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Easter Epic, or...: Name Your Favorite Sports Highlight

Times have changed, new stars born, but at least they're all wearing the right colors again.
Times have changed, new stars born, but at least they're all wearing the right colors again.

It's so hard to pick just one. But Samsung asks, and I'm easily bought, so I'll try.

The assignment: Name your favorite sports highlight. I'm definitely excluding other sports (right, as if they could compete with hockey). Definitely throwing out non-Islanders moments (my hockey allegiances haven't been particularly rewarding, but it's not the same when it's not your team).

As for the New York Islanders dynasty, my comprehension of what I was seeing during its latter half -- the only part I truly remember -- was limited by youth and polished only after the fact as I realized the quality of those first hockey teams I laid eyes upon. Others can describe dynastic moments much better.

So tell us your favorite moment -- from any generation. Mine? There was something about the Easter Epic in 1987 that brought together all I loved and still cherish about sports. For several reasons:

1. These Weren't Your Father's Islanders

The Islanders I knew when I was born into hockey consciousness won. They just won and won and won. Stanley Cups weren't an entitlement -- they were just the way of things. Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier -- they existed in a permanent peak. Get old? Nonsense.

Cruelly, the more I came to understand the game, the more I understood how fleeting the dominance I'd seen when I first came to know it. Yearly Stanley Cups were not the way of things, it turned out. And after 1984, neither were trips to the finals. Turns out winning teams come and go. (Soon I would learn the playoffs are no guarantee either.)

The 1987 playoffs, the seven-game semifinal victory over the Capitals, was when I fully realized the golden days were no more. The Caps had home advantage. Forever bridesmaids to the Islanders and Flyers during the 1980s, these Caps posed a real challenge.

And this was the year a banged-up Bossy didn't score 50 goals. He didn't play again. This was the year a banged-up Potvin only played 58 games. The next season was his farewell tour. Things had changed, and suddenly winning in Game 7 OT wasn't an inevitability. There was actual doubt.

And now the Islanders I watch -- well Michael Grabner wasn't born yet, nor was Kyle Okposo, nor was Josh Bailey for another two years and John Tavares for another three. Our whole "top 25 under 25" was yet to breathe air.

2. The Glory and Anguish of Sudden Death Overtime

Yes, overtime. Hockey's greatest dramatic gift to sports. No taking turns with the ball, no penalty kicks, no possession arrows. Just toss the puck out there, and next goal wins.

I remember trying to stay awake. Nodding off and being jolted back to consciousness each time the announcers' voices raised, each time my reserved father let out an uncharacteristic shout. The year before, I had missed the end of a similarly "epic" overtime game, 1986 Campbell Conference Finals, when the Blues played what instantly became the "Monday Night Miracle"" (yes, 14 years before the NFL Jets claimed one) to force Game 7 -- but I'd been sent to bed before its end. I told mother, "I'll never go to bed during OT again."

So what do you know, the very next year my other hockey allegiance gets entangled in, if not a miracle, certainly a dramatic endurance test of epic proportions.

I remember the still photos afterward -- the shot of the scoreboard with shots reading 75-57 (thank you, Kelly Hrudey). The shot of Bob Mason, deflated, legs out, too tired to skate away, too afraid he'll never get back up if he collapses to the ice.

I remember Gord Dineen rushing the puck down the boards and around the net in that hopeful "just need one" way that everyone, even defensive defensemen -- Dineen had seven career goals up to that point -- think maybe they can be the hero. (I swear I remember Bobby Bassen being robbed once, maybe twice, but maybe it's all a blur?)

I remember Pat LaFontaine's happy feet dance, the players displaying that special mix of relief and victorious exaltation that only a playoff series-clinching goal can provide.

I don't care how sluggish the bodies are, how choppy the ice gets, how simple the hockey becomes, when a series is riding on "next goal wins," there's simply nothing like overtime. Double overtime? Triple? Quadruple overtime? I'll take it. The shootout can eat my hockey socks.

3. You Don't Know When Formative Moments Will Happen, But You Remember Them Forever

So here was the team that used to win it all every year, and here I was running around the house screaming -- but not too loud, your sisters are asleep -- because that same team had merely escaped the Patrick Division semifinal. Times change.

I remember fearing I would hear that Capitals Centre "police siren" goal horn one last painful time. I remember fearing that building would come alive when I desperately wanted it to remain quiet.

I remember turning to my dad afterward and just beaming with delight, and the ever-serious old man actually cracked a smile.

And I remember realizing each playoff year in the 10, 20, now 25 years afterward that the Easter Epic was one of the best moments I'd ever see. Now multiple-OT classics take me back to this one. When fans of other teams cheer in relief, I know how they feel. I know what it's like. When kids are on the thin line between crying and screaming for joy, I remember the feeling.

* * *

It's weird. I had no idea then that LaFontaine would squabble with one of an endless line of troubled Islanders owners. That he would hold out, demand a trade -- and that his replacement Pierre Turgeon would step in and grab hearts as if nothing happened. No idea LaFontaine would become a beloved Sabre. That I'd interview him for a totally different reason years later. That his career would end way too soon (even with a stint with that other New York team), that he would join the Islanders front office, leave, and become an unperson in one of the oddest moves of an odd owner.

Some sports moments you think you'll remember forever but then they fade away or get replaced. Others just keep adding wrinkles as the years go on. The Bates penalty shot, the 1993 run -- those are vivid snapshots for me but they haven't added layers of meaning over the years (or maybe I was just too old for them to leave the same mark). The Easter Epic did, and that's why I'll never forget watching that night.

When at nearly 2 a.m. Eastern time of Easter Sunday 1987 (the game began on Saturday), as LaFontaine told The Hockey News 25 years later (May 28, 2012 issue):

"I was just covering for Gordie. I remember him coming around the net trying to throw it out front and I think the puck hit Langway's stick before it came out to me near the blueline.

"I don't think I've ever shot a puck the same way since. I just spun around because the puck came to me at an interesting angle and I just wanted to shoot it and hope for the best, because everything Kelly Hrudey and Bob Mason saw, they stopped. I remember the puck being off on its side, so I didn't catch it flat and it kind of knuckled. i heard the post and thought "oh" as if it didn't go in, but then I saw Mason drop to his knees and I saw our guys start to drop and then it was just unbelievable emotion for about a minute.

"Then we just collapsed."

The goalies were stopping everything so when the puck comes to you at an interesting angle, you just spin and shoot it. It's a goal scorer's way of thinking. And sometimes, especially in overtime, that's how history, and childhoods, and priceless memories are made.

Got a favorite sports moment? Tell us in comments. It's summer, so you don't have to keep it to hockey.