Under normal circumstances, barring strikes, lockouts, or pandemics, the NHL in early November is a month into their regular season. This particular Retro Recap, Diane details a game from that time frame during the 1997-98 season, specifically, the Capitals’ game against the Edmonton Oilers on November 8, 1997. The game was notable in many ways, with a player milestone and an ugly incident.
Heading into their game at home, the Capitals held a record of 8-6-2 in a season during which they had started off very well but had tailed off performance-wise in late October. The Oilers, meanwhile, had not started the season well at all and were 4-9-3 and winless in their last four games (two losses and two ties).
Capitals forward Pat Peake was playing his first game of the season, having been ill with mononucleosis for much of the prior season and additionally, was working on reconditioning his heel which he had shattered during the 1996 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Peake had only played four games during the 1996-97 season. For this game, he would see shifts with Michal Pivonka and Chris Simon and also time on the power play.
Just over four minutes into the opening period, Edmonton’s Drake Berehowsky was called for interference, followed nearly 30 seconds later by an Oilers’ too-many-men penalty, giving the home Capitals a 5-on-3 advantage, a situation the team would capitalize on. Center Adam Oates passed the puck to defenseman Phil Housley, who passed it from the point to fellow blueliner Calle Johansson at the opposite point. Johansson then blasted a slapshot which resulted in a goal, his seventh of the year to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead. The assist by Housley was his 1000th NHL point, making him only the fifth defenseman to reach that particular milestone and the first American-born defenseman to do so (the other four rearguards to reach the milestone – Dennis Potvin, Raymond Bourque, Paul Coffey and Larry Murphy – had all been Canadian). The scored remained 1-0 heading into the first intermission in spite of the fact the Caps had outshot the Oilers by a 12-2 margin.
Like the first period, the second period got off to a quick start as the Oilers’ Craig Miller scored the game-tying goal for Edmonton, on assists from Doug Weight and Dean McAmmond. Capitals’ players had chased the puck to the right boards, blowing coverage in the process which allowed Miller to score for Edmonton. The two clubs would remain deadlocked at 1-1 apiece heading into the final intermission, though Edmonton had edged the Caps in shots 10-9.
Like the preceding two frames, the third period did not have long to wait to see a score change. While Oilers goaltender Curtis Joseph scrambled to make a save on a shot by Capitals defenseman Sylvain Cote, Adam Oates batted the puck out of the air towards the net. While Joseph had caught the puck in his glove, video replays showed that the glove was in the net and thus, resulted in a good goal (Oates’ fifth goal of the year); Cote and Peter Bondra were credited with assists on the play. The 2-1 lead held up for the remainder of the game in spite of the fact that the Caps earned three minor penalties during the period and the visiting Oilers outshot the Caps 6-4.
At the end of the game, when the final buzzer sounded. Capitals forward Chris Simon and Oilers forward Mike Grier got into a heated discussion. During the argument, Simon reportedly yelled racial slurs at Grier, who is black. The linesmen had to restrain Grier from going after Simon, who was then assessed a game misconduct.
Calle Johansson was named First Star of the Game, Edmonton’s Boris Mironov was named second star and Oates was named Third Star for his goal and assist.
There was much outcry about Simon’s racial epithets towards Grier at the end of the game.
Then-Capitals General Manager George McPhee remarked, “This is a singular incident, and obviously something has to be done because Chris went over the line, but I think the league will be reasonable. It’s certainly a very regrettable incident. The remark was insensitive, inconsiderate and totally unacceptable. We wish to express our regret to Mike Grier and his family and to all hockey fans.”
Simon himself apologized to Grier personally as he flew to Toronto to meet the Oilers there. The Oilers were on a long, six-game road trip which took them to Buffalo after playing the Caps and then to play the Maple Leafs.
After that personal meeting, Grier talked to Edmonton reporters, “He said I’m sorry’ several times, and I believed him. He had a very sincere look in his eye and his manner about him seemed honest. It takes a stand-up person to come out here and deal with the situation as quickly as he did. I accept his apology.”
Simon was still scheduled to have an in-person hearing with NHL Senior Vice President, Brian Burke, in New York. He had already suspended Simon for the Caps’ next game which was against the Florida Panthers.
In the end, Simon was suspended for two more games for a total of three games overall and was also fined $36,585. Simon also volunteered to run some hockey clinics at the Fort Dupont Ice Rink in Southeast DC.
In other unfortunate news for the Capitals, Pat Peake’s comeback was short-lived. He tore a ligament during the game and needed surgery. This game ultimately turned out to be the last of his NHL career.
Simon’s suspension came at a bad time for the Caps as they had several forwards out with injuries, besides Peake. Mike Eagles fractured his wrist during their next game with Florida; Michal Pivonka had injured his left hand in October and had played through it but now was diagnosed with a fracture. Yogi Svejkovsky, Joe Juneau and Andrei Nikolishin were all already on injured reserve.
By Diane Doyle
Box Score of Game from Hockey Reference
Alleged Slur Mars Caps Win
Simon Apologized for Epithet
Housley in on the Wing Keeps Moving
NHL Suspends Simon 3 Games Without Pay
This Day In Caps History November 8