The puck flashed out of the corner. Vancouver's Nathan LaFayette burst through the New York Rangers' defence, got his stick on it and shot, in one, split-second, heart-stopping moment.
"Save by Richter!!" announcer Gary Thorne screamed from the broadcast booth. The hometown crowd roared. "LaFayette had a chance. I thought [Richter]got the glove on it. It might have been the post."
The puck did indeed hit two-thirds of the way up the post, before frittering harmlessly out of danger, and with it the Canucks' best-ever chance of hoisting the coveted Stanley Cup.
Years later, Mr. LaFayette's agonizing miss, with six minutes left and Vancouver down a goal in the seventh game of the 1994 Cup finals, lives on in Canuck lore as the team's version of Rick Monday's home run against the Montreal Expos or Bill Buckner's infamous World Series muff in 1986.
It's unfair of course. But that's what happens when your team has never won it all. You remember the heartbreak. You remember the what ifs.
Now, as the Canucks prepare for their first return to the finals since then, few will be rooting harder for the team than Mr. LaFayette, far away in New York City, where he is a senior vice-president of an insurance company.
It's his chance for reprieve from the fans' Hall of Shame, no matter how undeserved his place in it.
"I'd love to see the Canucks win, because I think there's no better hockey town," Mr. LaFayette affirmed, in an interview. "But no question, it would also help me to kind of move on, to get rid of that collar. Absolutely."
Until then, the stigma remains.
"It's surprising," said Mr. LaFayette, who was driven from the game by a series of concussions. "Whenever I'm in Vancouver on business, cab drivers, restaurant people, they all either recognize me or my name. I get a lot of questions about it. Even in New York, every now and then, a Rangers fan will thank me."
Last summer, Mr. LaFayette's young son did a Google search and discovered a YouTube video of his dad's failed shot, complete with attached comments.
"I had to cover his eyes from some of them," said Mr. LaFayette, with a rueful laugh. "He turned to me and asked: 'Why don't people on the Internet like you?'"
Yet Mr. LaFayette, then a 21-year old rookie who wasn't even in the starting lineup as the team began its extraordinary run to the finals, is philosophical about it all.
"When someone does plunk a finger at me, I don't take it personally, because I also did do a couple of good things in those playoffs," he reflected. "It's pro sports. You're measured in the public eye on your performance. That's just the reality when you put the jersey on."
Mr. LaFayette called his fateful shot "a good play that didn't work out. … I saw it going to the side past Richter. I thought it was going to go in. But … the play kept going."
While fans may blame him, his teammates don't. "Privately, I'm sure they wish it had gone in. But I've never heard a single guy say: 'If only LaFayette had put it in …' It's testament to how close that team was."
Put Geoff Courtnall, who passed the puck to Mr. LaFayette, in that category.
"We were both going full speed, and the puck came across so quick, there was no time for him to stop and shoot it," he recounted. "When you're on the fly like that, it's a great shot where he put it, right in the top corner. Just half an inch over, and it's in the net. But …"
Canucks coach Pat Quinn was behind the bench. He hasn't forgotten a thing.
"Nathan was suddenly there in front. He made a great shot," Mr. Quinn said. "Unfortunately, the goalie's best friend happened to be in the way. The next thing you know, we were lined up, shaking hands. It was disheartening, really."
The veteran hockey man said he understands why some fans take out their frustrations on Mr. LaFayette.
"As a fan, you're full of hope that your local guys are going to do well. Yet they still don't have that championship. So you remember things. And in this case, it's the 'what if' you remember. Because you have nothing else."
That's why winning means so much, said Mr. Quinn. "Once you have that Cup, it makes you legitimate, and it gives the fans legitimacy as well."
Maybe then, Nathan LaFayette will be remembered for more than hitting the post. "We've been here 40 years. I'd love to see that monkey off his back. He simply doesn't deserve it."Report Typo/Error
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