Monday, May 26, 2008

The Memorial Cup: A history . . . 1957

Flin Flon Bombers vs. Ottawa Canadiens
at Flin Flon (Community Arena) and Regina (Exhibition Stadium)

The junior hockey world was amazed -- the Flin Flon Bombers would represent the west in the Memorial Cup final.
The Bombers, for heaven's sake, had never before won their league championship. This 1956-57 season, however, was unlike any that had come before it.
Coached by Bobby Kirk, the Bombers roared through the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League with a 64-9-2 record, winning 43 of 55 regular-season games. They ousted the Humboldt Indians and Fort William Canadians from best-of-seven series in straight games and took six games to sideline the Edmonton Oil Kings and then the Prince Albert Mintos.
The Bombers, it was safe to say, owned the northern Manitoba mining town of 12,000 people.
The secret, according to Kirk, was "balance.”
"I have three lines and any one can come up with a goal,” said Kirk, noting that his team had eight players with at least 25 goals each.
Kirk, who replaced Alex Shibicky, was wrapping up his third season with the Bombers and had put three Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League titles under his belt in that time.
Included on the roster were centre Ted Hampson (the team captain, he was the SJHL's scoring champ with 118 points, including 48), Mel Pearson, Pat Ginnell (a 19-goal scorer in the playoffs, he had played for the Port Arthur North Stars the previous season and would later coach the Bombers) and Barry Beatty. Hampson, Pearson (another future Bombers coach), centre Ron Hutchinson and defencemen George Konik, Mike Kardash, Duane Rupp and Lyle Willey all came out of Flin Flon's minor hockey ranks. Goaltender George Wood, a native of Hartney, Man., had come over from the Lethbridge Native Sons, with whom he had spent the 1955-56 season.
Only Ginnell, Beatty (St. Boniface Canadiens) and Wood had been brought in for this season by the Bombers. The rest of the boys were homebrews, the product of an amazing minor hockey system.
For the Memorial Cup, the Bombers added centre Orland Kurtenbach from Prince Albert and two players from Port Arthur -- goaltender Lynn Davis and defenceman Jean Gauthier.
The series was scheduled to open in Flin Flon. If the first two games were split, a third would be played in Flin Flon, with the balance in Regina's Exhibition Stadium.
The rink in Flin Flon, which had been built in 1936 to house the senior Bombers, had had artificial ice since 1950. It seated 1,141 although an extra 200 seats were added for the Memorial Cup games by knocking out one end.
Flin Flon was in a furor when the Ottawa Canadiens, of coach Sam Pollock, didn't show up on time. The first game, scheduled for April 25, was postponed to April 26.
Ottawa showed up in Winnipeg on Monday, April 22, but chose to wait until April 24 to fly into Flin Flon. By that time the weather had closed in and its flight was grounded. The Canadiens boarded a train and rode the rails into the northern hinterlands.
Gordon Juckes of Melville, Sask., was the CAHA official in charge of the series. He said he would recommend to the CAHA that the Ottawa club be "severely disciplined” for causing the first postponement in the history of the Canadian final.
Flin Flon citizens are up in arms over criticism leveled at the town and its facilities by Ottawa officials who do not recognize, apparently, any part of Canada west of Ottawa,” said Bombers president Jimmy Wardle. "We feel that the nationally known, warm-hearted hospitality and a fine hockey club make up for the lack of a Chateau Laurier and what they amusingly call an ‘ice palace' in Ottawa.”
The arena manager in Flin Flon was none other than Robert (Pinkie) Davie, who had played in the 1932 Memorial Cup final with the Winnipeg Monarchs, who lost out to the Sudbury Cub Wolves. Davie, for one, was thrilled that the Ottawa boys weren't too happy about having to journey to Flin Flon.
"I hear those Ottawa characters are squawking,” Davie said. "That's great. I like to hear people squawk because it shows they are worrying about something.”
Upon arrival, the Canadiens were housed in the dormitories -- bunkhouses -- that usually were living quarters for miners.
On the ice, Ottawa was sparked by future NHLers Ralph Backstrom and Murray Balfour, the latter having played with the Regina Pats the previous two seasons and who was making his third straight appearance in the Memorial Cup final. Claude Ruel, a future coach of the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens, was on the Ottawa defence.
The Bombers won the opener 3-1 in front of more than 2,000 fans who packed into every available corner of the rink.
Konik, the SJHL's most valuable player, scored twice for the Bombers, with Hampson adding the other.
Backstrom opened the scoring at 4:49 of the second period, only to have Hampson tie it at 11:19 and Konik put the Bombers out front at 15:48. Konik wrapped it up with an empty-net goal at 19:45 of the third.
Wood was particularly outstanding, stopping 23 shots, including three clean breakaways.
"Ottawa's a good club and there are still a few more games to be played in this series, so why should I gloat?” Kirk said.
He was right about one thing. There were a few more games to be played.
Ottawa won Game 2 on April 28, scoring a 4-3 victory thanks to two goals in the final 33 seconds of the third period. A packed house of slightly more than 2,000 fans couldn't believe it.
Ginnell scored the game's first goal at 8:09 of the first period, only to have Bill Carter tie it before the period ended. Ginnell then scored the only goal of the second period, at 1:29.
Willey upped Flin Flon's lead to 3-1 at 3:06 of the third period and as play progressed the Bombers seemed on their way to victory.
But Mike Legace scored for Ottawa at 15:59 and then set up Carter for the tying goal at 19:27. Seconds earlier, the Bombers were guilty of icing the puck. Pollock pulled goaltender Claude Dufour with the faceoff in Flin Flon's zone. The puck was dropped. There was a mad scramble. Carter corralled the loose puck and fired it past Wood.
The Canadiens won the ensuing faceoff and moved the puck into Flin Flon territory. The loose puck slid toward Wood and he tried to beat Backstrom to it. But the Ottawa centre got there first and backhanded home the winner at 19:36.
"That was a break,” said Scotty Bowman, Pollock's assistant, of the icing call that preceded Ottawa's third goal.
Kirk agreed: "I sent out George Konik, who got the faceoff every time during the past season. He couldn't get the big one.”
Kirk also announced that he would keep Gauthier in the lineup (the defenceman was a standout in the first two games) and that Kurtenbach would see his first action in Game 3. Kurtenbach would play in place of Beatty who suffered a back injury in the second game.
Although he didn't announce it, Kirk would also sit out Wood and give Davis his first start in goal in Game 3 which, because the first two games were split, would also be played in Flin Flon.
Ottawa made it two out of three in Flin Flon with a 5-2 victory on April 29 as Balfour erupted for three goals.
"Well,” Pollock said, "Balfour came through tonight. Those were his first goals of the playoffs and they couldn't have come at a better time.
"His first one in the third was the turning point. It gave my boys a big lift. It also shows that we can come from behind in the worst places in the world.”
Ottawa scored three goals on breakaways and added two others when the Bombers got caught with just one skater back.
Both teams complained about soft ice when the game was over.
"That soft ice wasn't for us,” Kirk said. "It definitely had a lot to do with the outcome.”
It was the second time in a year that Balfour had come up big against the Bombers. The previous year, while with Regina, he had scored four times in a 9-6 Pats' victory in Game 7 of their western semifinal series.
Legace and Claude Richard, a brother of NHL star Maurice Richard and star-to-be Henri Richard, scored Ottawa's other goals. Konik and Hutchinson replied for Flin Flon.
The Bombers actually led 2-0 in the first period before Richard, in the first, and Balfour, at 1:25 of the third, tied it. Legace then got the winner at 6:12, with Balfour wrapping it up with goals at 14:48 and 15:58.
The teams then headed for Regina and the rest of the series.
Game 4 was played May 1 with the Bombers scoring a 3-1 victory to tie the series 2-2 in front of 5,118 fans.
Wood was credited with just 11 saves but one of them, a late second-period stop on Carter who broke in alone, was credited with sparking the Flin Flon boys to victory. Ottawa was leading 1-0 on a goal by Carter at 15:36 of the second period.
"That was the turning point,” Kirk said. "It was a key save. It kept us alive. That lifted my boys.”
Pollock agreed: "If we could have got another goal, then we would have won. It would have taken the heart right out of the Bombers for good.”
Flin Flon's big line -- Hampson between Pearson and Ginnell -- scored all three Bombers' goals, each skater getting one. Ginnell tied the score at 6:43 of the third, with Pearson putting the Bombers out front at 11:26. Hampson, who set up the other two goals, got the insurance marker into an empty net.
After Ottawa took those two in Flin Flon,” said New York Rangers general manager Muzz Patrick, "I thought, without seeing the teams, that it was the same old story ... too much balance by the eastern team. I changed my mind (May 1). This western club can win it.”
The Bombers took a 3-2 lead on May 3 with a 3-2 victory in front of 4,913 fans. Pollock wasn't around for the end of this one.
Ernie Fedoruk, writing in the Regina Leader-Post, explained: "The Bombers scored twice in the third period to settle the issue. Even so, the vociferous Mr. Pollock took the play away from the players. Sam, madder than ever, questioned the ancestry of the referees following the second period and wound up as a spectator.
"Assistant Ottawa coach Scotty Bowman took over after Pollock was ejected. Bowman managed to last the third period but he, too, took after the officials, Curly Brault and Dutch Van Deelan, as soon as the final buzzer sounded.”
Kurtenbach, Ginnell and Beatty scored for Flin Flon. Dick Damouchel got Ottawa's lone goal.
Dufour was outstanding in the Ottawa goal, turning aside 27 shots, while Wood stopped 17.
Ottawa had a new face in its lineup. Centre Gerry Wilson, originally from Winnipeg, had missed seven weeks while recuperating from a knee injury. (Wilson's career would be plagued by knee problems and he would eventually become a well-known Winnipeg doctor. His son, Carey, would later play in the NHL.)
It was thought that Pollock was getting Wilson some game experience because he thought he might lose Legace and Gilles Tremblay, both of whom were scheduled to return home to write university exams. In the end, Legace returned to Laval University while Tremblay stayed to finish the series.
Backstrom, 19, was the star of Game 6. He scored twice as Ottawa won 4-2 on May 6 in front of 4,949 fans.
Jean Marc Picard and Dumouchel, the latter into an empty net, also scored for Ottawa. Kurtenbach set up both Regina goals, by Ginnell and Konik.
And now the series was tied 3-3.
"It's too bad,” said Pollock, "that they can't divide the Memorial Cup. It's a shame. These two clubs out there both deserve it.”
One of the greatest Memorial Cup finals in history ended on May 8 in front of about 4,500 fans, the smallest turnout for any of the games in Regina. It ended with Flin Flon on top 3-2 thanks to Hampson's winning goal at 10:30 of the third period.
Hampson's linemates, Ginnell and Pearson, scored the game's first two goals. Ginnell beat Dufour at 17:23 of the first period and Pearson struck at 18:14 as the Bombers outshot Ottawa 13-2 in the opening period.
Legace, who had flown back to Regina but didn't arrive at the rink until after the first period, scored for Ottawa at 19:43 of the second period.
Hampson upped Flin Flon's lead to 3-1 at 10:30 of the third -- with rookie Bobby Rousseau in the penalty box -- before Legace scored at 19:59.
"It's the greatest thrill of my life,” Kirk said. ""We won the cup because an inspired, determined hockey club fought when the chips were down and never gave up.”
It was Flin Flon's 88th game of the season -- the Bombers won 72 of them.
It was the first time since 1948 (Port Arthur West End Bruins) that a western team had won the Memorial Cup and it left the east with a 22-17 edge overall.
And this victory really put Flin Flon on the map.
The mining community had never before been home to a national champion -- team or individual. The closest the community had come to national glory had been in the spring of 1938 when the senior Bombers got into a western semifinal series for the Allan Cup only to be ousted by the eventual champion Trail Smoke Eaters.
The junior Bombers began play in 1949 and had won six Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League titles. But, until the spring of '57, the Bombers had never gotten any further than that along the Memorial Cup trail.
The town's history went back as far as 1929 and there had always been hockey played there. The game started to take off there in 1935 when a Flin Flon team entered the Saskatchewan Senior Hockey League.
Players from the south were enticed north to work in the mines and play hockey. It worked, too, and by 1957 Flin Flon had seen the likes of Sid Abel, Jimmy Skinner and Bobby Simpson wear its colors.

NEXT: 1958 (Regina Pats vs. Hull-Ottawa Canadiens)

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