TORONTO — Barry Melrose, the hair apparent to Pat Riley, is having breakfast the morning after his most impressive coaching triumph, answering questions about . . . what else?
From Jimmy Johnson to Riley to Bill Clinton to Melrose, it's the year of the haircut.
What would Clinton's Beverly Hills hairdresser, Christophe, say if he saw Melrose's unfashionable locks? His long shag hasn't spawned great legions of imitators--actually, only one, King defenseman Rene Chapdelaine--yet Melrose has been interviewed about his hair on national TV and a full page in the Toronto Sun was devoted to him with various makeovers, all done by photo imaging.
There was Melrose with a Bart Simpson crown, as Elvis and a punk rocker, and finally, as Canadian media celebrity Don Cherry's dog, Blue. Wayne Gretzky, nearly giggling, rushed into the hotel's dining room to show Melrose the picture page on Saturday, the morning of Game 7.
Is this the Stanley Cup playoffs or a remake of "Shampoo?"
"You know, most of the people who don't like my hair--they're bald," Melrose said, smiling.
Said Cindy Melrose: "He spends more time on his hair than I do."
Cindy Melrose actually got her husband to blush with that last remark earlier in the season. Those were the days when the Stanley Cup finals in Los Angeles seemed like a pipe dream. And it was long before the Kings became the hottest team in Hollywood, with Barry and Cindy Melrose becoming the natural successors to Pat and Chris Riley.
You might say Barry Melrose is living the life of Riley.
"I'd love to be compared to Pat Riley," he said. "He's a great coach, who never got his due as a coach in L.A. Then he goes to New York and New York wins.
"If I can be compared to him, I'd be very happy."
His suits might not be from Riley's closet, but there are plenty of other valid comparisons--youth, success, motivational techniques and the Forum as a career launching pad.
Melrose, 36, never shrank from the spotlight during the playoffs. If anything, he is the one flipping the switch. One day, he is trading insults with Toronto Coach Pat Burns and Cherry, then he is exchanging insights with Roy Firestone on ESPN.
He was the rookie NHL coach who puffed out his cheeks at the respected veteran, mocking Burns' weight during a Game 1 melee, causing the Toronto coach to flip out. Later, Melrose said he could have pulled out a more deadly insult, saying: "I could have said, 'Have another doughnut.' "
Some other Melrose quotes this season:
--"I'm not a resort kind of guy, I'm a gulag kind of guy," he said when asked whether the team would stay in Banff, Canada, during the first round of the playoffs.
--"I thought he was trying to order a hot dog," Melrose said of Burns' attempt to reach the Kings' bench.
--"It's not so long in dog years," he said of the Kings finally getting past the second round after 26 years.
His audience is expanding, going hand in hand with the Kings' success. It worked in the Kings' favor after Game 1 of the Campbell Conference finals when he deflected the attention from Gretzky and his teammates. Almost no one was asking why the Kings lost the opener. The Canadian media was fascinated by Burns vs. Melrose.
"There was a tremendous amount of pressure put on the King players, myself included, and a lot of negative press," defenseman Marty McSorley said. "It was almost like a zoo in Toronto. Barry made himself the focus of all the insults and everything that was being printed and said. All the signs out there in the rink didn't have anything to do with the players. It had everything to do with Barry Melrose.
"That let us sit back and play. He took responsibility, and it deflected attention from us."
Said King owner Bruce McNall: "I knew he was a good coach, but I didn't realize how good he is with the media. That's important in L.A., instead of having someone mumble all the usual cliches. He says what he thinks.
"I love it. That's why I have to catch up with you. I have to ask reporters: 'What do I need to be prepared for?' "
In Toronto, Melrose even surpassed McSorley as the No. 1 villain, an amazing feat when you consider he once played for the Maple Leafs. Even his friends who are connected with the Maple Leafs' organization were becoming unnerved by him.
"They took a dislike to me in this town," Melrose said. "It was funny. I was going by Wendy Sittler on the way to the bench. We're good friends and I played with her husband, Darryl. She said, 'Barry, I'm having a lot of trouble convincing these women that you're a good guy.' I said, 'I know, you're going to keep trying, aren't you?' "