Wayne Gretzky has often told the story of just how difficult it is to win the Stanley Cup. In the early ’80s, his Edmonton Oilers had been the young studs of the the N.H.L., smashing scoring records and delighting fans. But when they reached the Stanley Cup final for the first time in 1983 against the three-time champion Islanders, they were schooled, literally, by New York, and swept in four games.
After the fourth loss, the downcast Gretzky and Kevin Lowe left their dressing room and had to walk past the Isles’ room to reach their bus. They expected to see a wild, raucous scene at the other end of the hallway but (as Gretzky related in his 1990 autobiography), “as we walked by, we didn’t see any of that. The girlfriends and the coaches and the staff people were living it up, but the players weren’t. Trottier was icing what looked like a painful knee. Potvin was getting stuff rubbed on his shoulder. Guys were limping around with black eyes and bloody mouths. It looked more like a morgue than a champion’s locker room. And here we were perfectly fine and healthy.
“That’s why they won and we lost. They took more punishment than we did. They dove into more boards, stuck their faces in front of more pucks, threw their bodies into more pileups. They sacrificed everything they had.
“And that’s when Kevin said something I’ll never forget. He said, ‘That’s how you win championships.’”