally significant. It’ll be that way this fall when the Jets come back to Winnipeg. The great anticipation: Who will it be this time?”
“Right. It’ll be exciting.”
“You didn’t scoop it up right after you did it?”
“No one gave it to you?”
“Why, Morris, why?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think anybody thought of it. I was a goal scorer, and in the dressing room before the game I was thinking about scoring, but not the first goal, just scoring a goal.”
“So, Morris, to make sure I have it right. You scored the first goal for the Winnipeg Jets in their first game as an NHL franchise. You don’t have the puck. You didn’t think to scoop it up. No one else did, either. It’s not enshrined in your home. You have no idea what the hell happened to it.”
The date: Wednesday, Oct. 10, 1979. The place: Civic Arena, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Jets on the power play. Left winger Morris Lukowich is in front of the Penguins net. From the top of the circle, right winger Peter Marsh fires a low slap shot at goalie Greg Millen.
Lukowich jabs out his wooden Northland stick, Mark Howe model, light in weight with a high lie, and deflects the puck off his lower shaft over Millen’s blocker and into the net. The historic time: 13:34 of the third period. But the Jets would lose the game 4-2.
“When I deflected it, it changed direction by about three feet. I had my stick about a foot off the ice. Peter skated over and said ‘You didn’t deflect it.’
“I told him I did and showed him the gouge it made on my stick. The referee asked me if I deflected it in. I said yes. On the bench, Peter yelled down to me ‘I got that goal.’ I thought he was joking, but I think he was serious.”
A long pause. “You know what? Now that I think of it, I have a vague recollection of a linesman coming over to our bench with the puck, but I can’t say for sure it happened. If he did, I don’t know who got it. I don’t know, maybe our equipment manager Patty O’Neill or the trainer Kelly Pruden. It never came to me, though.” And then, lightly: “Maybe Peter got it and kept it.”
Peter Marsh from Chicago where he is a vice-president of the Blackhawks Alumni: “He says he tipped it in. Strange — he was over in the corner at the time.” Chuckling: “Tell Morris if he wants the goal, he can have it. The statute of limitations has expired. But, no, I don’t have the puck.”
Queen the culprit?
I reach Pat O’Neill who now is equipment manager for the Vancouver Canucks, but he never got the iconic puck, he says for the simple reason he didn’t join the Jets until their second season.
As for possible suspect Kelly Pruden, I was not able to locate him.
Lukowich, 55, who operates a hockey camp in Calgary (maxgoalscoring.com): “Now that you got me thinking about, yeah, it, it’d be nice to have that puck.”
Hold it. The Queen. Did the puck somehow make its way to Buckingham Palace and the Queen whose 5X7 metre portrait (the world’s largest of her) by Manitoba artist Gilbert Burch (for which he was paid $1,600) hung from the rafters at the old Winnipeg Arena, home of the Jets?
Morris Lukowich, amused: “Terry Ruskowski was on our team. He married a former Miss America. She and my wife were together in the stands for a game. She looked up at the big picture of the Queen and said to my wife: ‘That lady, does she own the arena?’ ”
The bigger question: Does she own Morris Lukowich’s puck?
The Great Mystery.