Friday, June 20, 2008

The Memorial Cup: A history . . . 1982

Portland Winter Hawks, Kitchener Rangers and Sherbrooke Castors
at Hull (Robert Guertin Arena)

What once had been unthinkable finally happened in the spring of 1982 -- an American team was one of the three teams to qualify for the Memorial Cup tournament.
Understand, however, that this wasn't an ordinary major junior hockey franchise. This was the Portland Winter Hawks, who had penned an incredible success story.
The Winter Hawks moved to Portland from Edmonton in time for the 1976-77 season. Six seasons later, the Winter Hawks were Western Hockey League champions.
This was a franchise that had been orphaned by the birth of the World Hockey Assocation.
Before they were the Winter Hawks, they were the Edmonton Oil Kings, one of junior hockey's most storied franchises.
It was apparent early on that Edmonton wasn't big enough for the WHA's Alberta Oilers, who would later become the Edmonton Oilers, and the junior Oil Kings.
What complicated matters was that the Oilers actually owned the Oil Kings.
That changed on Nov. 18, 1975, when a group headed by Brian Shaw and Ken Hodge bought the Oil Kings from World Hockey Enterprises. The price? Slightly more than $150,000. That would be their final season in Edmonton.
‘Wild' Bill Hunter, a longtime Oil Kings' executive and coach who was then with the Oilers, pointed out that the sale was done because "our primary work must centre with the Edmonton Oilers.”
Hodge immediately took over as head coach of the Oil Kings, replacing Doug Messier. Yes, he is Mark's father. Ironically, Hodge had been fired as the Oil Kings’ coach the previous March.
Hodge was a familiar face in western junior circles; in fact, he was well-known throughout the junior hockey world.
He had played with the Moose Jaw Canucks, but his playing career was cut short by an eye injury. He got into coaching at an early age, serving as an assistant coach with the Swift Current Broncos before his 21st birthday.
By 1968-69, he was coaching the Sorel, Que., Eperviers, a team that lost the eastern final to the Montreal Junior Canadiens, featuring the likes of Gilbert Perreault, Marc Tardif and Rejean Houle.
Hodge would go on to coach in the west for 22 seasons, posting a Canadian major record 741 victories.
Shaw, who became the franchise's governor and general manager, was even more highly recognized in junior circles than was Hodge.
Born in Nordegg, Alta., in 1930, Shaw had been pretty much on his own since the age of 15. His parents had died during his childhood and a grandmother who raised him passed away when he was 15.
Shaw was a goaltender in his playing days, but he knew early on that he wanted to coach, a career he began in the late 1950s with the Jasper Place Juveniles in Edmonton.
By the time he became an owner of the Oil Kings, he had an extensive coaching portfolio. He had worked behind the bench with the Oil Kings on a few occasions, the first in August of 1971. His Moose Jaw Canucks won the WHL's first championship in the spring of 1967. He also coached the Ontario junior league's St. Catharines Black Hawks and the year before first coaching in Edmonton he was the personnel director of the International league's Flint Generals.
Yes, Shaw and Hodge knew their way around a dressing room.
The Oil Kings, who once drew 180,000 fans over one season, averaged 1,100 fans per game -- they played in the 5,800-seat Edmonton Gardens -- and lost more than $100,000 in 1974-75. Those figures didn't improve the following season.
On June 11, 1976, Shaw announced that the Oil Kings were moving to Portland.
They were an immediate success on the ice and at the gate. But, despite having 33 players drafted by NHL teams in their first five seasons in Portland, that first championship had eluded them. Until now.
And now the Winter Hawks were about to compete in their first Memorial Cup tournament.
"There's something special about this team,” Hodge said. "They've shown the ability to win the important games. We've never done as well in the playoffs.
"I don't think we've ever been as disciplined on the ice. The players are more concerned with what the team does than what they do as individuals.”
Offensively, the Winter Hawks were led by centre Ken Yaremchuk. He totalled 58 goals and 99 assists in 72 regular-season games.
Yaremchuk keyed Portland's top line, with wingers Brian Shaw (the GM's nephew) and Randy Heath. Shaw had 56 goals and 76 assists, with Heath scoring 52 goals and setting up 47 others.
"I've watched the Memorial Cup on television up in Canada the last three years,” Portland centre Ken Yaremchuk said. "It's the next biggest thing after the Stanley Cup.”
This was a team that could boast of 13 players with at least 10 goals, including Perry Pelensky (40), Rob Geale (31), Richard Kromm (16), Kevin Griffin (27) and Grant Sasser (19).
The defence was on the large size, featuring 6-footers Gary Nylund, Kelly Hubbard, Randy Turnbull, Brian Curran and Jim Playfair.
And in goal stood Darrell May, who was putting the wraps on what had been a solid four-year WHL career. During the Memorial Cup, he would get help from Mike Vernon, who was added from the Calgary Wranglers.
At 46-24-2, the Winter Hawks had the West Division's best record, but it was behind the Lethbridge Broncos (50-22-0) and Regina Pats (48-24-0).
The Winter Hawks opened the playoffs by sweeping the Kamloops Junior Oilers. Portland then won the West Division with a six-game victory over the Seattle Breakers.
That put them into the championship series against Regina. It was not a pretty affair.
On April 30, the Winter Hawks beat the visiting Pats 5-3 in a game that featured numerous fights. At one point, the Pats, who were coached by Bill LaForge, left their bench. Hodge kept his players on their bench.
And, at one stage, GM Brian Shaw got into it on the ice with Regina trainer Dennis Scott.
The Winter Hawks won their first championship on May 2, drubbing the suspension-riddled Pats 9-2 and taking the series 4-1.
And so it was that the Winter Hawks became the first American-based team to qualify for the Memorial Cup.
This tournament would also include the Ontario league's Kitchener Rangers, back for the second year in a row, and the Quebec league's Sherbrooke Castors.
The Rangers, coached by Joe Crozier, were keyed by linemates Brian Bellows and Jeff Larmer, and goaltender Wendell Young.
Bellows, the captain, was the team's undisputed leader and was coming off a 97-point regular season in which he had scored 45 goals in 47 games.
Bellows, a 17-year-old right winger, played on a line with centre Grant Martin and left-winger Jeff Larmer. Between them, they had scored 42 of the 71 goals Kitchener had scored in the playoffs. Larmer had 21 goals and 14 assists in 15 playoff games; in fact, he had gone goalless in just one of those games. Bellows had 16 goals and 13 assists; Martin had three goals and 15 assists, but had sat out the last three games with a suspension.
Mike Eagles, Mike Hough, Mike Moher, Mario Michieli and John Tucker could find the net, too.
Young was backed up by Darryl Boudreau, and the Rangers had added Jim Ralph from the Ottawa 67's as a third goaltender.
Defensively, the star was Al MacInnis, who was becoming a legend thanks to a booming slapshot. He had 25 goals and 50 assists in 59 regular-season games.
This defence also featured Scott Stevens and David Shaw, both of whom were rookies, along with Robert Savard, who was quite a story. He had scored the Memorial Cup-winning goal in overtime for the Cornwall Royals in Regina in 1980. And he was a member of the Royals the following season when they won it all in Windsor.
And now Savard was trying to make it three Memorial Cup championships in a row.
The Rangers went 44-21-3 in the regular season to finish on top of the Emms Division, and then skated past the Windsor Spitfires, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and Ottawa 67's in the playoffs.
Kitchener went into the Memorial Cup on a real roll. Going back two seasons, the Rangers had lost just one of 27 OHL playoff games. Throw in Memorial Cup games and their overall playoff record over the last two seasons was 23-3-7.
Sherbrooke, under coach Andre Boisvert, put together a 42-20-2 regular season to finish first in what was now a one-division Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Centre John Chabot was the key offensively. He finished third in the scoring race with 143 points, including a league-high 109 assists.
Daniel Campeau tied for 10th with 108 points, including 58 goals.
Also on this team were the likes of left-winger Gerard Gallant (34 goals), right-winger Sean McKenna (57) and right-winger Luc Bachand (35), Dave Kasper and Gord Donnelly. The defence featured first-team all-stars Paul Boutillier and Michel Petit.
The goaltender was Michel Morissette and he was coming off a fine season, posting a 3.51 goals-against average in 45 games.
The QMJHL's first-round of postseason play was an eight-team round-robin series. Sherbrooke went 9-5-0 to finish second behind the Laval Voisins (10-4-0).
The Castors then went up against Laval in the second round and swept the Voisins, outscoring them 28-11 in the process.
In the championship final, Sherbrooke got past Trois-Rivieres in four games, outscoring the Draveurs 28-10.
The Castors had been the regular-season's highest-scoring team, with 392 goals. But they could keep the puck out of their net, too, as their 265 goals-against, third-lowest in the league, could attest.
This would be Sherbrooke's third Memorial Cup appearance, following 1975 and 1977. This one would be a little more special, though, because major junnior hockey was on its way out of Sherbrooke.
When another hockey season arrived, the NHL's Winnipeg Jets would have a team in Sherbrooke. The Castors? They relocated to St. Jean.
Sherbrooke opened the tournament as though it was a team with a purpose.
The Castors, who were thought to be the third-best team in the tournament, opened by hammering the Rangers 10-4 in front of 2,529 fans on May 8.
Sherbrooke, backed by a 52-save effort from Morissette, opened up a 4-1 first-period lead and never looked back.
Gallant struck for three Sherbrooke goals, with McKenna and Alain Gilbert adding two each, and singles coming from Bachand, Alain Menard and Petit.
Larmer had two goals for Kitchener, with Martin and Eagles adding one apiece.
Kitchener went through two goaltenders in the loss, with Young and Darryl Boudreau facing 33 shots.
The next night, before 2,396 fans, the Rangers got on track by whipping the Winter Hawks 9-2.
"You didn't see the real Rangers in that first game against Sherbrooke -- tonight, you did,” Bellows said. "That's the way we're going to play from here on.”
Larmer had two goals and two assists against Portland and now had seven points in his first two games. He said the Rangers held a team meeting after their opening loss and chose to change tactics.
They had tried to intimidate Sherbrooke and found that it didn't work. Against Portland, the Rangers chose to return to the fundamentals -- skating, passing and shooting.
Martin added two goals for Kitchener, with singles coming from Bellows, Michieli, Dave Nicholls, Hough and Moher.
Shaw and Geale scored for the Winter Hawks, who were outshot 40-31.
May's Memorial Cup debut lasted 16 minutes 38 seconds. He was replaced by Vernon with the Rangers leading 5-1.
"We just didn't play our game,” said Shaw the GM. "The players were nervous and they didn't hit.
"But they'll be hitting against Sherbrooke and the defence will have to do the work out there they didn't do tonight.”
The Rangers dumped the Beavers 4-0 on May 11 and the 2,359 fans witnessed a brawl-marred game.
Bellows and MacInnis had two goals each, with Young stopping 29 shots for the shutout.
But when it was over everyone was talking about the 20-minute brawl at 8:29 of the second period that necessitated a 35-minute delay as referee Daniel Cournoyer sorted it out.
According to The Canadian Press:
"It started with Gerard Gallant of Sherbrooke dropping Kitchener's Mike Eagles to the ice with a slash to the head in the Sherbrooke defensive zone.
"Kitchener players immediately took after Gallant. In seconds, the benches were empty with knots of struggling players swarming like bees from one part of the ice to another.”
Gallant ended up with a triple major and a game misconduct. Kitchener's Kevin Casey, the first player to leave a bench, took a double minor and a game misconduct.
"I gave (Eagles) a little bump and he gave me a jab in the stomach,” Gallant said. "I just went to give him a little jab (back) in the chest and my stick went up a little high.”
Within 24 hours, the Canadian Major Junior Hockey League's discipline committee acted on the altercation. The Rangers and Castors had to post $500 bonds. Kitchener was fined $1,000 because Casey was the first player off the bench.
Portland stayed alive on May 12 with a 4-2 victory over Kitchener. Attendance was 2,575.
The Winter Hawks got all four of their goals in the first period, from Heath, Yaremchuk, Kromm and Shaw. With Portland leading 4-0 at 12:26 of the first period, Young was replaced by Ralph.
"We thought before the game we were sure to be in the final -- you're on top of the world,” Bellows said. "Then it suddenly dawns on you that you could be out of the tournament.”
No matter. The Rangers were 2-2 and knew they would be in the final.
"Because we played so well last night (in beating the Castors 4-0), we thought we could do the same tonight,” Crozier said. "But we gave away a lot of chances early and then we couldn't beat their goalie.”
Bellows and Martin scored for the Rangers, who outshot the Winter Hawks 19-5 in the second period and 12-5 in the third but were continually stymied by May.
Kitchener fired at least 10 shots at May during a second-period major penalty incurred by Turnbull. That onslaught included a Bellows slapshot that put May down and out for close to five minutes. He later needed six stitches to close a cut over his right eye.
Hodge said he was still waiting for the real Winter Hawks to show up.
"The first period was the first time we looked like the Winter Hawks,” he said, "and then it was only for 20 minutes.”
With the Rangers already assured a berth in the final, the next night's game -- Portland against Sherbrooke -- became a sudden-death semifinal contest.
A Portland victory would leave the Winter Hawks at 3-1 and put them into the final. A Sherbrooke victory would leave the Castors and Winter Hawks at 2-2 and it would come down to goals-for and goals-against.
And that other berth would go to the Castors, who whipped the Winter Hawks 7-3 on May 13 before 2,694 fans.
All three teams finished at 2-2, with the Winter Hawks losing out in the tiebreaker -- Sherbrooke was plus-five, Kitchener was plus-three, Portland was minus-eight.
Sherbrooke had to first survive the loss of Morissette. The goaltender was ejected from the game after he left his crease to enter a second-period altercation.
The donnybrook resulted in referee Phil DesGagnes suspending play at 16:54 of the second period and adding that to the start of the third period.
DesGagnes penalized every player on the ice, with the exception of Vernon. Playfair also received a game misconduct. He was involved in a scrap with Kasper and then tried to get at Kasper in the penalty box.
Chabot and Gilbert scored to give Sherbrooke a 2-1 first-period lead, with Geale scoring for Portland.
Kromm scored on a power play early in the second period to tie the score 2-2.
Moments later, Morissette stoned David Kromm, Richard's brother, from in close and the Castors seemed to take life from that.
McKenna scored, and then Bachand and Chabot struck for power-play goals at 14:00 and 14:28.
Bachand and Gallant added third-period goals, with Turnbull scoring for Portland in the final period.
And so ended the first bid by an American-based team to win the Memorial Cup. The Winter Hawks would be back. And, yes, they would win.
On May 15, Kitchener won its first Memorial Cup championship, riding their captain to a 7-4 victory over the Castors before 4,091 fans.
The star was Bellows, who finished off his junior career with a brilliant five-point outing.
He scored three first-period goals as the Rangers took a 3-1 lead.
Bellows then set up second-period goals by Martin and MacInnis and the Rangers now led 5-2, with both Sherbrooke goals having been scored by McKenna, who would be named the tournament's most outstanding player.
Eagles wrapped up the victory with a pair of third-period shorthanded goals, while Mike Fafard and Boutillier scored Sherbrooke's last two goals.
The all-star team would feature Morissette in goal, Nylund, MacInnis and Boutillier on defence (the latter two tied), and McKenna on right wing, Chabot at centre and Larmer on left wing.
Bellows' five-point outing didn't figure in the voting as that was done prior to the final. He was named the most sportsmanlike player.
Larmer led the tournament with 13 points, one more than Bellows and two ahead of McKenna. Bellows and McKenna were tops with six goals each.
"We knew we had the better club and we took it right to them,” Crozier said.
"We just borrowed the Montreal Canadiens' defence and cut away the middle of the ice. That kept them to the outside where they couldn't hurt us.”
In later years, that defence would come to be known as the neutral-zone trap.
This would be the Castors' final season in Sherbrooke. Major junior hockey wouldn't return until the 1992-93 season when the Trois-Rivieres franchise relocated and became known as the Faucons.
And let's not forget Robert Savard, the Kitchener defenceman. He was on his third Memorial Cup championship team, making him at that point the only player to have played on three winners.

NEXT: 1983 (Portland Winter Hawks, Lethbridge Broncos, Oshawa Generals and Verdun Junior)

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