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Austin Murphy
June 05, 1989
Al MacInnis and his sizzling slap shot led the Calgary Flames to victory over the Canadiens and to their first Stanley Cup
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June 05, 1989

Montreal Goes Up In Flames

Al MacInnis and his sizzling slap shot led the Calgary Flames to victory over the Canadiens and to their first Stanley Cup

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But the key was MacInnis, who in Game 5 showed the kind of impact he can have. Left alone on his perch on the point with 29 seconds left in the first period, he unleashed a rising fastball of a slapper that was straining the twine behind Roy before the goalie could so much as twitch. It was the Flames' third goal of the evening and it turned out to be the winner.

"I did not react," said Roy, "because I could not react."

The shot feared round the league is the fruit of countless practice sessions on summer afternoons in MacInnis's native Port Hood on Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. Cape Breton is a three-hour drive north and east of Halifax. Or, as MacInnis's fiancée, Jackie Burgel, says, "It's at the end of the world."

Virtually "every day of every summer" of his boyhood, MacInnis says, "I'd stand on a sheet of plywood with a pile of pucks and just shoot at the side of the barn. And every fall, my father would have to reshingle the barn."

There are numerous NHL defensemen larger than MacInnis. but he has a powerful, well-defined upper body. MacInnis is not sure, though, what gives his shot its mustard. "I know when I do shoot, I'm concentrating on getting all of my weight from my back foot to my front foot," he says. "I'm channeling every ounce of my strength into the shot."

Grant Fuhr, the Edmonton Oilers' superlative netminder, has said that MacInnis's shot is the only one in the league he cannot control. Fuhr might get a piece of the puck, but he is helpless to direct the rebound. Which is how MacInnis racked up many of his 58 assists this season.

MacInnis's shot has long been his strength. His 38 goals with the Kitchener Rangers in 1982-83 tied the Ontario Hockey League record for goals by a defenseman. The old mark had been set by a kid named Orr. It was at the other end of the ice that MacInnis needed work. Six seasons ago, his first in the NHL, he was little more than a one-trick pony. "He always had the big shot," says Flame general manager Cliff Fletcher, "but he was not a great defensive player. And his skating was"—Fletcher searches for a tactful way of putting it—"somewhat suspect."

His head needed work too. MacInnis has always been his own harshest judge. "Al was like any young player," says Flame right wing Tim Hunter. "He'd make a mistake and brood on it and take a long time to get over it."

Intent on improving, MacInnis began staying after practice with then assistant coach Bob Murdoch. For hours, Murdoch put him through drills on pivots, turns and other defensive techniques. Today, MacInnis is the guy the Flames want on the ice in the last minute of a tight game. "He is one of the soundest defensive players in the league," says Fletcher.

MacInnis was also a shy fellow most of the time. Time was, you needed a forceps to get a compound sentence out of him. As he watched MacInnis speak with ease into a forest, of microphones last week, Fletcher was struck by how much he has matured. "If you'll notice, Al has been one of our main spokesmen during the playoffs," Fletcher said. "He's gradually taking charge. He feels confident enough to do it."

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