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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Memorial Cup: A history . . . 1987

1987 MEMORIAL CUP
Medicine Hat Tigers, Oshawa Generals and Longueuil Chevaliers
at Oshawa (Civic Auditorium)

The person most responsible for putting together the 1987 Memorial Cup championship team was with that organization only because of the death of another team.
Russ Farwell joined the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers only after the Billings Bighorns came to the end of the trail.
Farwell was a member of the Bighorns' front office; in fact, he had even done a little coaching, going 12-20-0 to finish the 1981-82 regular season and 1-4-0 in the playoffs.
It was obvious by then, however, that Farwell had a bright future in hockey. It was obvious, too, that his future would be in management and not in coaching.
Farwell's career in junior hockey actually began in Terrace, B.C. He was a player then and showed up in an attempt to make a team that was an affiliate of the WHL's Calgary Centennials, a team owned by Scotty Munro.
Farwell didn't have it as a player, but Munro liked the youngster and suggested he might have a future in some team's front office.
So Farwell hung around for a bit.
Cec Papke, who was involved with the Centennials in the late 1960s, remembers Farwell.
"He'd watch my practices,” Papke told Gyle Konotopetz of the Calgary Herald. "He'd be taking notes and hangin' around so I put him to work -- sharpening skates. Before long, he was in my house every night, talking about the power play.”
When the 1982-83 season arrived, Farwell was in Medicine Hat as the Tigers' general manager. It was the beginning of a six-year relationship that would prove to be most successful.
After losing the 1985-86 championship final in five games to the Kamloops Blazers, Medicine Hat head coach Doug Sauter left to join the Regina Pats.
The Tigers, Farwell knew, were close to being a championship team. He knew the pressure was on to pick the right man to lead this team to major junior hockey's promised land.
Farwell settled on Bryan Maxwell, a no-nonsense defenceman in his playing days who was a no-nonsense coach.
Farwell didn't have to go far to find Maxwell, who had been an assistant under Sauter. Maxwell, then 30, signed a one-year contract as head coach. He would only stay one season.
Maxwell, originally from Lethbridge, played junior in Medicine Hat and spent his professional career in such places as Cleveland, Cincinnati and New England in the WHA, and Minnesota, St. Louis, Winnipeg and Pittsburgh in the NHL.
On and off the ice, the Tigers were led by Trevor Linden, as fine a leader as this game has seen. Linden, 16 years of age when the season began, turned 17 during the WHL playoffs.
Linden wasn't the only leader on this team, just the best of them.
Goaltender Mark Fitzpatrick could be counted on for leadership, as could defenceman Dean Chynoweth, whose father, Ed, was the president of the WHL and the Canadian Hockey League. Centres Mark Pederson and Neil Brady, a gritty centre, were also cut from the leadership cloth.
The Tigers had finished on top of the East Division, their 48-19-5 record leaving them 11 points ahead of the Saskatoon Blades.
Pederson was the only one of the Tigers with more than 100 points -- he had 102, 17th best in the league -- but 12 players had at least 53 points.
Fitzpatrick checked in with a 3.35 GAA in 50 games as the Tigers allowed 264 goals, tied with the Prince Albert Raiders for the lowest total in the league.
This was a team that excelled defensively. Led by Chynoweth, the defensive corps also included Keith Van Rooyen and Scott McCrady, the offensive leaders on the backline with 76 points apiece, Wayne McBean, Jamie Huscroft and Mark Kuntz.
This also was a team that continually stared elimination square in the face and laughed at it.
Medicine Hat began the postseason with a best-of-seven series against the Moose Jaw Warriors. The Tigers lost two of the first three games and then won three in a row to end it.
That put them into the East Division final against Saskatoon. The Tigers lost Game 5 at home to fall behind 3-2 in games. They went into Saskatoon and won 6-4 and then returned home to win the series with a 5-2 seventh-game victory.
Now, only the Portland Winter Hawks stood between the Tigers and a trip to the Memorial Cup. Again, the Tigers found themselves trailing 3-2 in games and heading out on the road for Game 6. They won 4-3 in Portland and then put it away with a 7-2 victory on home ice.
The Tigers faced elimination four times against Saskatoon and Portland.
"It was our never-say-die attitude,” Maxwell said, "that prevailed and allowed us to beat Moose Jaw, Saskatoon and Portland.
"All three clubs had us in a position to beat us, but our players always responded when they faced elimination. I can understand now why coaches turn grey early.”
This Memorial Cup tournament also featured the Oshawa Generals and the Longueuil Chevaliers.
This was the first three-team tournament since 1982 when the Kitchener Rangers won the championship in Hull, beating out the Sherbrooke Castors and Portland.
It was the OHL's turn to play host to the tournament, so it chose to allow its two regular-season division winners to play off in a best-of-seven Super Series. The winner would bring the Memorial Cup tournament to its city.
At the same time, the decision was made that should one team win both the Super Series and the league championship, the OHL would only send one representative.
Oshawa finished on top of the Leyden Division with a 49-14-3 record; the North Bay Centennials, at 46-18-2, topped the Emms Division.
The Super Series was a thriller and wasn't decided until Oshawa won Game 7. That guaranteed the Generals a spot in the Memorial Cup tournament and meant the Centennials would have to win the OHL championship to qualify.
That wouldn't happen.
Oshawa took out the Kingston Frontenacs in one Leyden Division semifinal, winning the series 4-2. The Peterborough Petes fell to the Generals in the division final, losing out 4-2.
And, yes, the Generals met up with the Centennials in the championship final. Oshawa won the series in seven games, taking Game 7 by a 5-3 count, meaning the 1987 Memorial Cup tournament would be a three-team affair.
The Generals, who set a club record with 101 points, were led offensively by Scott McCrory, who set team regular-season records with 99 assists and 150 points en route to winning the OHL scoring title.
Left-winger Derek King, who played alongside McCrory with Lee Giffin on the right side, was no slouch, either. In 57 games, King totalled 53 goals and 53 assists.
Defensively, Oshawa, under head coach Paul Theriault, set a club record by allowing only 201 goals. The key was goaltender Jeff Hackett who, in 31 games, went 18-9-2 with a 3.05 GAA.
The Generals went into the tournament with one huge advantage.
"I think Oshawa has to have an advantage being in front of their home people,” Maxwell said. "I don't think there is any question they are the club to beat.
"I like our chances, but it would be pretty tough to call us favorites. We play well on the road . . . but I don't think the players care if we are underdogs or if we are favored. We can't change anything.”
Theriault was looking forward to playing at home, but was well aware that could carry with it a disadvantage.
"If you have a lead, it's great,” he explained. "If you lose the crowd, you can get in trouble.
"The momentum of the game can change.”
The Chevaliers were coached by Guy Chouinard, a former first-round NHL draft pick who had enjoyed a 50-goal season with the Atlanta Flames in 1978-79.
Chouinard had actually played in two Memorial Cup championships.
He was with the Quebec Remparts, who lost the 1973 final to the Toronto Marlboros in Montreal. Medicine Hat was the third team in the tournament that year and Maxwell was a defenceman with the Tigers.
A year later, Chouinard was a key player on the Remparts who lost the final to the Regina Pats in Calgary. Chouinard and teammate Real Cloutier tied for the tournament scoring lead that year.
Longueuil was a team built on defence. It had surrendered 259 regular-season goals, the only team in the QMJHL to give up fewer than 300 goals.
One reason for that was goaltender Robert Desjardins. Yes, ‘that’ Desjardins. The 5-foot-5 goaltender was in the Memorial Cup tournament for a third straight season with a third different team. He had been with the Shawinigan Cataractes in 1985 and the Hull Olympiques in 1986.
As defenceman Michel Thibodeau said: "He hasn't won and we want to win for him.”
The Chevaliers, who didn't have a scorer in the top 10, scored 369 regular-season goals, the fifth-highest total in the 10-team league. They finished atop the Lebel Division, their 46-20-4 record second only to the Dilio Division-champion Granby Bisons (48-18-1).
Longueuil opened the postseason in a round-robin series. It went 5-3 in its division and advanced to the division final, along with the Laval Titan, who were also 5-3. (The best news for the Chevaliers was that Granby had gone 3-5 in the other division and was eliminated.)
The division final went seven games before the Chevaliers ousted the Titan. And, in the championship final, Longueuil took only five games to finish off the Chicoutimi Sagueneens.
A team from Quebec hadn't won a Memorial Cup since the 1971 Quebec Remparts -- the Cornwall Royals, an Ontario team, had won three while playing in the QMJHL -- and Chouinard felt that put his club in the role of a distinct underdog.
"I can't remember when a team from Quebec was favored to win the Memorial Cup,” he stated. "I even told the players that many people are surprised we are here.”
Thibodeau, for one, wasn't surprised.
"Our league is equal or better than the others,” he said on the eve of the tournament.
The tournament opened with games on May 9 and 10, and both were penalty-filled affairs.
On May 9, in front of 3,555 fans, Oshawa began with a 3-2 victory over Longueuil in a game that ended in a brawl.
According to a Canadian Press report: "The game was over when Longueuil's Ronnie Stern jumped Oshawa's Gord Murphy and started swinging. The Generals' Shayne Doyle came off the bench to his teammate's aid . . .
"Stern had been removed from the ice but he returned and continued fighting after a second brawl broke out as the result of an incident involving a fan.”
That incident apparently involved a female fan striking Doyle in the face with a hockey glove.
In the end, Stern and Doyle were each suspended for one game and each team was fined $250 for the brawl.
The tournament's discipline committee, headed up by Regina general manager Del Wilson, also fined the OHL $5,000 for a lack of security.
Jeff Daniels, Petri Matikainen and Sean Williams scored for Oshawa, the latter upping the score to 3-1 at 1:58 of the third period.
Longueuil got goals from Stern and Marc Bureau.
Theriault spent most of the postgame session criticizing the officiating, but he apologized the following day, saying, "I was out of line.”
On May 10, with 3,658 fans in the stands, Oshawa beat Medicine Hat 5-3. This, too, was a penalty-filled game as referee David Lynch chose to clamp down from the outset.
Lynch called 28 penalties worth 150 minutes, including match penalties to Kuntz for headbutting Scott Mahoney during a scrap and to Oshawa's Tony Joseph after he slashed Fitzpatrick with 59 seconds left in the game.
The next day, Kuntz was hit with a one-game suspension. Joseph was also suspended for one game, but not for slashing Fitzpatrick; instead, he was disciplined for spitting at Van Rooyen during a fight.
"Tonight, the referee did his job,” Theriault said.
"We aren't that happy when we lose,” Maxwell said. "I think we fell apart as far as the discipline goes at the latter part of the game when it was pretty well over.”
The teams were tied 2-2 after the first period, with Guy Phillips and Ron Bonora scoring the for the Tigers and Giffin and Jim Paek replying for Oshawa.
Phillips gave Medicine Hat a 3-2 lead after two periods, but the Tigers took two penalties in the period's final moments.
Barry Burkholder pulled the Generals even just 44 seconds into the third period. Then, one second after the second penalty had expired, Giffin scored on his own rebound to give the lead to the Generals.
Brian Hunt put it away with 7:05 left in the third period.
The Tigers got on track in their next game, beating the Chevaliers 4-2 in front of 3,360 fans on May 11.
"I'm still waiting for my team to show up,” Chouinard said. "Right now, this is not the real Longueuil team.”
That may have been so. But this was the real Medicine Hat team -- the Tigers were forechecking and grinding, playing tough, tough hockey.
Medicine Hat got three goals from centre Rob DiMaio and an empty-netter from Kirby Lindal.
"I don't know if I consider myself a potent goal scorer,” said DiMaio, who had struck for 27 regular-season goals. "I'm a grinder. I've played that style all year.
"I have a job to do and that job is whatever they assign me to. And most times, that job isn't to score goals.”
Chouinard wasn't overly thrilled with Marc Saumier, one of the team's leading scorers. Saumier, who had 39 goals and 49 assists in the regular season, sat out 18 minutes worth of penalties, including a misconduct he picked up after he tossed a water bottle at the timekeeper.
"When you lose a guy like that for 18 minutes, you can't afford it,” Chouinard said. "He didn't help us at all.”
The Chevaliers, who trailed 2-0 and 3-2 at the breaks, got goals from Marc Tremblay and Steven Paiement.
Longueuil was now 0-2 and looking at an early exit.
"We didn't expect to win every game,” Chouinard said. "And we sure don't want to lose them all.”
Stern was in the stands the next night, May 12, as the Chevaliers played the Generals. It turned out to be his lucky night as he won $1,220 in a raffle during the game.
On the ice, his teammates lost 6-3 to fall to 0-3.
Oshawa clinched a spot in the final with the victory; the Chevaliers now would go into a two-game, total-goal semifinal series against the Tigers. This was a tiebreaking procedure under which two teams went into a two-game semifinal series if one team wrapped up a spot in the final after the fourth game.
"They have given us a chance to be part of the finals,” Chouinard said. "You look at it the other way, and we were 0-3. Where can you go with a record like that?”
Matikainen and Burkholder, with two each, McCrory and Mahoney scored for Oshawa.
Mario De Benedictis, Richard Laplante and Real Godin scored for Longueuil.
The teams were tied 1-1 after the first period and Oshawa led 4-1 going into the third period. The Chevaliers closed to within one, at 4-3, early in the third after Chouinard changes goaltenders, Eric Maguere coming on for Desjardins.
"It changed things and it almost worked,” Chouinard said.
Chouinard was still waiting for the real Chevaliers to show up.
"Do you think a championship team looks like what you've seen from us this tournament?” he asked.
Matikainen, a defenceman, had been on the Finnish team that won the 1986 world junior championship following that infamous brawl between Canada and the Soviet Union in Piestany, Czechoslovakia. He was of the opinion the Memorial Cup was a bigger deal.
"The Memorial Cup means more to me, by far,” he explained. "It's something you work all year for, and not just a couple of weeks.”
He also expected to meet the Tigers in the final.
"I think Medicine Hat is a much tougher team,” he stated. "They will outwork Quebec. I bet they walk all over Longueuil.”
He was right.
The Tigers won 6-0 on May 13, before 3,416 fans.
The Medicine Hat fans in attendance were gaining some attention for their habit of throwing beachballs onto the ice whenever their team scored.
The pitchers were led by former Tigers defenceman Gord Hynes, who spent the 1986-87 season with Moncton of the American Hockey League.
"Our message to the goaltender is simple: ‘If you can't stop a puck, try a beachball.’ ” said Hynes, whose brother Wayne was a centre with the Tigers. "We're not hurting anyone. We're just having fun.”
So were the Tigers, who got two goals and two assists from Jeff Wenaas as they scored three times in each of the second and third periods.
"We really appreciate it,” Wenaas said of the fans' actions. "We're kind of strangers here and it's nice to hear their support.”
Rod Williams, Dale Kushner, McBean and Phillips also scored for the Tigers, who got 19 saves from Fitzpatrick.
Chouinard felt this game was won and lost in front of the Medicine Hat goal, where few Chevaliers chose to wander.
"If you go there, there is a good chance you will get cross-checked,” Chouinard said. "They won't pay the price. They didn't tonight.”
As for facing a 6-0 deficit going into the second game of the total-goal series, Chouinard noted: "We haven't scored that many goals the whole tournament. But it's not over yet.”
It was over on May 14 after the Tigers beat the Chevaliers 3-1, sending Longueuil home with an 0-5 record. Only the 1977 Sherbrooke Castors had lost as many as four games in one tournament.
In the aftermath, Desjardins and Chouinard said they felt too many players were overly satisfied to have won the QMJHL crown.
"That was our biggest problem,” Desjardins said. "The guys were on vacation before we came in, and that's what happened.
"When we arrived here, we should have been pumped up to play but we were just flat. Maybe we were scared.”
Chouinard added: "How many guys will come back next year, and the year after that? When you are there, you should take advantage of it.
"At least go home with your head up, knowing you gave it 100 per cent to at least try and win it. I don't think we did that this week.”
McCrady, Wenaas and Kushner scored for the Tigers, with De Benedictis replying for Longueuil.
And now Maxwell was saying he was still waiting for the real Tigers to show up.
"I don't think we have played at the top of our game since we arrived here,” he said. "But we'll have to (in the final).”
The Tigers were at the top of their game on May 16 as they stoned the Generals 6-2 in front of 3,564 fans.
Linden scored the game's first goal, beating Hackett just 1:47 into the first period.
It was 2-0 thanks to Phillips about six minutes later, and the Tigers were off to the races.
"They were tremendous,” Theriault said. "We had difficulty moving the puck and they were moving well. Medicine Hat played a super game.”
The Generals had gone into the game unbeaten in the tournament and with three days' rest. The Tigers were playing their third game in four days.
Wenaas set the tone when he aggressively won the ceremonial opening faceoff from Paek, drawing a round of boos from the capacity crowd.
"We were on top of them all game,” Wenaas said.
Linden ended up with his first two goals of the tournament, including the eventual game-winner, at 15:48 of the first period.
DiMaio, Kushner and Bonora also scored for the Tigers, who held period leads of 3-1 and 4-2 and outshot the Generals 34-32.
McCrory scored both Oshawa goals. His second goal, on a power play at 11:36 of the second period, got the Generals to within one at 3-2.
Dean Morton then took a charging penalty for running into Fitzpatrick and Kushner promptly restored the two-goal lead.
"You could kind of say the fourth goal was the straw that broke the camel's back,” Morton said. "(The penalty) came at a bad time.”
Thibault agreed.
"The fourth goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of us,” he said. "We were coming back all year -- the never-say-die Generals -- and when they got the fourth one, it just wasn't there.”
King, who was held to three assists in the tournament, was especially disappointed.
"I thought I would be scoring goals until the end of the season,” he said. "I thought no one would really know who I was. But I guess they must have done their homework because they knew what our line could do and shut us down.
"We didn't overcome it, and now we're finalists, not champions . . . and I feel just brutal about it.”
Linden, who had four years of eligibility remaining, said: "I guess it was just my turn to score. Guys like Mark Pederson, Guy Phillips and Dale Kushner carried us through the playoffs by scoring some big goals -- but I guess it was my turn to score today.”
Maxwell said it was the biggest thrill of his career.
"It's the highlight of my hockey career,” he said. "We played today like we played all year long -- with great forechecking and scoring when we get the chances.”
Farwell pointed to the team's character.
"It was the character of our kids that carried us through,” Farwell said. "We had a tremendous group of guys, and 15 of them had been disappointed the previous season when we had a good playoff but were eliminated by Kamloops.
"We had so many returnees from that team, and they just weren't going to be denied.”
Five Tigers were named to the tournament all-star team -- Fitzpatrick, McBean, Wenaas, Phillips and Kushner. Murphy, the Oshawa defenceman, prevented a Medicine Hat sweep. Phillips and Wenaas led the tournament with eight points each, while Phillips and DiMaio were tops in goals, each with four.
Fitzpatrick was selected the outstanding goaltender. McCrory was honored as the most sportsmanlike player.
A lot of people felt that Medicine Hat lost its magic on July 2, 1987, when Maxwell left to accept an assistant coaching position with the NHL's Los Angeles Kings.
However, Farwell would find another former NHL defenceman to coach his Tigers. And the magic would return.

NEXT: 1988 (Medicine Hat Tigers, Windsor Spitfires, Drummondville Voltigeurs and Hull Olympiques)

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