The 30th anniversary of the Steve Smith own goal

Thirty years ago today, Steve Smith scored on his own net in Game 7 of the Smythe Division finals. The goal stood as the series clinching marker, sending the Flames to their first ever Stanley Cup Final.

These facts, laid bare, don’t adequately capture the enormity of that moment for Flames fans at the time. The Oilers in 1986 were an (almost) unstoppable juggernaut. Their roster boasted half a done future hall of famers. They had won two cups in a row and were considered the next dynastic franchise after the early 80’s NY Islanders and 70’s Montreal Canadians.

In 1985-86, they went 56-17-7, tops in the league, finishing with 30 more points than the Flames (40-31-9). Edmonton scored 426 goals that year and had a goal differential of +116.  No other team scored more than 355. To put those numbers in perspective, the top scoring club this year managed 265 goals (Dallas), while the best goal different settled at +59 (Washington). 

So the Flames, while a “good” team, were laughable underdogs in the playoffs against the Oil. It was assumed the Gretzky-led Edmonton crew would sweep the Flames aside on their way to a third straight cup.

The Smith own goal wasn’t significant just because the Oilers were favourites, however. 

Given the modern Battle of Alberta, newer fans or younger fans won’t quite understand the intensity of the Flames/Oilers rivalry from that period. Even those of us who were around at the time have had the battle dimmed by time and softened by nostalgia. Even so, I can recall match ups that featured brawls, hits, elbows, trips, slashes – anything to beat the other guy. Failing that, anything to hurt the other guy. Every goal for was a mini-victory. Every goal against, a small, but agonizing defeat. The rivalry today is merely a faint echo of the ’80s animus. 

So the Flames weren’t merely David to the Oilers’ Goliath. They were at once battling long odds and an adversary they despised. Winning as an underdog finishes second only to winning as an underdog over a rival you hate in your very bones in the pantheon of sports fanship. 

Smith’s own goal not only sent Calgary to their first finals appearance, it also showed Flames fans, for a fleeting moment, that the Oilers were mortal. Some will argue a more legitimate victory, earned via a blowout or OT goal, would have been more satisfying, but there was something uniquely wondrous about witnessing the superpower Oilers trip over their own feet and fall on their sword.

Thirty years later, the Smith blunder remains the worst (best?) own-goal in NHL history. It’s a welcome reminder of a different time in the Battle of Alberta and will no doubt remain one of Calgary’s fondest and most unlikely victories in franchise history. 

  • Big Ell

    That was a pretty incredible year. They had our number during their cup runs. I think we won 5 out of 30 in the years before the playoffs.

    I remember Risebrough ended up with McSorleys sweater in the box and ripped it to shreds with his skates and threw it back onto the ice. And that was a game half way through the regular season!

    The game one win was a shocker as like Kent said most people were resigned to the sweep. After that it went back and forth. The craziest thing is that we won 3 in Edmonton and our only loss in Edmonton was in game 2 in OT. Badger Bob was at his absolute peak. Otto, Patterson and even Sheehy to clutch and grab the Oil greats. I also remember Messier kneeing Suter knocking him out and probably any chance we had at the cup.

    The pandemonium in Calgary was incredible and the C of Red was born. The only thing crazier was in 1989. But it was different as we were expected to make the run unlike 86 when we killed the Dynasty. I imagine it was crazy during the last cup run but I wasn’t living in Calgary.

  • freethe flames

    I remember the goal well and Smith taking the abuse but Fuhr was also at fault and I said it at the time. His casual approach to getting back to the net and not being in an athletic position was also a cause. The thing I also remember was that the great Oiler team had most of the third period to come back and did not against a team considered to be inferior. I doubt this would have held back either the Islander of Canadiens dynasties.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Even after the own goal, there was still lots of time for the Oilers to score, but they didn’t, and it wasn’t a case of Vernon standing on his head. The Flames played very well holding the lead. They were full value for the series win despite the weird goal.

    Although the Oilers lost, they would become a better team. Their ’87 team was by far their most talented and they would go on to win 3 of the next 4 Stanley Cups. The Flames too built on the success of 1986, but it took a few more years to perfect and it didn’t last very long.

    Fletcher built a winner and also destroyed it by immediately dispatching Ramage and Mullen that summer and letting Pep retire in September. Along with the retirement of Lanny, the Flames lacked real leadership going into the 1989-90 season and the result was what you saw.

  • Oil City Roller

    Thirty years later and I am still sour lol! You’re right Kent how bitter the rivalry was. Even now, watching that clip seeing Lanny celebrating makes me want to punch him in the face. Which is funny because I’ve met him in real life and found him to be a fantastic genuine person. Thanks for the memories Kent, here’s to both our teams getting better so we can rage against each other while playing meaningful games.

    • Kevin R

      Best way to do this is have the Flames win the #1 pick today & the Oilers being able to pull off a good trade for a top pairing defender. The road back to glory days.

  • McRib

    Calgary picks 6th. Love it one of Matthew Tkachuk, Pierre Luc Dubois, Jacob Chychrun here we come!! Obviously they are praying they end up with us instead of YEG, YVR. Love Columbus and Winnipeg leap frogging those two, both those two teams played to the bitter end like us and never “tanked” for a moment like YEG, YVR did. YVR was an embarrassment in last 20 games.

  • maimster

    I always felt like the Smith own-goal overshadowed how well the Flames played that series – they were absolutely full value for the series victory, playing the ridiculously talented (and hated, don’t forget hated) Oilers even for the whole seven games. Badger Bob eventually won a Cup in Pittsburgh, but I always felt the pinnacle of his coaching career was game planning that 7 game series against the Oilers.