SPORTS

Breaking tradition

Calgary wins the Cup in the fabled Forum

DAN BURKE June 5 1989
SPORTS

Breaking tradition

Calgary wins the Cup in the fabled Forum

DAN BURKE June 5 1989

Breaking tradition

SPORTS

Calgary wins the Cup in the fabled Forum

The cheering began as the players lined up for the playing of the national anthem. The second stanza of Canada had barely begun when the din at the Montreal Forum had grown into a deafening wall of sound. As 17,909 hockey fans prepared for the sixth and—as it turned out— last game of the 1989 Stanley Cup finals on May 25, the Montreal crowd roared encouragement to the home team. But as the game progressed between the teams with the best overall records in the National Hockey League—the Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames—the home-town crowd’s exuberance faded. Three years ago, when the two teams met in the finals, Montreal emerged triumphant. Now it was Calgary’s turn. The Flames' 4-2 victory brought the 17-year-old franchise its first Stanley Cup. There was another distinction. It was the first time in the 80-year history of the Canadiens franchise that a visiting team had defeated them for the NHL cham-

pionship on Montreal ice. Said Calgary defenceman AÍ Maclnnis, who won the Conn Smythe trophy as the playoffs’ most valuable player: “To win the Stanley Cup at the Forum has got to be the biggest dream a kid could have.”

The Flames’ victory plunged Calgary into a night of celebration unmatched in the city since last year’s Olympic Winter Games. Police quickly closed off 11th Avenue, the city’s neon-lit tavern strip known as Electric Avenue, where more than 20,000 excited fans had been gathering since late in the afternoon to watch the game— and eventually to celebrate the Calgary victory. Cars and trucks loaded with pennant-waving fans brought downtown traffic to a halt. On a less happy note, some fans burned stuffed toy frogs and set fire to a Montreal hockey jersey. Downtown streets were strewn with broken beer bottles and drunken fans. Still, about 200 police officers patrolling the area reported no serious incidents.

For their part, Montreal fans applauded the powerful Calgary team, which fulfilled expert predictions by defeating the Vancouver Canucks, the Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Black Hawks in the preliminary playoffs before taking on Montreal. Victory over the Canadiens earned the club the NHL championship for the first time since a group of Georgia businessmen created the franchise in Atlanta 17 years ago. In 1980, Alberta investors moved the franchise to Calgary.

Throughout the six-game series with Montreal, the Flames excelled in speed and power. Still, the first week of play ended with Montreal ahead by two games to one. Then Calgary swept the next three games. In the final match, the Flames dominated the Canadiens both in defence and offence. Although generally regarded as a team that owns no superstars, the Flames received outstanding performances from several key players, including Maclnnis, goalie Mike Vernon, centre Doug Gilmour— who scored two goals, including the winner in the final game—and jubilant co-captain Lanny McDonald. A sentimental favorite with the fans and his teammates, the 36-year-old McDonald began his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1973 and had never before been a member of a Stanley Cup team. Said McDonald, who is expected to retire before next season: “It’s an unbelievable feeling. I scored my first NHL goal here in the Forum 16 years ago. And this one tonight here could be my last.”

A major factor from beginning to end of the playoffs was the wicked shot and adept defence of 25-year-old Maclnnis. The six-foot, oneinch, 195-lb. defenceman from Inverness, N.S., marked up 31 playoff points—seven goals and 24 assists, including an assist in the final game. By scoring or assisting on goals in 17 consecutive playoff games, Maclnnis broke the record for defencemen set in the 1970 playoffs by superstar Bobby Orr with a 14-game run.

For their part, key Montreal sharpshooters, including Russ Courtnall and Mats Naslund, were all but neutralized by the awesomely efficient Calgary defence. At the same time, Montreal’s veteran captain, Bob Gainey, 35, and defenceman Larry Robinson, 38—who played on six Canadiens Stanley Cup teams since 1973—appeared to wilt in the final stretch. Said Serge Savard, Canadiens general manager: “Calgary deserved it. They didn’t steal it.” Both clubs’ goalies—Montreal’s Patrick Roy and Calgary’s Vernon—turned in impressive performances that helped to keep the contest close. Vernon allowed only 16 goals and Roy only 17—Calgary scored two lastminute goals into an empty net—in the sixgame final series. Those statistics underline the fact that the series was a duel between two closely matched teams. Said Maclnnis: “Either team could have won any game in this series.” Still, Calgary’s first Stanley Cup conquest raised many hopes in that jubilant city that the Flames could repeat the achievement and perhaps found a new hockey dynasty in the West.

DAN BURKE

JOHN HOWSE

in Calgary