Controversial moments on the ice usually involve a referee’s missed call. That wasn’t the case 39 years ago. The 1980 Memorial Cup is considered one of the most divisive moments in junior hockey history — and blame and bad feelings for what unfolded remain to this day.
The three-team tournament featured the champions from the Western Hockey League, the Ontario Major Junior Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The Regina Pats, the defending Memorial Cup-champion Peterborough Petes and the Cornwall Royals each played a pair of games against each other in the opening round. The two teams that emerged with the best records then faced off in the final.
The undefeated Petes held all the cards entering the tournament’s final round-robin game against the Royals. What resulted is a point of contention for players, coaches and fans on all sides — and led to an explosive scene on the ice and in the stands. Pats goaltender Bart Hunter refers to the game as “an embarrassment for hockey.”
We talked to some of the key actors involved to find the real story behind those infamous few days.
The 1980 Memorial Cup tournament was co-hosted by Brandon, Man., and Regina, Sask. The teams faced each other once in Manitoba before moving west. Although the event didn’t feature a host team, the Pats earned the WHL berth by winning the league championship over the Victoria Cougars.
Scott Arniel, left-winger, Cornwall They were the hometown team [and] Doug Wickenheiser was the elite player in Canada that year. Peterborough, the defending champs, were there. And then it was us — a bunch of unknowns.
Dale Hawerchuk, centre, Cornwall We were the underdog team going in there. We were actually the underdogs to get through the Q.
Newell Brown, centre, Cornwall We went in there wide-eyed. We were a bit of a Cinderella group.
Marc Crawford, left-winger, Cornwall We kinda liked that role. We had a real character team.
Larry Murphy, defenceman, Peterborough We won the year before. Even though we lost [many] guys, we felt like we had a lot of experience going in. That was to our advantage.
John Beukeboom, defenceman, Peterborough We felt good. In the Ontario playoffs, the last two rounds we swept Ottawa and Windsor.
Mike Brophy, beat reporter, Peterborough Examiner They were the best team in that tournament by a million miles.
Brown There were some really high-profile players we were going to be going up against and some teams that had a lot of prominence that year.
Ron Flockhart, centre, Regina What stands out the most is going to the Memorial Cup and having guys like Doug Wickenheiser and Mike Blaisdell and Darren Veitch. We just had such a powerhouse of a team.
Brophy In Peterborough tradition, they always played four lines and other teams would mostly play three. By the end of the season, Peterborough’s fourth-line rookies could play the game. They were safe players to put on the ice. And they were a pretty big hockey team — big and physical, fast.
The first half of the tournament went according to script for one of the favourites – and not so much for the other. The Petes were 2-0, whereas the Pats were winless after their first two games.
Mike Blaisdell, right-winger, Regina Our coach, Bryan Murray — the best coach I ever had by the way — I think he thought you wanna give the boys some rest after a long year. We took it a little too easy, maybe, before that tournament.
Bart Hunter, goalie, Regina We had a few days of no practicing. I was so sunburnt I could hardly put my equipment on. The guys were just having fun. Whatever the temperature was, it was very hot. When we got back to practicing, I seriously had a hard time moving because I was so sunburnt. [Laughs.]
Blaisdell Our practices weren’t real demanding. We went in there hoping we were refreshed again. That kind of backfired a little bit. We were fighting the puck a little bit in the first couple games.
Hunter Probably 10 of guys on the team were Regina guys. It was easy for the Regina guys, especially, to go out and find a place to go and have some fun.
Murphy At that time in Peterborough, we were a well-coached team. First, we had Gary Green and then we had Mike Keenan, who did an outstanding job. We were always prepared very well.
Brophy He was definitely ‘Iron Mike.’
The trend continued as the scene shifted to the Queen City when Peterborough handed Regina another loss. There was plenty of aggravation for the Pats — from losing a lead to Keenan getting an illegal equipment penalty called against Wickenheiser for having a hole in the palm of his glove.
Hunter What I remember is us blowing a 3-0 lead against Peterborough. We were up 3-0 after the second and they came back and beat us 4-3. If we win that game, we’re probably not in this situation.
Blaisdell They were an awkward team to play. They took us out of our rhythm a bit. If anybody would have tried to run-and-gun with us — up and back and really try to open the game up — I think we’d have won that tournament easy.
Mike Keenan, head coach, Peterborough They thought, certainly, they were capable of winning. They had home-ice advantage. We were well prepared.
Blaisdell When they played against Doug [Wickenheiser], they kept a guy right above him all night — just five to 10 feet off him, but just above him so it was hard to get him the puck. He was barely open. So, he was a bit frustrated with that.
Keenan We were willing to do anything within the rules to be successful.
Blaisdell It was such a different style of hockey that we had to contend with. We were so used to having teams match the physicality. You always have to have your head up because somebody might try to run you through the end boards. These guys were so disciplined.
Keenan People don’t like you to make calls for illegal equipment. I had discussions with officials about decision-making. At the time, we thought it was legitimate. We made the decision to do that.
Blaisdell Doug Wickenheiser’s stats in that tournament reflected how our whole team played. He was a guy who was way over a point per game, but he wasn’t clicking and it crept right through all our offensive guys.
In desperate need of a win, the Pats’ offence finally woke up in their fourth game. They demolished Cornwall 11-2. The win put the Pats in line to make the final — if the Royals lost the tournament’s closing preliminary game to the Petes.
Arniel We got off to a horrendous start against them in the first period.
Blaisdell It was so evident that we were starting to get our mojo back.
Crawford The game kind of got away from us. We kind of conserved our energy a little bit. Everybody loved scoring in those days. Especially the home team, they teed up on you when they had you down.
Flockhart It just shows how powerful we were. But at that time, it was a round robin. And it was a little too late. That was the problem.
Crawford Regina had to win and they beat the crap out of us. It set up a do-or-die game for us.
Blaisdell That’s when we really started to fire on all cylinders. [But] we left [our fate] out of our own hands.
Although they had suffered an embarrassing defeat, Cornwall still had time to recover. A win over Peterborough would set up a rematch to determine the champion.
Brown That’s where the leadership of our coach [Doug Carpenter] came into play. He put everything into perspective for us and said, “It’s just one game. It doesn’t matter what the score was. It’s a loss and we’re still in the thick of things here.”
Hawerchuk Even through the Quebec league, we had some games where we got blown out. The next game we’d win. Then we’d get blown out. The next game we’d win. It was almost like our M.O.
Crawford We were used to that. We were used to coming off the canvas and playing a great game whenever that happened to us.
Arniel We made sure, our next game, we really focused on how we were going to play.
Murphy When a team loses like that, they’re obviously going to come back much more motivated.
Keenan We watched it. Dick Todd was working with me at the time. We tried to prepare our team as well as possible.
Hunter If you’re Peterborough and you have your choice of who you want to play: the home team who just crushed the other guys – and we’d had two tough games against them – or Cornwall, you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, it’s probably a better idea to play Cornwall.”
Barry Trotz, defenceman, Regina We put that on ourselves. We didn’t play really well early in the tournament. Peterborough had the deciding vote.
The Petes held a 4-1 lead midway through the deciding game. But the Royals mounted a comeback and emerged with a 5-4 victory. The legitimacy of the outcome remains open for debate.
Brophy Going into the game, I knew the circumstances. I knew what was up, but I never dreamed in a million years that they would throw the game. When they took the 4-1 lead, I kind of felt justified for thinking that way. Then as I watched them stop playing in the third, it was so obvious. It was so obvious they were throwing the game.
Blaisdell We were all around the rink at that time. Where people got upset — and our team and our management — is when Peterborough started dumping the puck in when they had a 3-on-1 opportunity. It’s like: Really? They just refused to create any offence. They didn’t even want to try.
Brophy One of the Peterborough players had a breakaway and didn’t shoot on net. He dumped it in the corner. That’s when I knew something was up.
Hunter They’d go down on a rush and the guy would pass the puck and it would go in the corner and it would miss him by six feet. You can’t throw a hockey game without it being noticeable. It was sad.
Brophy I also saw another guy score a goal from behind the net [earlier in the game]. And when the puck went in, he rolled his eyes like, “Oh no. That wasn’t supposed to happen.”
Trotz I [later] lived with one of the players that played on the Cornwall team. I’ll just leave his name out of it. He told me Peterborough had a 5-on-3 and they said, “Hey, we’re not shooting. You’re gonna get the puck here.”
Brophy What a lot of people don’t remember is, for the Petes — if you take the OHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup — they won 13 straight games. They were on an unbelievable roll until they threw that game on the Friday night.
Rick LaFerriere, goalie, Peterborough It was the first game we lost [in] three rounds of the playoffs.
Keenan They got some momentum going. There was a lot of pressure on our team.
LaFerriere You get a talented hockey team that was well coached. I didn’t stop the pucks I should have.
Keenan I don’t think we were complacent, that’s for sure.
Beukeboom We were in a bad spot no matter what. We shouldn’t have played; those two teams should have played, but those are the rules.
Crawford Mike Keenan didn’t play his top line in the third period, resting them.
Brophy I don’t think that’s compromising. I think any coach would do the same thing. Knowing they’ve got an important game in two days — rest your top line. Why risk injury? That wasn’t a big deal to me. What was a big deal was when a guy got a breakaway and dumped the puck into the corner.
Arniel We were getting tons of chances. I don’t know if they were looking past us to the next game. Maybe they saw the score and thought they were going to play Regina.
Murphy When a team’s down by a lot of goals, they take more chances and press. You start playing a more high-risk game, which all teams do when they’re down. It paid off.
Crawford We scored a power-play goal when we were 5-on-4 and then we had a 5-on-3 going into the third period. Power plays in those days, we probably scored more often than we didn’t. We had a very good power play.
Hawerchuk I kinda sensed that we got momentum and they couldn’t get it back. They were reeling. As a player, you’re not thinking about controversy. You’re thinking, “Hey, we’ve got these guys on the ropes. Let’s finish them.”
Arniel I don’t think it’s ever easy, especially against the defending champs. I just think we got momentum and we got on a roll. They got on it the wrong way. Everything they tried to do, whether it was a turnover or whether it was a bad pass, it just snowballed.
Murphy They outmanned us on a couple goals. Their defence was much more active. They played high risk. Sometimes it works for you. But you’ve really got no other option than to approach it that way. They got us back on our heels.
Crawford [Keenan] was resting his guys but, yeah, they would have rather have played us [in the final] than play the hometown Regina Pats for sure. You know what? It served as fire for us, too.
Murphy There was no discussion. We played that game like we played all games.
Brophy If they had played an honest game on the Friday night, I still think they would have beat Regina in Regina.
LaFerriere I don’t think it mattered who we played. For me, it was whoever’s in front of you is who you have to beat. We were usually successful in doing that.
Blaisdell Hockey people talk. I played with some of those Peterborough guys over the years. Of course, you’re eventually going to get onto the subject, right? All they would say is, “We weren’t going to win that game. Let’s just leave it at that, Mike. We were not winning. We were not going to beat Cornwall in that game.”
Flockhart It’s not the WWF league; I don’t believe in that sort of scenario. Definitely, I’m not pointing fingers. We shouldn’t have left it in someone else’s hands to win it.
Hunter I played with [Petes first-liner Mark] Reeds in Salt Lake City a few years later. Reeds told me it was never really discussed — at least not from Keenan.
Arniel I’ve talked to a bunch of guys who played on that team. I know nobody would say, “Oh yeah. We wanted to blow it and give up a three-goal lead so we could play Cornwall.” But who really wants to play Regina?
Trotz There’s no question they did it.
LaFerriere I don’t know how you throw a hockey game? [That accusation] didn’t sit well with me for many years after that, actually.
Beukeboom That wasn’t our game plan, that’s for sure. No. Absolutely not.
Blaisdell That’s gotta be instructions from the bench.
Keenan Well, if anybody followed my career, and followed my work both internationally and representing Canada and coaching in the NHL, they’d be hard pressed to think that I’d ever throw a game.
LaFerriere There were a couple things that were done during that game where you look at it and go, “Why would that happen?” But then you’re not the coach so you just do whatever you’re told. Just game situation things that, as a player, you always question.
Brophy I’ve asked [Keenan], did he engineer them throwing the game? He said no. And I guess on some level I’ve always kind of believed that. If it wasn’t him, somebody planted the seeds in the players’ heads that if they beat Cornwall on the Friday night then they would face a WHL team, in a WHL home rink, with WHL referees.
Brown Mike Keenan never throws a hockey game. That’s not in his makeup. [But] I’m sure he’s not telling his players, “We’d rather play Regina.”
Hunter I would believe that [throwing a game isn’t Keenan’s style]. I met Mike. It was funny. I played in the Calgary Flames’ poker tournament and I had never run across him. He was there when he was coaching the Flames. I thought I should go up and introduce myself [laughs], so I did. We had a laugh. I was like, “Hey, I’m Bart Hunter.” He kind of looks at me. And I go, “Yeah, I was the goalie in Regina.” [Laughs.] He kinda snickers. What do you do, right?
Trotz It took from what could have been an outstanding final. Peterborough had a great team. We had a great team. The team that really had the weakest team was Cornwall.
Pats fans didn’t take too kindly to Cornwall’s comeback. Once it became apparent late in the game the Pats would be eliminated, they began chanting “Throw the game” and “Petes, go home.” That was just the beginning of the chaos that ensued.
LaFerriere My recollection of the game was just the screaming and yelling and the way the fans were throwing everything on the ice.
Hunter If the crowd had felt the game wasn’t being thrown, it doesn’t happen. But if it’s that obvious that people are throwing stuff, then you know something’s gone on.
Murphy The home team was out and they were disappointed because they wanted to see them in the finals. And rightly so; everyone wants to see their home team win.
Brophy The Regina players — in their street clothes, obviously, because they weren’t playing the Friday night — were throwing things at the Peterborough bench. Standing behind it and cursing and swearing and raising fists and [saying], “We’re gonna get you.”
Hunter I know some of our guys were getting a little vocal. We sort of remember our fortunes slipping away.
Arniel There was even some Regina players throwing stuff at their bench. It was unbelievable. They were just pelting their bench. [Laughs.] They had to take a couple timeouts. The referees had to call it because the fans were throwing everything possible – whatever could be sold in the concession stand – at the Peterborough bench. Our bench didn’t have anything. We were just standing there – nothing.
Brown It was actually kind of funny. We were just stuck in the middle of this whole thing.
Hawerchuk I’d already been through enough bench-clearing brawls and brawls in the stands in the Quebec league. That was nothing. [Laughs.]
LaFerriere A good friend of mine, [Pats defenceman] Mike Rainville, he was a kid that I grew up with, played hockey in North Bay. I can remember him throwing a beer bottle at me when I was on the ice. To be told that you blew a game on purpose, I just don’t know what kind of foundation anybody had for that.
Brown Mostly, we were just laughing.
The situation wasn’t a laughing matter for the Petes. Even when the game ended, the anger of the Pats and their fans didn’t subside.
Brophy I remember Bryan Murray yelling, coming down and screaming at the Peterborough bench.
Keenan We had to lock the players in the dressing room for a while until the police came to settle things out.
Crawford They were very annoyed. Their players were annoyed. There was a raucous scene around the dressing room area.
Trotz There were some words spoken between Mike Keenan and Bryan Murray.
Keenan Bryan was very upset. I think that the entire organization kind of stirred the pot with the fans to get them all upset.
Hunter I would not want to be on the wrong side of Bryan Murray when he’s upset. [Laughs.]
Keenan Bryan was a great competitor, God rest his soul. It’s funny how we ran into each other throughout the years. We go from the Memorial Cup to then we’re in the American League coaching against each other and then we’re in the same division in the NHL coaching against each other. As time went on, obviously, we had great respect for each other.
Brophy Bryan became a friend of mine over the years when I covered the NHL. Bryan and I talked about this many times. And let me tell you, his feelings never diminished. Anytime that subject came up, I could see him start to turn red. For him, it was an opportunity missed to win the Memorial Cup. Years and years later when Bryan and I would talk about it, his face would turn red and he’d get really p.o.’d.
Brown We were too busy celebrating. We heard about [the coaches’ confrontation] after the fact.
Keenan It was hostile actually, to the point where [the fans] were trying to rock our bus over.
Trotz I remember back at the hotel where the Petes stayed there were cars and trucks keeping them up all night.
The final was set for two nights later. All that did was give fans time to arm themselves with more elaborate projectiles. While only 3,500 people showed up to the Regina Agridome — a drop of more than 2,000 from earlier tournament games — they weren’t there to sit on their hands. The game was halted 16 times because of debris on the ice. It came in many forms.
Brophy Somebody actually threw a live chicken. It hit [Petes leading scorer] Billy Gardner in the shoulder.
Keenan I had to keep my eyes open and keep ducking. I was getting hit with eggs as they missed me and splattered up against the glass behind me. It was a distraction for sure.
Blaisdell I didn’t even watch the final game. I just remember hearing about some of the stuff – like people throwing eggs at the Peterborough bench. [Laughs.] I was just so disappointed that we were out that I had no interest in the final game.
LaFerriere I probably got hit with about 20 eggs during that final game.
Arniel There was everything from hamburgers to hot dogs, soda pop — all that stuff. There was a whole buffet over by their bench. [Laughs.]
Keenan You try and settle your team down, that’s what’s going through your mind. You try to help them work through the distraction. They’re young guys; they’re teenagers.
Brophy I left the press box and I went up to a cop and I said, “Are you just going to let this happen? You’re not doing anything to try to stop this.” He told me to shut up or he’d arrest me.
Keenan I was in a lot of situations that were pretty volatile in the NHL, but not to that extent because the security’s greater in the NHL than it was on that particular day.
Brophy In today’s society, they would have stopped the game. It was downright dangerous.
Keenan The security in the building should have been stepped up.
Brophy It was a madhouse. I couldn’t believe, quite honestly, that they didn’t stop the game. The police and security did absolutely nothing to stop the people from throwing things on the ice.
Keenan It was too bad because it was on national TV as well.
Trotz If you get a chance to re-watch it, you’ll notice they never show the stands. They always had a tight look at the ice because people were throwing chickens and eggs and drinks at the Peterborough bench the whole game.
Beukeboom It was a gong show.
Brown People got behind us. We were surprised by that. It was an interesting way that whole dynamic worked. We were on the bench going, “Hey, they like us. They’re cheering for us. It feels like we’re at home here. The wind’s in our sails. It feels like good things are happening for us. Let’s go out and play.”
Hawerchuk Once we got in the final against Peterborough, we seemed to become the home team because they wanted Peterborough to get beat. That was obviously something that was favourable to us.
Keenan [The distraction of the crowd] cost us the game — the Memorial Cup. Except for a limited number of Petes fans, the support was all for Cornwall.
Naturally, the crowd erupted when the Royals won the game 3-2 at 1:28 of overtime. Robert Savard, a defenceman who’d scored just four times during the season, netted the goal by cutting in off the boards before beating LaFerriere with a low shot.
Arniel Lots of drama, lots of things happening, but it came down to one game — us against Peterborough.
Brown There wasn’t as much pressure on us as there was on the other teams — especially Peterborough. They were the team to beat, right?
Crawford The game-winning goal was so special. It really was. Robert Savard was a fourth defenceman — those days you basically only played with four. He was a guy who pushed to be in the fourth-defenceman role. I don’t even think he scored a goal in the playoffs. He’s the only guy in history to win three consecutive Memorial Cups. He won two with us and then went to Kitchener and won with them the next year as an overager.
LaFerriere The Regina and Brandon tournament was one of those tournaments I was expecting to win. You come short in overtime. It wasn’t a nice final.
Blaisdell They chose their opponent. But it didn’t work for them, which made everybody happy around here.
Reaction to the result of the 1980 Memorial Cup varied greatly between Cornwall, Regina and Peterborough.
Brown Cornwall’s my hometown. I grew up there. That made it even more cool for me.
Arniel We flew back to Montreal. There were busloads of people that had come up from Cornwall.
Brown There were tons of people to greet us on our bus ride back from the airport to Cornwall, which is about a 90-minute drive. People started lining up along the highway 20 miles from town. They lined up along the 401.
Arniel There were school buses behind us [and] in front of us with people in them. We were hanging out the windows of our bus. We got back to the Civic Centre. We had the parade. Guys were in these convertible Corvettes, two or three guys to a car.
Brown When we arrived in town, there were even more people. We arrived at the arena and it was crazy. The town went nuts for that victory. The parade was amazing, too. It was a real high mark for the city. The city was looking for something like that to feel good about. It was a working-class town on hard times. The paper mill wasn’t going well. Anything that could give the city a little more self-esteem, they just jumped all over it.
Hawerchuk Anytime the Memorial Cup comes around, there’s always a lot of emailing going around with the guys or texting. When you win something like that as a young group, it sits with you forever.
LaFerriere Fortunately, we won it the one year [in 1979]. It would have been nice to win it twice like Cornwall ended up doing.
Brophy There was never any doubt in my mind what I was going to write. I was paid to write what I saw. That’s exactly what I did. I became public enemy No. 1 in Peterborough. And it lasted for about two years.
LaFerriere Every year for 10 years [after], I’d get an email of the winning goal from some fans in Regina. It was always a memory. [Laughs.]
Brophy After they’d lost the Memorial Cup in overtime to Cornwall, we fly back. I get off the bus and two elderly women hit me with their purses. They literally flung their purses at me.
Beukeboom There was no parade.
Brophy Then, the next night, they had a Petes appreciation night at the Peterborough Memorial Centre, so they sent me to cover it. Nobody would sit with me. I sat at a table by myself. I had lots of salad and lots of buns.
Keenan We played well. I can’t complain about the way the players played. We lost one important game — the final.
Blaisdell To put a Memorial Cup on your resumé would have been nice. [Laughs.] They still talk about that Memorial Cup team that the Pats had with Clark Gillies and Dennis Sobchuk and all those guys. They won it. They’re the poster boys and we’re the also-rans. It’s too bad.
Hunter It was an embarrassment for hockey. When my dad [Edmonton Oilers founder Bill Hunter] spoke at the banquet, I don’t recall what he said, but it was amazing how he was able to position it as a sad event without pointing a lot of fingers.
Blaisdell I really believe in my heart of hearts that neither one of those teams would have beat us in seven games. I think our physicality would have taken over and we had plenty of firepower.
Crawford I don’t care. I’ve got the ring — along with my teammates. Our names are on the trophy. That’s all that matters.
The Royals received the added prize of representing Canada at the World Junior Championship seven months later, the last Memorial Cup winner to earn a berth. They finished seventh, but won another national title in 1981. However, the controversy surrounding their 1980 junior championship sparked a bigger change. The Memorial Cup tournament’s format was altered to its current state in 1983.
Keenan The organizers came to me after that game and said, “We can’t have this format again.”
Brophy This was the starting point for that conversation. Why should a team play a game that has no meaning when it could control the outcome and who appears in the one-game final?
Keenan They’d recognized that they’d made a mistake as well. They changed it.
Brophy I don’t think it gave the organization the black eye that many people would think it would’ve. People kinda shrugged their shoulders about it.
Hunter I would never blame the Peterborough players personally. I would blame us for not winning. All we needed to do was win one more game. And I would blame the format of the tournament. It was just a bad format.
Blaisdell When you’re trying to win a Memorial Cup, you’re going to try to pull out all the stops. I don’t know if we’d have done anything different if we’d gone out to Peterborough and had the chance to play a Quebec team instead of the host in a rink that’s going to be a complete zoo in a final.
Hunter The question would be, if we were the Regina Pats and we were playing in Peterborough, and they had a big, huge, packed building, and we had to make a decision going into the game, what would we have done? What would we do? I’d hate to know the answer to that question.
Blaisdell I don’t blame those guys whatsoever. I just know it’s a fact that they were never going to win that game. It was evident.
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