Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Memorial Cup: A history . . . 1956

1956 MEMORIAL CUP
Regina Pats vs. Toronto Marlboros
at Toronto (Maple Leaf Gardens)

The Toronto Marlboros, a team full of future NHLers, would take eight games to eliminate the Montreal Junior Canadiens and advance to the Memorial Cup final.
Coached by Turk Broda, the former Toronto Maple Leafs great goaltender, and with the likes of Bob Nevin, Charlie Burns, Carl Brewer, Bob Pulford, Bobby Baun, Lou Angotti, team captain Al MacNeil and Harry Neale on their roster, the Marlboros blanked the Baby Habs 2-0 on April 25 in the eighth game of the eight-point Eastern Canadian final.
Toronto won the eighth game on goals by Jim Murchie and Burns, with the perfect goaltending supplied by Les Broderick, who made 14 saves in front of 12,339 fans at Maple Leaf Gardens. It was Broderick's third shutout of the series.
The Regina Pats, the western Memorial Cup finalists, were in the stands for that game.
"I guess if you are big enough, tough enough and can skate, you can play hockey,” Regina head coach Murray Armstrong said of the game. "But the checking was very good. The players lean on one another and that type of hard checking doesn't enable a team to cut loose with pleasing, wide-open plays.”
Regina picked up three players for the final -- Len Lunde (Edmonton Oil Kings), Johnny Kowalchuk (Fort William Canadians) and Stewart McNeill (Port Arthur North Stars) -- and Armstrong put them together on one line.
The Pats' roster also included the likes of Bill Hicke, Murray Balfour, captain Harry Ottenbreit and goaltender Hank Metcalf.
The series opened on April 27 before only 3,855 fans at Maple Leaf Gardens, site of all games in this series. The Pats, coming off a 13-day layoff, held a 4-2 lead in the third period but had to settle for a 4-4 overtime tie.
After a scoreless first period, Regina led 3-2 after the second.
Bryan Whittal, Wayne Klinck, Joe Lunghamer and Johnny (Kayo) Kowalchuk scored for Regina. Left-winger Ken Girard got two goals for Toronto, with singles coming from Wally Boyer and Brewer. Girard's second goal, at 18:29 of the third, forged the tie. The teams played a scoreless 10-minute overtime period.
"I wasn't going to stay and see the series,” offered Toe Blake, head coach of the Stanley Cup-champion Montreal Canadiens, "but I think I will have to now.”
Two nights later, with 8,463 fans in the seats, the Marlboros breezed to a 5-1 victory. Toronto led 3-0 after one period and 5-1 after the second.
Pulford, who would turn into the star of this final, struck for two Toronto goals, with singles coming from MacNeil, Girard and Gary Collins. Balfour had Regina's only goal.
"The boys realize they have to toss the puck around a bit now,” Armstrong said. "They weren't shooting. They were hanging on too long. Our goalie, Hank Metcalf, admitted he should have had the first and third goals. The final goal was another gift. The clearing on the play was very weak.
"But that's the way the breaks fall. We should have scored more than one goal. We had a few good chances. Maybe we'll start getting some of these breaks the next time.”
Broda said: "Pats are getting better. They're starting to look like big leaguers. I did expect Regina would be a great deal stronger, and I still say it's going to be a good series.
"My club played better . . . although a few of the players are not too happy about their performances.”
The Marlboros won their second game in a row on May 2, beating the Pats 4-2 behind Pulford's two goals in front of 4,416 fans.
Pulford went into the final having struck for 18 goals in 14 playoff games. Ron Farnfield and Ron Casey also scored for Toronto. Whittal had both Regina goals. (Farnfield, from Winnipeg, was the only player on the Marlies' roster from outside of Toronto.)
"What can you say when you lose?” said Armstrong. "With any breaks we might have won.”
Toronto moved to within one victory of its second straight championship with a 6-1 whipping of Regina before 2,470 fans on May 4.
Broda said the Marlies "played their best game of the series.”
Armstrong was disappointed. "That was the key game and we weren't even in it. It was certainly a bad game.”
Toronto scored two goals in each period -- Pulford striking for three of them. Girard, Bill Kennedy and Burns added one each. Con Collie spoiled Broderick's shutout bid late in the third period.
Maple Leaf Gardens president Conn Smythe -- his son Stafford was the Marlboros' manager -- wasn't the least bit surprised the way the series was going.
"I defy any ordinary citizen to know what the Pats are supposed to be playing,” he said. "They're supposed to like this type of hockey in the west. That's why they keep losing the Memorial Cup. The Marlies play it like the pros and that's why they're winning.
"I don't blame the boys. It's not their fault because some of them show plenty of promise. It's the officials above them.”
The Marlboros wrapped it up on the afternoon of May 6, beating the Pats 7-4 before 3,601 fans.
Toronto led 4-1 after the first period, striking for three power-play goals in a 45-second span, and 6-4 after the second.
Pulford led the way with three goals, giving him 10 in the series. Baun, MacNeil, Kennedy and Boyer also scored for the winners. Whittal had two goals for Regina, with singles from Hicke and Kowalchuk.
"It was Regina's best showing,” Broda said. "They played a good game and have the nucleus of a good team. That kid Whittal was outstanding. He works hard. They tell me only two of the Regina players are overage for next season.
"If that's the case, then they could quite easily win the Memorial Cup next year. Isn't Saskatchewan supposed to be next year country?”
The Memorial Cup-winning goal came from Kennedy at 1:40 of the second period. It gave Toronto a 5-1 lead.
Broda became only the second coach to win back-to-back Memorial Cup titles. The other? Tracy Shaw, with the Oshawa Generals in 1939 and 1940.
Armstrong, meanwhile, was in his fifth Memorial Cup final, four of them as a coach. He now was 0-5. Counting regular-season and playoff games, Armstrong had 299 coaching victories with the Pats. He would have loved to have gotten No. 300 in the Memorial Cup. And now there were rumors that he was headed for Colorado College.

NEXT: 1957 (Flin Flon Bombers vs. Ottawa Canadiens)

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