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The Verdict: “B-A-A-A-NNNERMANNN!!!”

Wednesday, 03.03.2010 / 11:43 AM / The Verdict
By Bob Verdi  - Blackhawks Team Historian
Murray Bannerman will sign autographs at the Ferrara Pan Alumni Booth Friday night when the Blackhawks take on Vancouver.

“B-A-A-A-NNNERMANNN!!!”

The great Pat Foley, then and still voice of the Blackhawks, uttered that signature exclamation years ago, but its shelf life obviously has no expiration date. Foley might walk through an airport or into a restaurant or onto a golf course and a complete stranger will substitute a 'hello' and 'how are you' with that famous call.

“B-A-A-A-NNNERMANN!!”

When the man himself, the object of Foley’s excitement, enters the United Center Friday night to sign autographs before and during the Blackhawks’ game against the Vancouver Canucks, no doubt Murray Bannerman will hear various renditions from fans bearing long and cherished memories.

“It’s kind of cool,” says Bannerman. “I didn’t think much about it when it started happening. I was playing, and still worrying about doing my job. But after a while, particularly after I retired, I looked back and thought to myself, that’s nice, being attached to something like that.”

By all accounts, the genesis of Foley’s proclamation confirming what you just saw—a terrific save by Bannerman—traces back to the 1982 playoffs when the Blackhawks met their visceral rivals, the Minnesota North Stars, in the opening round Norris Division series. The Blackhawks had huffed and puffed through the regular season, finishing fourth with a record of 30-38-12 for 72 points, well south of the North Stars, who took first with 94 points. The format then pitted the No. 1 seed against the No. 4 in a cut-throat best-of-five, which meant the Blackhawks were accorded little chance of surviving, especially with the opening two games at the dreaded Met Center (since leveled to become part of the colossal Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn.)

Tony Esposito, whose Hall of Fame credentials were in place, had played 52 regular season games, but Bannerman had logged 29—a fairly heavy workload for Tony O’s backup.

“I want to say Tony was hurt, a hand injury of some kind,” Bannerman recalls. “So, I got the start up there, and that’s when it all began. I really didn’t see the tape and hear Pat until much later on, although people were telling me about it as soon as we got back to Chicago. Anyway, we were on a power play and we turned the puck over and it resulted in a breakaway.”

The guilty party was Bill Gardner, a very efficient forward for the Hawks. Bannerman, observing his oath of omerta, didn’t mention any names, but Gardner volunteered.

“I was on the left point, which was nice,” Gardner says. “I was trying to drop the puck back to one of our guys. Instead, Keith Acton got it and he was off on his own. Acton had always been my idol in junior hockey, but obviously I didn’t really plan to help him out there.”

Acton bore in on Bannerman, who drew on somewhat of a scouting report.

“Acton’s favorite move was to go to his left, or my right, my stick and blocker side,” he says.  “Fortunately, that’s what he did and I stopped him.”

“B-A-A-A-NNNERMAN!”

Watch Bannerman's "how did he do it" save against Keith Acton

The Blackhawks wound up escaping in fine fettle, beating Minnesota 3-2 on Greg Fox’s overtime goal in Game 1 and 5-3 in Game 2. They upset the North Stars in four games, spilled St. Louis, four games to three, in the next round and advanced to the Clarence Campbell Conference finals, where they were eliminated by the Vancouver Canucks during the “White Towel” affair. Their coach, Roger Neilson, became enraged at officiating and waved a white towel from his bench in the Stadium. When the series moved to Vancouver for Game 3, Canucks’ fans brought their laundry.

“At least I helped Pat become famous,” quips Gardner, who later joined Foley in the Blackhawks’ broadcast booth. But that post-season, when Bannerman participated in 10 games, also boosted his confidence as he prepared for the number one role while Esposito neared retirement. The Blackhawks boasted exemplary talent during the mid-'80s, but there always seemed to be that elephant across the ice every spring.

Murray Bannerman backed up Tony Esposito before taking over the reigns as the #1 goalie in 1984-85.

“Edmonton,” grouses Bannerman. “I honestly believe we had the second best team in the NHL, but the Oilers…how many Hall of Famers did they have on the roster? The game was nowhere near as fast as it is now, but they had speed like nobody else. Their transition game was unbelievable. I might look up and there were five guys within 10 feet of me—guys like Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. Plus, their role players were really good too.”

Bannerman was selected by the Canucks in the 1977 Draft, but so was Glen Hanlon, who was destined to be their go-to goalkeeper. Bannerman played just one game for the Canucks before being traded to Chicago in a deal that involved Pit Martin. The Blackhawks, however, had Esposito, who rarely took a night off, so Bannerman waited his turn, all the while studying Tony O’s art of preparation.

“We had some great guys and great players,” Bannerman says. “But it seemed like, when we were done, management didn’t want us near the building anymore. We never felt welcome. Now, what the Hawks are doing, marketing their current players and asking us former players back, is what the class organizations have always done. I went to their second summer Convention. Couldn’t believe all the people.”

Murray and wife Liz have three children, all grown. He works in Los Angeles with (Chicago-based) The Custom Companies, sees 15 or so Kings games a year and follows the Hawks.

“They’re really, really good,” he says. “I hear people being concerned about their goalkeeping. I’m not qualified to comment, but you don’t need the world’s greatest goalie to win a Cup when you’re that good. It’s been proven. Make the saves you’re supposed to make and you can win it all. Anyway, I’m excited about coming back. Only problem, being in L.A., I’ll have to borrow an overcoat.”

But he won’t walk far in the UC on Friday night before he hears it.

“B-A-A-A-NNNERMAN!!”

Team historian Bob Verdi has covered sports for five decades, including more than 40 years as a columnist and contributor for the Chicago Tribune. Verdi authored "Chicago Blackhawks: Seventy-Five Years" in 2001. Check out The Verdict archive here.