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I Still Can’t Believe Patrik Stefan Missed The Net

EDMONTON, CANADA ? NOVEMBER 3: Patrik Stefan #27 of the Dallas Stars skates against the Edmonton Oilers during their game at Rexall Place on November 3, 2006 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The Stars defeated the Oilers 3-2. (Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)
Dale MacMillan/Getty Images

"It turned a disaster into a debacle." That was Edmonton Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish after his team had been on the beneficial end of a miracle blunder, and I love that quote. It's spiritually perfect and correct. Patrik Stefan missing the net, which happened 17 years ago today, was a disaster. What happened right after was a debacle. It was also the funniest thing that's ever happened in the NHL.

The league was coming out of a dark age, as the lockout poisoned everything for a couple years on either side of it, and generational stars were rare or just kind of boring. (Crosby and Ovechkin were just then emerging. Sometimes I think they really did save the NHL.) Payrolls were pathetic. The Atlanta Thrashers existed. Hockey was on Versus, and in standard definition. It was all pretty grim. Maybe not as grim as Stefan's career. The No. 1 overall pick in a mostly disastrous draft, the Czech center battled chronic injuries and never lived up to the hype, only managing 177 points over six seasons in Atlanta. By the time he was shipped to Dallas for a middling defenseman who would be waived three months later plus a seventh-round pick, Stefan was on his last chance in North America. He would score five goals in 41 games for the Stars. He clinched immortality because he didn't score six.

On Jan. 4, 2007, the Stars and Oilers met in Edmonton in a battle between one team with playoff hopes and one with its eye on the draft lottery (remember this; it'll matter later). It was your typical sloppy post-lockout goalfest. It was also a goldmine for Guys to Remember. Joffrey Lupul! Ladislav Smid! Jussi Jokinen! Mike Damn Smith, who was still in the league as recently as 2022, was in goal for Dallas, at least until he got yanked.

The Oilers were down 5-4 in the closing seconds and pulled their goalie for the extra attacker. Marc-André Bergeron, trying to exit his zone, turned the puck over to a forechecking Stefan, who had nothing between him and the empty net, with 15 seconds left on the clock. If you're seeing this for the first time, I envy you.

It's tempting to criticize Stefan for not taking the easy shot from the circle and instead skating in to pot a backhander, but in the fullness of time I've become more forgiving. Give him that look 100,000 times and he'll score the insurance goal without issue on 99,999 of them. What happened there just ... doesn't happen. Except it did. "I saw it was bad ice and I had so much time so I just tried to carry it all the way to the net," Stefan said. "As soon as I put it on my backhand it jumped over my stick." 

It was not the end of the world, not yet. If it had ended there, with Stefan's blunder, it might have made the last 15 minutes of the next morning's SportsCenter. But the Oilers frantically sent the puck up the ice to a streaking Ales Hemsky, who beat Marty Turco with two seconds left to tie the game.

"They may show it a million times for years to come," a remarkably sanguine Stefan said afterward, and he was right. I cue up this video when I'm in need of a laugh, and I always find something new. The horrified/hostile sound of the home crowd when Bergeron turns it over, and how it transforms from there. The abundant snowshower Stefan creates when he tries to recover the puck and falls on his ass. The sniffy piety of Ray Ferraro, who declares, "That does not belong in the National Hockey League."

Stefan can't escape it; he says it's the first thing he gets asked about in any interview. Even his children grill him. “My kids asked me about that now,” Stefan told the Detroit Free Press in 2016. “My first thing about it is, bad things happen, unlucky, whatever it is. How are you going to respond after that? Good or bad? I tell the kids you can have a bad shift, bad game. There’s always next shift, next game. I didn’t kill somebody. It’s a game. Mistakes happen.” We're lucky they do.

Stefan wasn't signed by an NHL team after that season, and played just three games in the Swiss League before retiring. Hemsky had himself a nice little career, including three years in Dallas. The Stars would salvage the two points from this game with a shootout win, which made them more inclined to laugh about the whole mess. The real winner, however, would turn out to be the Chicago Blackhawks.

In an incredible postscript to an incredible blooper, the unlikely loser point earned by Edmonton proved to be the difference between 25th and 26th in the standings. Chicago squeaked past them in the draft order, and when the lottery balls were drawn, the No. 1 pick went to the Blackhawks when it could have been the Oilers'. Chicago used that pick to select Patrick Kane, who would lead them to three Stanley Cups; Edmonton is still searching for its first since 1990. Silver lining: A Kane-led Oilers team probably doesn't bumble its way into Connor McDavid. Patrik Stefan changed history.

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