Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Memorial Cup: A history . . . 1991

The Spokane Chiefs play their first game in the 2008 Memorial Cup on Saturday, 17 years after they won it all. So let's break away from the chronological order we've been following and take a look at that 1991 tournament . . .

Spokane Chiefs, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Drummondville Voltigeurs
and Chicoutimi Sagueneens
at Quebec City (Le Colisee)

Oh, yes, this was going to be the Memorial Cup to end all Memorial Cups.
Yes, a lot of people were waiting anxiously for this tournament.
The script had been written well in advance and it went something like this:
Centre Eric Lindros, now all of 18 years of age, would lead the defending-champion Oshawa Generals into Quebec City, home of the NHL's Nordiques.
You have to understand that the Nordiques were to have the first selection in the NHL's 1991 entry draft later that summer. Lindros was certain to be the first pick.
Except that Lindros was making noises about not wanting to be part of the Nordiques organization.
No matter.
All of the intrigue and anticipation was for naught. That's because the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, of head coach Ted Nolan, hadn't read the script.
The hockey fans in the Soo felt they had a vested interest in all of this, too. After all, the Greyhounds had selected Lindros in the 1989 OHL midget draft only to have him refuse to report.
"I have nothing against the city, just the location, the bus travel with the team and the proximity to my (Toronto) home,” Lindros would explain umpteen-dozen times. “They got five players, draft picks and cash in return, so they can't complain.”
The Greyhounds picked up right-wingers Mike DeCoff and Jason Denomme, goaltender Mike Lenarduzzi, left-winger Joe Busillo and defenceman Drew Bannister as part of the package for Lindros.
All five of those players would play in the 1991 Memorial Cup tournament. In fact, Denomme would play in back-to-back tournaments, while Bannister would appear in three consecutive tournaments as the 'Hounds made it to three in a row.
All eyes were on the OHL championship final, which pitted Oshawa against Sault Ste. Marie.
The teams split the first two games in Oshawa and headed for the Soo, where there were concerns about security and fans were asked not to go beyond the norm in their attempts to razz Lindros.
The 'Hounds thrilled 4,590 fans on May 2 with a 6-5 overtime victory, the winner coming -- ironically -- on a goal by Denomme at 2:29 of the extra session.
One night later, Sault Ste. Marie won again, this time by an 8-5 count, with DeCoff contributing two goals.
Fears for Lindros's safety proved unfounded, although he absorbed a lot of verbal abuse. And the Soo fans outdid themselves with signs and banners, one of which read ‘The Soo Wants The Cup, Eric Wants His Mommy’.
The series then shifted to Oshawa where the Generals posted a 4-2 victory on May 5 to stay alive and send the series back to the Soo. That loss was only the Greyhounds' second in their last 22 games.
And the Greyhounds had the last laugh on May 6 when they dumped the Generals 4-2 to take the series in six games. Busillo scored one of the Soo's goals.
Due to illness, Lindros saw only spot duty in Game 6.
"It's poetic justice,” offered Sherry Bassin, the Greyhounds' general manager. "We gave them Eric Lindros and they took him to the cup last year. We got the guys who wanted to be here.”
Lenarduzzi led the OHL with a 3.23 goals-against average -- he and Kevin Hodson combined to allow the fewest goals in the OHL that season, 217 for a goals-against average of 3.27. Busillo totalled 97 points, including 31 goals, while Denomme had 20 goals and 34 assists.
The Greyhounds had gone 42-21-3 -- Oshawa was 47-13-6 atop the Leyden Division -- en route to a first-place finish in the Emms Division.
They would go on to win their second OHL championship since the franchise was granted prior to the 1972-73 season. The other title? Terry Crisp coached them to the 1984-85 championship. At the 1985 Memorial Cup, they dropped an 8-3 semifinal decision to the eventual champion Prince Albert Raiders.
This time around, the Greyhounds roared through the OHL playoffs. They brushed aside the Hamilton Steelhawks in four games to earn a bye into the division final where they swept the Niagara Falls Thunder.
Next up was Oshawa in the championship final and, of course, the Greyhounds won that in six games.
This was a team built on goaltending and defence. Lenarduzzi was outstanding and Hodson's 3.22 GAA was the best of any first-year goaltender in the OHL.
Still, this was a team that had to fight for every ounce of respect it could get. The Greyhounds that season were virtually ignored when it came to postseason awards. In fact, only two players were named all-stars -- defenceman Adam Foote was on the first team, Lenarduzzi was the third team goaltender -- and Nolan was named coach of the second team.
While the Greyhounds were winning the OHL title, the QMJHL was deciding its championship but, with the Memorial Cup scheduled for Quebec City, both finalists would advance.
And both teams -- the Chicoutimi Sagueneens and Drummondville Voltigeurs -- seemed worthy representatives.
Chicoutimi, in the Frank Dilio Division, had finished with the QMJHL's best regular-season record (43-21-6) and, with Felix Potvin getting the bulk of the playing time in goal, had allowed only 223 goals, the best defensive record in the league. It perhaps said something that Potvin and defenceman Eric Brule were the two Chicoutimi players named to the first all-star team, which also included head coach Joe Canale.
On the other side of the coin was an offence that scored 299 goals, the QMJHL's fourth-highest figure.
And while the Sagueneens didn't have a scorer in the regular season's top 10, centre Steve Larouche topped the playoff scoring parade with 33 points, including 13 goals, in 17 games.
Chicoutimi opened the postseason by ousting the Shawinigan Cataractes in six games and followed that up with a seven-game victory over the Laval Titan.
Drummondville, meanwhile, finished third in the Frank Dilio Division, its 42-25-3 record leaving it five points behind Chicoutimi.
The Voltigeurs, under head coach Jean Hamel, were led offensively by Denis Chasse. He finished fifth in the QMJHL points race, with 101, including 47 goals.
Still, defenceman Patrice Brisebois was the only one of the Voltigeurs named to the first all-star team. Defenceman Guy Lehoux was a second-team selection, with left-winger Rene Corbet being named a third teamer along with Hamel.
Drummondville opened the playoffs against the high-flying Trois-Rivieres Draveurs, who were led by QMJHL scoring king Yanic Perreault (187 points, including 87 goals) and runnerup Todd Gillingham (148 points, including 102 assists). The Voltigeurs won it in six games, outscoring the Draveurs 30-19 in the process.
In their semifinal series, the Voltigeurs took out Longueuil College-Francais in four games, giving up 18 goals while scoring 30.
And when it came to the final, it was no contest -- Chicoutimi beat Drummondville in four games. The Sagueneens scored 19 goals in the final, but surrendered only 11.
The Spokane Chiefs, meanwhile, were running roughshod through the WHL.
Under head coach Bryan Maxwell, the Chiefs put together a 48-23-1 regular-season record, second only to the Kamloops Blazers (50-20-2).
But when it came to the playoffs it was no contest.
The Chiefs opened with two best-of-nine West Division series, taking apart the Seattle Thunderbirds 5-1 before sweeping Kamloops, 5-0.
Then, in the best-of-seven WHL championship series, the Chiefs swept aside the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
When all was said and done, the Chiefs had posted a 14-1 playoff record, while scoring 63 goals and allowing only 33.
Offensively, the Chiefs were sparked by the one-two punch of Ray Whitney and Pat Falloon.
Whitney won the regular-season scoring championship with 185 points in 72 games and followed that up by grabbing the playoff title, too, with 31 points.
Falloon's 138 points, in 61 games, left him fourth in the regular season. He added 24 points in 15 postseason games.
The Chiefs also got offence from Mark Woolf, who had 41 goals and 49 assists during a season in which, as would be revealed during the Memorial Cup, he had battled his own demons.
This was a Spokane team that had surrendered 275 regular-season goals, second only to Kamloops (247). But the Chiefs' figure perhaps was somewhat misleading because Spokane general manager Tim Speltz had swung a deal at the trade deadline to acquire goaltender Trevor Kidd from the Brandon Wheat Kings.
The Chiefs went 31-6-0 after getting Kidd, who played every minute of every playoff game, going 14-1 with a remarkable 2.07 goals-against average.
"This time last year I was two months into summer vacation,” said Kidd who, along with Falloon, had helped Canada to a gold medal at the 1991 world junior championship in Saskatchewan. "Now it's nice and sunny out and I'm going to the Memorial Cup.”
Defensively, he got help from the likes of Bart Cote, who also was acquired from Brandon, Jon Klemm and Kerry Toporowski. It's also worth noting that Toporowski totalled 505 regular-season penalty minutes and 108 more in the WHL playoffs. He would then set a Memorial Cup tournament record with 63 penalty minutes. Add it all up and Toporowski incurred 676 penalty minutes that season.
Cote, for one, felt Kidd gave the Chiefs an edge.
"It's probably the best I've ever seen Trevor play,” Cote said.
As for Kidd, he said: "We have Pat Falloon and Ray Whitney, guys who can put the puck in the net, but we do it with everybody.”
The Chiefs would be the first American team in the Memorial Cup since 1986 when the Portland Winter Hawks were in as the host team.
The 1991 tournament opened on May 11 with Drummondville beating Sault Ste. Marie 4-2 in front of an estimated 3,000 spectators.
The teams were tied 1-1 going into the third period -- Hugo Proulx having scored for the Voltigeurs in the first period, Tony Iob for the Greyhounds in the second -- when Drummondville exploded for three goals.
Brisebois (5:39), Claude Jutras Jr. (7:23) and Ian Laperriere (8:09) gave the Voltigeurs a 3-1 lead before the Soo's Rick Kowalsky closed out the scoring.
Goaltender Pierre Gagnon made 34 saves for the Voltigeurs, while Lenarduzzi stopped 30 at the other end.
On May 12, Potvin proved his worth with a 33-save performance as Chicoutimi downed Sault Ste. Marie 2-1 in front of 9,297 fans.
And, before 5,675 fans, Spokane drubbed Drummondville 7-3.
Stephane Charbonneau got Chicoutimi on the board against the Greyhounds with a power-play goal four minutes into the opening period.
The teams played through a scoreless second period, before Iob forged a tie just 50 seconds into the third period. It remained for Sebastien Parent to win it at 2:59 of the third, the goal dropping the Greyhounds' record to 0-2.
The game between Spokane and Drummondville featured 206 penalty minutes -- 29 of them to Toporowski, who totalled two minors, three majors and a game misconduct -- as the teams went at it tooth and nail.
Falloon led the Chiefs, who were ahead 2-1 and 3-2 by periods, with three goals, all of them in the third period, and Woolf and Whitney added two each.
Chasse scored all three of Drummondville's goals.
The Chiefs were at the eye of the storm again on May 14 when they rocked Chicoutimi 7-1 in a game that featured eight ejections, 226 penalty minutes and a third-period line brawl just as CHL president Ed Chynoweth was issuing fines resulting from the Spokane-Drummondville game.
(The Chiefs and Voltigeurs were fined $500 each. At the same time, Chicoutimi and Sault Ste. Marie were fined $250 each for a pregame pushing incident prior to their game on May 12.)
"These types of incidents are not the type of game we are trying to sell,” Chynoweth said.
The Chiefs' victory over the Sagueneens clinched a berth in the final even though they had yet to play the Greyhounds.
"It will be my job to keep them focused and not let them think about the final,” said Maxwell, who was head coach of the 1987 Memorial Cup-champion Medicine Hat Tigers.
Whitney, for one, didn't think focus would be a problem.
"Everybody wants that ring on their finger and it's hard not to be thinking about it,” he said.
The Chiefs started quickly -- Toporowski, who had 17 penalty minutes and wasn't around at the end, scored 42 seconds into the game and Brent Thurston made it 2-0 at 3:27 -- and Chicoutimi was never able to recover in front of 9,320 fans, many of whom had travelled the 200 kilometres from the Saguenay region of Quebec to cheer on their favorites.
Thurston finished with two goals, as did Falloon, who now had five goals in two games. Woolf, a 20-year-old right winger, chipped in with a goal and four assists, the five points falling one short of the tournament's single-game record. Woolf now was leading the tournament in points, with eight.
Whitney had the other goal for Spokane, which outshot Chicoutimi 29-16.
Potvin stopped 18 of 23 shots before giving way to Sylvain Rodrique at 2:04 of the third period with the Chiefs ahead 5-1.
Larouche had Chicoutimi's lone goal.
An interested spectator at the game was George Brett, all-star third baseman and three-time American League batting king with baseball's Kansas City Royals. Brett and brothers Bobby, John and Ken owned the Chiefs.
The Brett brothers, who already owned the Class A Spokane Indians baseball team, had bought controlling interest in the Chiefs in 1990. They paid about US$700,000 and felt at the time that they had overpaid.
By the spring of 1996, it was believed that the Chiefs were the most valuable major junior franchise in the CHL. If they were for sale, and they weren't, the asking price would have been in the neighborhood of $5 million US.
In the spring of 1991, however, George Brett was on the disabled list with torn knee ligaments. He had been in Milwaukee with the Royals on May 12 when he had a discussion with teammate Terry Puhl, an outfielder from Melville, Sask. The subject of the Memorial Cup came up during the conversation, the first time Brett had heard of it.
"(Terry) said this was the biggest thing in these kids' lives,” Brett said. "That's when I knew.”
Brett wouldn't be able to stay for the entire week but said if the Chiefs were in the final he knew where there was a "Canuck bar” about two blocks from his home in Kansas City.
"I will be at the bar, sitting there with my friends, hopefully watching the Chiefs win,” he said.
Woolf, who admitted publicly to an alcohol problem during the tournament, scored again -- giving him four goals and five assists in three games -- in an 8-4 victory over the Soo on May 15 that eliminated the Greyhounds.
It was revealed that during the season Maxwell had sent Woolf home to Redcliff, Alta.
"I had a couple of beers and missed curfew five times,” said Woolf, who had played for Maxwell with the 1986-87 Tigers. "When I left, it was like my dog died.”
A unanimous vote by his teammates led to his return to the team.
"I screwed up and I am getting a chance to redeem myself,” Woolf said. "I hurt a lot of people and I know it.
"I was lucky to come back. You don't know how good you've got something until I was sitting at home and I wondered what I was going to do.”
He added: "I don't want to see it in the papers as an alcohol problem, but it is the truth. I haven't had a drink in months.”
The Chiefs buried the Greyhounds early, striking for the first period's only five goals in front of 5,277 fans.
Besides Woolf's goal, the Chiefs got two goals each from Whitney and Falloon and singles from Mike Jickling, Thurston and Shane Maitland.
DeCoff, Denny Lambert, Wade Whitten and Mark Matier replied for the Greyhounds, who were outshot 25-20.
Maxwell went the distance with goaltender Scott Bailey in this game. It was his first appearance since late in the regular season.
Falloon and Whitney now were tied for the points lead, each with 10, including five goals.
And what of Toporowski? Well, he added to his total by 14 minutes, thanks to two minors and a misconduct, all in the first period.
All of this led to a meaningless round-robin game in which Drummondville beat Chicoutimi 5-3 on May 16. The teams would meet again the following night in the semifinal game.
On May 16, the Voltigeurs, who held period leads of 3-0 and 3-2, got goals from Alexandre Legault, Proulx, Corbet, Laperriere and Brisebois. Danny Beauregard, Parent and Charbonneau scored for Chicoutimi in front of 5,875 fans.
One night later, before 8,156 fans, Drummondville earned the right to meet Spokane in the final by beating Chicoutimi 2-1 in overtime.
Drummondville, beaten in four straight by Chicoutimi in the QMJHL final, won the semifinal after 11:26 of overtime when Chicoutimi defenceman Steve Gosselin accidentally knocked a centring pass by Laperriere into his own net.
Proulx opened the scoring for Drummondville at 7:27 of the first period, Larouche replied at 11:29 and that was it until Laperriere was credited with the winner.
As it turned out it didn't much matter who was in the final, because there was no stopping the Chiefs.
On May 20, Spokane downed Drummondville 5-1. It marked the second straight season in which one team went through the tournament unbeaten. Oshawa had turned the trick in 1990.
This was the second time an American-based team had won the Memorial Cup, the other being 1983 when Portland won it.
"This feels better than winning the world junior,” said Falloon, who scored the game's final goal. He finished with eight goals, tying the tournament record (Dale Hawerchuk, Cornwall, 1981; Luc Robitaille, Hull, 1986). Falloon, the tournament's leading pointgetter with 12, one more than Whitney, was named the tournament's most valuable player.
Falloon, Whitney, also the most sportsmanlike player, and Thurston made it a Spokane sweep of the forward spots on the all-star team. The all-star team also included Brisebois and the Soo's Brad Tiley on defence, with Potvin in goal.
Jickling sent Spokane into the lead just 52 seconds into the game, but Dave Paquet tied it at 6:34.
"That was the only time anybody even tied Spokane,” said Hamel. "We came in through the back door and can leave through the front with our heads high.”
Murray Garbutt added two first-period goals for the Chiefs, the second coming with 19 seconds left in the first period. And Klemm added the other, with 19 seconds remaining in the second period.
Kidd made 30 saves. He finished with three wins in as many starts and his 1.67 GAA tied the tournament record set by Richard Brodeur of the Cornwall Royals in 1972.
The Chiefs finished the tournament with seven players having scored at least five points. From the other three teams, only Larouche and Charbonneau, both from Chicoutimi, had as many as five points.
Spokane, in winning all four of its games, scored 27 goals and gave up only nine. Drummondville scored 15 goals, Sault Ste. Marie and Chicoutimi managed only seven each.
It was complete and total domination.
And yet there was a touch of sadness in the Spokane dressing room. That's because Woolf didn't play.
"We don't have a lot of rules on this team,” Maxwell said, "but he broke one of them.
"I can remember when I was a kid and my dad would take my hockey, my baseball, my football away from me if I didn't show respect for the rules. That meant something to me.
"He has a problem. We will work with him this summer.”
Woolf skated in the pregame warmup but was then told he wouldn't dress for what was to have been the final game of his major junior playing career.
"I felt a big part of this team,” said Woolf, who it turns out had paused for a beer or two sometime during the week, "and I am a big part of this team. We did win. I was just sorry to see it end this way.
"This is not the way I wanted it to end.”