KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Mark Recchi squeezed into his blue bleacher seats at the cramped but cozy Memorial Arena and was hoping for a miracle.
It was May 8, 1984, and the now-Hall of Famer was just a 15-year-old fan. Recchi’s father, Mel, a railroad worker, had season tickets to the Kamloops Oilers, the Western Hockey League team that stole the hearts of this blue-collar town.
Millworkers, ranchers and miners packed the 2,500-seat barn to the point that if a fire marshal was called, it’d mean major problems. There was one concession stand, which sold hot dogs, burgers, fries and popcorn. Many would leave at intermissions to grab a quick beer at the Kamloops Curling Club. The dressing rooms were the size of a hallway. The ice sheet had tight corners and unforgiving boards, which fit well with an Oilers team that had as much snarl as it had skill. The team’s coach, the intimidating Bill LaForge, demanded 50 hits and 50 shots every game, with players having to pound the number — written in blue sock tape — on the back of their dressing room door.
Their best player? The one that personified their identity? That was Recchi’s idol: Dean Evason.
“He was the guy,” Recchi said of Evason, now the coach of the Minnesota Wild.
And, on that night in 1984, Evason was the hero. Some say he might have even saved the team from a potential move, giving locals enough time to raise money to stave off a sale to a company in Saskatchewan.
There were just seconds left in Game 6 of the WHL championship, with the visiting Regina Pats up 3-2 in the series and already celebrating on the bench. The trophy was barely a stick away, in the tiny corridor between the benches, so you couldn’t blame them.