FULLTILT LEGENDS: STEPHANE MATTEAU
Has it really been 20 years? Has it really been that long since Howie Rose’s iconic call of one of the most famous goals in NHL playoff history? Yes it has and as we come up on the anniversary of the goal that catapulted the Rangers past their hated rival New Jersey Devils in the spring of 1994 for a date with destiny, let’s take a look back at the man that made that all possible – Stephane Matteau.
Matteau was drafted by the Calgary Flames in 1987 in the second round (25th overall). After a decent if not remarkable rookie season in 1990-91 (78 games, 15g, 19a), Calgary shipped Matteau to Chicago early in the 1991-92 season. Chicago loved his size (6ft 4 in, 215lbs), his decent touch around the net and his willingness at times to use that size to his advantage.
Chicago coach, Mike Keenan felt that under his tutelage along with playing alongside such proven stars such as Steve Larmer, Chris Chelios & Jeremy Roenick, Matteau could develop into a proven power forward. There were glimpses of this with the Blackhawks in the 1991-92 post-season. In 18 games that post season, Matteau tallied 10 points (4g, 6a) and the future looked promising in red & black.
In the 1992-93 season he played 79 games and tied his career high in goals with 15 to go along with 18 assists. The post season was a disaster though as he only played in 3 games & registered 1 point.
TRADE TO NEW YORK
Fast forward to 1993-94 and Matteau was on a pace to surpass all of his previous offensive totals. In the 65 games leading up to the trade deadline, Matteau’s numbers were good (15g, 16a) He also had drawn the interest of several teams that were intrigued by what he could offer them down the stretch and into the post season. When the Rangers – now under the coaching of Matteau’s former Blackhawks coach Keenan – offered a package of sniper Tony Amonte (not a favorite of Keenan) & Matt Oates for Matteau & Brian Noonan, the Blackhawks jumped at it.
While the trade would prove to provide long term results for the Blackhawks, it was the Rangers who were gambling short term and it was one that would provide immediate dividends. Noonan & Matteau joined the Rangers on their Western Canada road trip in Calgary and in his first game as a Ranger, Matteau would score the tying goal in the waning seconds against his former team. It was an omen of things to come.
MATTEAU, MATTEAU, MATTEAU!
The Rangers would cruise through the first two rounds of the 1993-94 playoffs by dispatching the New York Islanders and the Washington Capitals with relative ease. In the Prince of Wales Conference Finals they were matched up against the New Jersey Devils. With the series tied at 1-1, Matteau would score the game winning double OT goal in Game 3 at the Meadowlands. It came off a backhanded goal mouth scramble in front of Martin Brodeur. At the time it was the biggest goal in his career. Little did he know that that moment would be short lived and he would soon enter the pantheon of New York Sports Legends.
By the time Game 7 had rolled around, there was little to nothing being said about Matteau. The Rangers had trailed the Devils 3-2 in the series with Game 6 at the Meadowlands. Mark Messier then guaranteed victory and went out and backed it up with a natural hat trick to tie the series and force a Game 7 showdown. Brian Leetch had scored an early second period goal and Mike Richter & Brodeur were stellar in turning back shot after shot in a fast paced game.
Matteau’s moment almost never happened though. The Rangers were holding the Devils off 1-0 as the clock wound down. The the unthinkable happened as Valeri Zelepukin scored the equalizer with 7.7 seconds left on the clock to force OT. The Rangers were stunned & the Devils were elated as both teams went to their respective locker rooms.
In the first OT, each team exchanged chances as the both vied for their chance to advance to the Finals. Neither team could break through so on to the 2nd OT. Matteau was in the locker room repairing a broken skate lace and was unable to come out for the start of it. Lore has it that on his way back to the Rangers bench Matteau did something considered taboo by NHL standards. Matteau touched the Prince of Wales Trophy with his stick blade which was in violation of the NHL lore of touching a Conference Trophy as it would jinx the offender and his team of an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup.
At 4:24 of the second OT, in the words of Howie Rose, the play unfolded like this – “Fetisov for the Devils plays it cross-ice, into the far corner. Matteau swoops in to intercept. Matteau behind the net, swings it in front, HE SCORES! MATTEAU!! MATTEAU!! MATTEAU!! STEPHANE MATTEAU!! AND THE RANGERS HAVE ONE MORE HILL TO CLIMB, BABY! BUT IT’S MOUNT VANCOUVER! THE RANGERS ARE HEADED TO THE FINALS!!!” With that, a legend was born. As we all know, The Rangers went on to win The Cup in an exciting, nail biting, exhausting series against the Vancouver Canucks. However, it is the series against the Devils that made it all possible.
[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ziarOEosIc”]Game Seven Highlights – [/su_youtube]
FOREVER A RANGER
Matteau only played for the Rangers for a little over a year. His play was inconsistent and drew the ire of new head coach Colin Campbell on too many occasions. On December 28, 1995, Matteau was traded to the St. Louis Blues for Ian Lapierrere and reunited again with Mike Keenan, who had bolted the Rangers after their Cup win.
He would play in St. Louis for just under 2 seasons before moving on to the San Jose Sharks for 5 more and then ending his career with the 2002-03 Florida Panthers (again reuniting with Keenan).
Today, Matteau serves as an ambassador for the Rangers at many events. He still is actively involved in The Garden of Dreams charity. Lastly, in a cruel twist of irony, his son Stefan Matteau (born in 1994!) was drafted in the first round (29th overall) by the New Jersey Devils! So who knows? We may hear it again one day – ‘MATTEAU!! MATTEAU!! MATTEAU!!…….”
[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJNrN5NiLeQ”]Game Seven Highlights – [/su_youtube]