MONTREAL — Somehow, you wonder why King defenseman Marty McSorley even has a residence in Manhattan Beach.
He is almost always in the Kings' dressing room. First to arrive, last to leave. Day turns to night and night turns to day before McSorley's rituals are completed in the dressing room of any arena.
As former King general manager Rogie Vachon, upon completing a trade, would usually say: "And, he's good in the room."
It was no different here at the Stanley Cup finals after an off-day practice Wednesday with the Kings holding a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series and Game 2 at the Montreal Forum tonight. McSorley even managed to out-wait and out-talk King Coach Barry Melrose, who was held hostage in the hallway for more than an hour by ever-changing groups of reporters.
This alleged throw-in from the Wayne Gretzky trade has been playing some of the best hockey of his career, masterfully blending skill and punishing defensive play. In Game 1, he set the tone near the crease by body-slamming Kirk Muller, who is Montreal's best two-way player.
"Marty was great again," Melrose said. "He was very solid. He gives us a presence. He moves the puck. He has turned into an unbelievable leader for us. On the bench, he is unbelievable. What Marty does, it doesn't always show up on the scoreboard."
McSorley did the same thing against Toronto in Game 1 of the Campbell Conference final, elbowing Doug Gilmour with 2:34 to play, throwing the Maple Leafs off their game plan. Actually, McSorley's best period was the first in Game 7 at Toronto. He set up Gretzky on a well-executed two-on-one opportunity with the Kings' shorthanded, passing at the last second. McSorley assisted on the other first-period goal and could have scored after making a nice move in the slot.
"I think Marty single-handedly beat Toronto," Melrose said. "Right now, I think Marty McSorley is the best defenseman in hockey. He and Wayne raised their level of play more than anyone else against Toronto."
McSorley has an ego, but he seemed embarrassed or unwilling to discuss his Toronto performance, or that a newspaper columnist threw his name into consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy, given to the outstanding player of the playoffs. Anyway, McSorley's timing is excellent, because he is playing out his option and could come close to doubling his yearly salary of $650,000 because he will be a free agent without compensation. But the Kings have the right to match any offer.
"It's flattering," he said. "I guess I'm tough on myself. I guess at the time (in Game 7), I never took a look at how I was playing after the first period. I do know that after the second period, I was mad as hell. When that game was over, I never said, 'Oh I was a plus-something.'
"I said, 'I'm in the Stanley Cup final.' "
Maybe McSorley doesn't want this Conn Smythe stuff to get around the dressing room. When left wing Warren Rychel turned into a scoring machine in the first two rounds, the Kings started calling him Connie. And McSorley led the chants.
"I'm not going to let Warren off the hook just yet," McSorley said.
Said Rychel, "We room together on the road, and we stay up late talking about fighting. But Barry (Melrose) just doesn't tap us on the shoulder and get us out there to do one thing. I'm averaging 20 minutes, and Marty is playing more than that.
"Marty's been playing well. I don't think he played his best in the first two series. But since then, he's done it all. He's a force."
And he's a force in the room, keeping everyone loose with his teasing. Apparently, McSorley and defenseman Mark Hardy relieved the pressure before Game 1 of the finals with jokes and jibes. Call them the Marx brothers. Hardy's nickname is Harpo.
The 5-foot-something line of left wing Mike Donnelly, center Corey Millen and right wing Tony Granato is an inviting target.
"Not a day goes by when Marty McSorley doesn't tell all of us how short we are," Granato said. "As vicious as he can be on the ice, his Smurf jokes are even more vicious than this body checks."
Melrose is into hyperbole. He says McSorley is the best defenseman and then in the next breath. . . .
"I have said this all along, and I mean it, but Rob Blake could be the next Norris Trophy (given to the outstanding defenseman) winner in the NHL," Melrose said. "He doesn't get any ink because we live out in Timbuktu. The sky is the limit for this kid. He's big, strong and mean."
Goaltender Kelly Hrudey has a special view of his defenseman but doesn't hang the "best" tag on any of them.
"Rob Blake is going to be the prototypical player of the future--big, agile, he hits and he's got a scoring touch," Hrudey said. "Alex Zhitnik is different in that he is carefree and nothing bothers him. I think he was born with his skates on. He's such a good skater. Darryl Sydor just has leader written all over him, from the word \o7 go. \f7 He's a born leader."
Sydor, 21, and Zhitnik, 20, have had a difficult time the last two rounds. Zhitnik suffered a mild concussion in Game 5 against Toronto and Sydor's lips were split by a puck in the first eight seconds in Game 1 against Montreal.
The sight of him spitting out large quantities of blood alarmed his friends and relatives.
"My mom was a little worried," said Sydor, who felt more pain when talking. "She was very nervous earlier in my career. But they saw that I came back--I'm still alive and it's fine."