Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Memorial Cup: A history . . . 1958

Regina Pats vs. Hull-Ottawa Canadiens
at Ottawa (Auditorium) and Hull (Arena)

Regina, a junior hockey powerhouse in the early part of the century, hadn't won a Memorial Cup since 1930.
Hull-Ottawa -- or Ottawa-Hull -- had never won a national junior title, neither as separate entities nor as a combination. The Canadiens, however, had been to the final the previous spring when they had lost in seven games to the Flin Flon Bombers.
And in 1958 it was the Regina Pats and the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens, both of whom were affiliated with the NHL's Montreal Canadiens, in the best-of-seven Memorial Cup final.
Three members of Hull-Ottawa's front office would go on to become prominent NHL executives -- Lou Passador, later a long-time scout, was on the Canadiens' executive; Sam Pollock was the manager/coach; and, Scotty Bowman was Pollock's assistant.
The Canadiens were loaded with talent, from goaltender Bruce Gamble, who was picked up from the OHA's Guelph Biltmores, to captain Ralph Backstrom and beyond. Also on the roster: Terry Gray, Claude Richard (a younger brother of Maurice and Henri Richard), Bobby Rousseau, Gilles Tremblay and J.C. Tremblay.
Hull-Ottawa also picked up Wally Chevrier from Guelph to replace defenceman Claude Ruel who had lost an eye. Ruel and John Longarini served as the alternate captains.
The Canadiens, who weren't able to find a league in which to play, spent the winter playing exhibition games against senior teams, minor pro teams and some OHA teams.
Their season, then, really was the playoffs.
The eastern playoffs got under way with the Cape Breton All-Stars needing five games to sideline the Buckingham Beavers from a best-of-five series. Cape Breton won the opener 2-1, then lost twice (3-2 and 5-2), before winning 8-2 and 2-1.
Cape Breton then lost to Hull-Ottawa, 18-3 and 12-2, and the rest of the series was cancelled.
The Canadiens then ran up against the Toronto Marlboros of coach Turk Broda and general manager Stafford Smythe. The best-of-seven series went five games, the Marlies winning the third game, 3-1. The other scores: 8-3, 6-0, 4-3 and 9-0. The Baby Habs suffered a major blow in the last game against the Marlies when starry defenceman Andre Tardif suffered a broken arm.
The Pats, however, were no slouches themselves.
Coached by Frank Mario, they were led by the high-scoring line of Billy Hicke, Red Berenson and Joe Lunghamer. Mario used Gord Wilkie with Gary Butler and Jerry Kolb, and had Bill Kelly playing with Billy LeCaine and Max Geisthardt. Also in the lineup: Terry Harper, Aut Erickson, Jerry Serviss (added from the Estevan Bruins), John Palenstein, Dave Balon (he was picked up from the Prince Albert Mintos), goaltender Ken Walters, Emile Gilles (added from Flin Flon), and brothers Bill and Ken Saunders (the former from the Winnipeg Monarchs, the latter from the St. Boniface Canadiens).
Regina met the Edmonton Oil Kings in one western semifinal, winning the best-of-seven series in straight games -- 6-2, 9-7, 3-1 and 2-0. St. Boniface dumped the Fort William Canadians in five games in the other semifinal, losing the middle game 11-3 and winning the others, 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 and 10-7.
The Pats then took six games to oust St. Boniface, playing the first three games in Winnipeg and the last three in Regina. Regina went up three games to one -- winning 7-5, losing 8-3, then winning 8-4 and 8-0 -- before St. Boniface forced a sixth game with a 5-2 victory. Regina wrapped it up on April 16 with a 4-0 victory.
The best-of-seven national final would be played in its entirety in the east, with Ottawa and Hull sharing the games.
"The Canadiens may have a little more scoring punch this year but they're weaker defensively compared to last year's team,” well-know sportscaster Tom Foley said before the final started.
With Tardif gone for the series, Pollock was experimenting with Backstrom and Gilles Tremblay on defence.
"The Habs are a free-wheeling bunch,” said Mario. "We're going to have to skate and check like mad if we hope to keep them in tow. Backstrom is the key man. That boy can skate and skate and skate, for three and four minutes at a stretch. But there is going to be tremendous pressure on him. He's their ace and he's expected to produce.”
Mario, though, seemed more concerned with transportation in the nation's capital.
"All the cabbies think they're on the Indianapolis Speedway,” he said. "The guy that took us to the rink this morning slowed down to 60 when he went through a school zone. To make matters worse, it always seems that I get stuck with the death seat (next to the driver). A cabby comforted me today by noting that 80 per cent of all persons killed in auto accidents are seated in the one I was cringing in. When I get in a cab now, I brace myself, shut my eyes and hope for the best.”
The series opened in Ottawa before 4,500 fans on April 25. The Pats won 4-3 behind Ken Walters' goaltending and three goals from Hicke.
"All the boys played a tremendous game out there tonight,” Mario said. "Walters and Hicke were outstanding but so were all the others. They checked and skated hard all the way. It was a fine team effort. I'm really proud of the boys.”
The teams played through a scoreless first period, with Regina getting two goals from Hicke to take a a 2-1 lead into the third. Hicke and Harper upped that to 4-1 before Gray and Billy Carter cut it to 4-3. Backstrom had the Canadiens' other goal.
"The performance by Walters was phenomenal, completely over-shadowing the work of his more publicized rival, Bruce Gamble, at the other end of the rink,” reported the Regina Leader-Post. "Time and again, the lean little goaler came up with spectacular saves to frustrate the efforts of a classy pack of enemy snipers. Walters kicked out 31 shots, while Gamble blocked 19.”
Prior to the game, the Pats were informed the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association had turned down their appeal pertaining to Gamble. The Pats wanted the CAHA to reconsider its decision allowing Gamble to move from Guelph to the Canadiens. The Baby Habs needed a goaltender after their regular puckstopper -- Claude Cyr -- was lost for the season due to illness.
With the Pats up 4-1, according to The Leader-Post, "many of the fanatically partisan cash customers experienced a change of heart and changed their chant from ‘go Habs go' to ‘go Pats go.' But they switched their allegiance once again when the Habs came through with a stirring finish that kept the outcome in doubt until the final whistle.”
The fans proved to be something else. At one point, someone tossed a bathroom plunger at Walters. And one other time a giant firecracker exploded on the ice in front of the Regina goaltender while play was in progress.
"When I heard that explosion in our end, I turned around to see if Kenny was all right,” Harper said later. "For a moment, I thought, ‘Good heavens, somebody just shot our goalie.' “
The Baby Habs evened things up, posting a 4-2 victory before 4,052 fans in Hull on April 27.
"Man, but we were dead out there,” Mario said. "The last thing I told the boys before they took to the ice was that they were going to have to hustle right from the opening faceoff. So what happens? Canadiens rap in four in a row before my boys realize they're in a hockey game. You can't spot any team four goals. It was awful.”
The Pats found themselves down 4-0 before the game was 12 minutes old on goals by Carter (1:35), Gilles Tremblay (2:34), Backstrom (5:39) and Carter again (11:13). Regina's goals came from Berenson, late in the first period, and Hicke, with seven seconds left in the third.
The Pats were outshot, 35-16.
"Sure, we came to life a bit for the last two and a half periods,” continued Mario. "But I can't get that first 10 minutes out of my mind.”
The Pats lost Serviss when he broke a bone in his right hand in the second period. Gilles would be inserted for Game 3.
The Leader-Post's Hank Johnson noted that Pollock was in a "better frame of mind after the game, taking the padlock off his dressing room door.”
"We should have kept pouring the coal to them but we let up badly,” Pollock said.
With Game 3 set for Ottawa on April 29, Mario made some changes.
Bill Saunders was inserted (in place of Serviss as Mario chose not to use Gilles) and centred Balon and Hicke, with Berenson moving between Butler and Kolb, and Wilkie between LeCaine and Geisthardt.
The moves didn't help, however, as the Canadiens won 6-2 before 5,500 fans.
Once again, a slow start hurt Regina.
The Canadiens jumped out to a 3-0 first-period lead on goals by Carter (2:28), Backstrom (12:12) and Carter again (12:22). Gilles Tremblay set up both of Carter's goals. Backstrom made it 4-0 early in the second period before Balon and Saunders narrowed the gap to 4-2. But Richard and Backstrom scored before the second period was out and the teams then played a scoreless third.
Backstrom and Carter now had five goals each in the three games.
"They just kept slaughtering us in that first period,” Mario said. "I thought we were going to be all right in this one, but our defence lets up and it's 3-0 before we know we're in a hockey game.”
Mario went into his juggling act again prior to Game 4, which was played on May 2 in Ottawa. He said he planned to move Hicke from right wing to the left side with Saunders at centre and Lunghamer on right wing. Hicke had four of Regina's eight goals but three of them came in Game 1.
"I think Billy will go better on the left wing because the Canadiens are ganging up on him on the right side and giving him a rough time,” Mario explained.
He ended up putting Saunders with Hicke and Kolb, using Berenson, Balon and Lunghamer together, and using LeCaine, Wilkie, Geisthardt and Butler on the other line. Kelly would sit out as Mario added Gilles to his defensive corps.
Neither team was able to skate on April 30 -- wrestling and bingo had the ice halls booked -- so the Pats' new combinations worked out together on May 1.
The Pats won that fourth game 4-3 in overtime before 3,500 fans in Ottawa.
"I was breathing easier when we came out of the first period with only a one-goal deficit,” Mario said.
Saunders scored the winner off a pass from Hicke at 2:13 of overtime. Balon, LeCaine and Lunghamer also scored for Regina. Bob Boucher, Rousseau and Carter counted for the Baby Habs, who led 2-1 after one period. The teams were tied 2-2 after two.
Lunghamer gave Regina a 3-2 lead just 39 seconds into the third period. But Carter forced overtime when he scored with only 55 seconds left in the third period.
Saunders, whose NHL rights belonged to the Toronto Maple Leafs, came in for special praise.
"That boy has come along much better than I expected,” Mario said.
Walters continued to be sharp, especially in two one-on-one confrontations with Backstrom. The Pats were outshot, 42-26.
Carter tied the game from a wild scramble.
"Palenstein and I had the shot covered but the puck deflected off a skate and we looked on helplessly as it trickled into the net just beyond reach of my foot,” Walters said.
The winner came as J.C. Tremblay was about to be penalized for grabbing Hicke from behind. Hicke was able to swipe the puck toward Gamble and before the goaltender could get to it, Saunders swooped in and scored.
"It's a shame they couldn't play some of these games in Toronto,” said Maple Leafs coach Billy Reay. "A terrific game like that would pack the Gardens.”
Hull-Ottawa moved up three games to two with a 6-3 victory in Hull before 3,984 fans on May 4.
This time, the Baby Habs won it with three goals within a minute and 27 seconds late in the second period, two of them coming with the man advantage.
The teams were tied 2-2 after the first period, Lunghamer and Balon scoring for Regina around Montreal goals by Carter and Backstrom. It was the first time in the series that Regina had scored first.
Erickson put Regina out front 3-2 at 11:06 of the second period. And then the Canadiens exploded. Richard scored at 17:01, Gray at 18:17 and Gray again at 18:28.
Carter scored the only goal of the third period, an empty-netter with 15 seconds left to play.
Gray saw extra ice time after Boucher, Hull-Ottawa's leading point scorer during the season, was hit with a misconduct penalty, and it paid off with two goals.
Mario thought the game swung on two plays -- Hicke fired wide on a second-period breakaway and Balon hit a post with five minutes left in the third.
"We're starting to come along,” Mario said. "We should have won the game but we handed them their first three goals. All of them were outright gifts. The puck just wouldn't bounce the right way for us.”
The sixth game was no contest. Played before 4,800 fans in Ottawa on May 6, the Canadiens won it 6-1 to clinch the national title.
"I really thought we had a good chance to take it all,” Mario said. "But we got a little careless in the first period again and then couldn't come back. Two of the first three Canadiens goals were scored with the player having his back to our net.”
The Baby Habs got off to another fast start, going up 2-0 and leading 3-1 after the first period. They put it away with three third-period goals.
Gilles Tremblay, John Annable, Richard, Boucher, Gray and Jacques Begin scored for the Canadiens. Hicke had Regina's goal, his fifth of the series.
Annable's goal, his first of the series, at 18:05 of the first period -- he knocked in his own rebound -- stood up as the winner.
The game may well have turned in its early moments. Hicke broke in alone on Gamble, who came up with a superb stop. The Baby Habs went right back down the ice and Tremblay scored. The Canadiens poured it on from there.
"I'm very proud of every one of you,” Frank Selke, managing director of the Montreal Canadiens, told the Pats. "If this series had been played in the west, there isn't much doubt in my mind that the final outcome would have been different. I know how tough it is for a young man to have to play so far from home.”
It was Pollock's second Memorial Cup title. He also coached the Montreal Royals to the 1949 title.

NEXT: 1959 (Winnipeg Braves vs. Peterborough TPT Petes)

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