In the spring of 1986, the Calgary Flames did two things for the first time in franchise history: They beat the Edmonton Oilers in a playoff series and they made it to the Stanley Cup Final. Although the Flames were beaten in five games by the Montreal Canadiens, there was hope in Calgary that they had finally figured out how to get by their provincial arch rivals and that better days were ahead.
They were partially right.
The following year, the Flames improved their regular-season point total, finishing second in the Smythe Division, but were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in six games by the Winnipeg Jets.
In 1987–88, the Flames loaded up at the trade deadline, sending Brett Hull (who GM Cliff Fletcher acknowledged would one day be a 50-goal scorer) and Steve Bozek to St. Louis for defenceman Rob Ramage and goaltender Rick Wamsley. The team won its first Presidents’ Trophy, but got swept in the second round by — you guessed it — the Oilers, who went on to win their fourth Stanley Cup in five years.
But the Flames weren’t about to give up. In the lead-up to the 1988–89 season, two notable trades impacted the team. The first involved the Oilers shocking the hockey world by sending Wayne Gretzky to the L.A. Kings. The second saw the Flames acquire centre Doug Gilmour and winger Mark Hunter from the Blues in a seven-player deal.
Fletcher believed he had assembled the best Flames team yet, with goalie Mike Vernon; defencemen Al MacInnis, Gary Suter and Brad McCrimmon; forwards Gilmour, Joe Nieuwendyk, Joe Mullen, Hakan Loob, Joel Otto, and Gary Roberts; and a leadership group that included Tim Hunter, Jim Peplinski and Lanny McDonald. On Jan. 1, they called up 20-year-old rookie Theo Fleury, who became another key piece — a spark plug.
They went on to win another Presidents’ Trophy, finishing with a whopping 54 wins, including 32 at home.
All that was left was to win it when it mattered most.
Doug Gilmour, centre The trade from St. Louis was a great move for me. Cliff had already picked up Rob Ramage, Ric Nattress, Joey Mullen and Rick Wamsley from St. Louis, so it was easy for Mark Hunter and me to walk in. The Flames were a team with some good young players and great leadership. We were pretty strong.
Cliff Fletcher, general manager The big difference between the team the year before — even though we won the Presidents’ Trophy going away in 1987–88 — [was] Doug Gilmour.
Terry Crisp, head coach I played with Bobby Clarke, who was the ultimate warrior. Gilmour was right behind him. He didn’t know the meaning of quit. Don’t judge him by his size.
George Johnson, Calgary Sun beat reporter Rick Wamsley, the backup goalie, referred to him as the final piece of a real good pot of stew. He was their competitive conscience.
Fletcher I mean, when you bring a No. 1 centre into the mix and you already have Joe Nieuwendyk, it’s a pretty good start.
Gilmour The mood was pretty high to start the season. Gretzky got traded, so now he’s in L.A. The Alberta rivalry was still there, but it was just different. From Day 1, it was focused. And the team was close. We had a lot of fun together, but, again, once we got to the rink it was serious.
Crisp When I was hired (in 1987), Cliff said, “Crispy, your mandate is very, very simple — win the Cup.” He said the owners have all the money they need — they want a ring.
Jamie Macoun, defenceman We thought we had the team built to put a winner together and as the season went along we just felt stronger and stronger about it.
Jim Peplinski, right winger From the time that we made it to the Final against Montreal in ’86, we should have won Stanley Cups the next four years, I thought. In ’87–88 we didn’t fulfill our expectations. In our Stanley Cup season, we just expected to win.
Mike Vernon, goaltender We were excited to get into the playoffs, get the long season over with — “Okay, now the real season starts.” It’s a chance to redeem ourselves.
Peter Maher, broadcaster [It] was Stanley Cup or bust. All through that entire year the expectation among the fans in Calgary was this was going to be our year to win the Cup.
Theo Fleury, right winger There was a lot of pressure on this team. As a young guy, I didn’t feel it as much as the older guys.
Lanny McDonald, right winger We all knew down deep this was probably our last kick at the cat. If you couldn’t win it in ’88–’89, there was a pretty good chance Cliff was going to have to make some changes.
McDonald was 35 and entering his 16th season, and thoughts of retirement had begun to creep in even before the year began.
McDonald You know it’s getting close. I always looked at Jean Beliveau. I loved him. He was this majestic figure, who stood head and shoulders above the rest. He could have played four or five more years in my opinion, but he chose to walk away from the game on a high. I always thought, “Boy, would that ever be cool to walk away if you won it all.”
The successful regular season — and not having to face Edmonton in the opening round — put the Flames in a good frame of mind entering the playoffs against the scrappy Vancouver Canucks. But the team’s past early-round failures were hard for some to forget.
Fletcher Obviously, we felt the pressure. Here we are playing a team that was 43 points behind us, but our team was uptight and very nervous because of what had happened the year before.
Dana Murzyn, defenceman I don’t think there was ever any overconfidence.
Joel Otto, centre Vancouver was quite a bit below us in the standings, [but] had nothing to lose. We ran into a pretty good club at that point.
Crisp We’re thinking, “We don’t want to waste a whole lot of time with this team. We don’t want to use our energy up,” but Vancouver had different ideas.
Peplinski They had a lot of guys that were playing out of their minds.
Mike Murphy, Canucks assistant coach Everybody was saying it’s going to be four and out, Calgary is way better. They were first overall; they were the Presidents’ Trophy winner; they beat us all year long. Well, we’ve got a pretty good team. Some pieces were in place that were starting to make this team grow. We really didn’t think about winning the series. What we thought about was, and I know this is cliché, we just thought, “Let’s go and play a good first game and see where the chips fall.”
The result every Flames player and fan feared arrived in the series opener at the Saddledome in Calgary, with the Canucks winning 4–3 in overtime.
Johnson Paul Reinhart, ex-Flame, scores in overtime in Game 1 at the Saddledome, and from then on [it’s] like they’re in Vegas and they’re playing with house money.
Murphy Right away, panic starts to set in a little bit on the other side.
Johnson [The Canucks] played that underdog, “We have no business being here,” to the absolute hilt. [Vancouver coach Bob McCammon] played that card better than anybody I’ve ever seen. I remember he called Cliff a goon, he called Brad McCrimmon the dirtiest player. He would just pile this stuff on because he really had nothing to lose.
Vernon We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and it wasn’t with Vancouver. It was a seesaw battle back and forth.
The Flames managed to regroup with two wins: 5–2 at home in the second game and 4–0 in the third in Vancouver. But the Canucks were far from done, evening the series with a 5–3, Game 4 win.
Back at home for Game 5, the Flames prevailed with another 4–0 victory and felt everything was under control, but the Canucks responded with their best game of the series, a 6–3 win to force a seventh game in Calgary.
Murphy We’d been down three games to two and I thought, “Okay, this is going to be really hard because the guys can see the finish line … [but] if we finish here it’s not going to be a disgrace.” But we beat them fairly easy.
Fleury We were in a fight for our lives, and it wasn’t because we weren’t the better team. It was because we were fighting some old demons.
Gilmour Personally, I didn’t play very well. I guess we were playing a little tight. We were scared. You know, a here-we-go-again kind of mentality.
Otto Vancouver, to their credit, was pretty pesky and kept finding ways.
Crisp Paul Reinhart — we traded him — was on a mission to knock us out.
Peplinski They played us much tougher physically than I think we had expected, so maybe that set us back on our heels a little bit.
Maher They were making a series of it and there was a lot of fear that this was all going to end again in the first round despite the fact the team had a solid roster. You could tell from the body language they were concerned.
On the team bus after that Game 6 loss in Vancouver, an emotional and frustrated Fletcher addressed the Flames in a way he seldom had before.
Colin Patterson, left winger Cliff was a guy who didn’t come into the dressing room and talk very much, but when he did, people listened.
McDonald I remember Cliff coming on the bus. He asked the reporters to step off. He wanted to talk to us and gave us one of those rare speeches… “Listen, guys…. If we don’t win this year, this team’s gonna get torn apart.”
Patterson That sort of resonated with everybody.
Crisp I was not on the bus, [but] what was going through my mind was I wouldn’t have a job.
McDonald It was one of those holy-gosh moments… “Wake up, boys, because we’ve got to find a way to get this done.”
Fletcher I basically lost it because it was obvious that we were a much, much better team. And so I just let it all air out. “Well, guys, you want the same thing to happen that happened last year when we lost? Where do we go from here? You’ve got a team who should be celebrating the Stanley Cup in another five or six weeks and you’re going to let it get away? It’s all in your hands.”
Vernon He just put it all on the line. He believed in us and he just re-emphasized that we were a good team and we had to prove it as individuals and as a team.
Roberts You always say you’re only as good as your leader, and we had an amazing leader in Cliff Fletcher. I know he had a huge, huge part in the success of that hockey team.
The Flames responded to their GM’s rallying cry, leading 2–1 after one period and 3–2 after two. But the Canucks weren’t going away. Doug Lidster scored at 7:12 of the third to push the game to overtime.
Gilmour Game 7 was a nail-biter.
Murphy In overtime, we were the better team far and away. It was, “Who is going to get the break? Who is going to break down? Who’s going to make the mistake?”
Gilmour Stan Smyl came down, took a slap shot from the top of the circle, and Vernon made a glove save. Wow. We thought it was over.
Otto I remember sitting on the bench next to Wamsley… thinking, “How I am going to get out of town if we lose?” We had some chances, obviously, but not ones that Vancouver had. Mike held us in there.
Patterson Mike Vernon just played unbelievable.
Macoun I’m sitting there going: “Stop this puck, stop this puck, stop this puck….” Then he’d stop it.
Fleury You can’t even watch it and you’re actually playing the game. You think every single shot is going in. If Verny doesn’t make those saves — two or three of the most incredible, unbelievable saves — in overtime of Game 7, it’s another disaster.
Vernon I enjoyed it. You know you’re going to have to make some stops that keep your team in it…. There was a 2-on-1 with Petri Skriko and I just got my toe on that. That was probably the best scoring opportunity they had.
When the game finally ended 19:21 into overtime, it was with a goal shrouded in controversy.
Otto We were in the midst of a line change. [Hakan Loob tried] to get it to me and it bounced over to Jim on the wing.
Peplinski I picked up the puck going wide. Joel and I spent a lot of time playing together. If I had the puck, he was going to the net, and if he had the puck, I was going to the net. In this particular situation he was going hard to the net. I just tried to put it on his stick and it went some place in the middle of things, hit a leg and a skate, and went in.
Otto I remember looking down, watching it bank off my skate. And I don’t remember if I saw it go in or if I heard the roar.
Peplinski There was a bunch of noise about whether it was legal or not. In those days, there wasn’t any question.
Otto They didn’t have rules about being in the crease. I don’t think I disturbed [Canucks goalie] Kirk McLean with bumping into him. I just kind of drove hard to the net — the game was like that back then. Trying to gain position. Pep did all the work — he’s the one that banked it.
Gilmour With how the rules change, now it probably wouldn’t be good. But it wasn’t a kick. It was a motion. I’m going to say it’s a good goal!
McDonald Oh my gosh. Of course it was a good goal.
Crisp It happened so fast, honest to God, I can’t sit here and tell you was it good or was it not. All I can tell you is when that puck went in the net, I was throwing bodies over the boards.
Murphy To this day, I still feel the puck was kicked in. If it was today’s hockey, there would’ve been goalie interference, it would have been a kicked puck, but back then that didn’t happen.
Fletcher I thought it was a good goal. Didn’t we win?
Bill McCreary, referee Had we had video review, I think we would have disallowed the winning goal. I think [Otto] directed the puck in the net with his skate. But the goal was allowed. I probably wish I had a better angle on the play, a better sightline. I just didn’t react well enough at the time and made the call. Of course, you don’t reverse them in those days, so it’s probably one I wished I could do over.
The Flames won both the game and the series 4–3, sending the Canucks home and moving on to the second round.
Vernon After the game, I came into the dressing room. Cliff was right there. He gave me a bear hug and he just said, “I knew you could do it, kid.”
Gilmour Somebody was looking out for us because we were very close to losing.
Fleury I think the air finally went out of the Saddledome. You know, everybody took a big deep sigh of relief.
Vernon Definitely, we felt like we dodged a bullet. I mean, we were one shot away from losing.
Roberts You never go four series and win the Stanley Cup with no challenges. There’s always one challenge along the way.
Murphy It was one of the best series I’ve ever been involved in. But it was also a highlight moment for Calgary — they successfully beat us and after that I don’t think they met much resistance going through. We were just one thorn in their side. I think it was an awakening for them.
Al MacInnis, defenceman After we won that first round, we kind of settled down and felt pretty confident.
Johnson It wasn’t a monkey off their back; it was King Kong coming off the Empire State Building. You could tell right away that they felt, you know, “Maybe this is our year.”
As the Flames pulled out their desperate win over the Canucks, their rivals, the Oilers, lost Game 7 to Wayne Gretzky and the Kings, setting up a division-final meeting between Calgary and L.A.
Luc Robitaille, Kings left winger To win that Edmonton series was absolutely incredible. It was so big in L.A. Wayne dominated.
Roberts I can remember when L.A. beat Edmonton, I think there was a bit of relief in our dressing room. [With] the history of the Oilers and the Flames, it would have been a tough series for us, I believe.
Fletcher After the Canucks series, the team relaxed. We were a totally different team in Game 1 of Round 2 than we were in the first round.
The Kings pushed Game 1 in Calgary to overtime, but the Flames prevailed 4–3 with Gilmour netting the winner.
Vernon It’s always good to start a series with a win. It was a confidence builder.
Otto If we lose that game, who knows how that series goes? Losing home ice to a good L.A. club, Gretzky was the Hart Trophy winner that year…
Robitaille We had so much momentum going in, winning Game 7 [versus the Oilers]. If you win [Game 1] in OT, yeah, it probably changes things a little bit.
Gilmour I wasn’t great, but I played better than the first round and then I scored in overtime. When that happened, I just took off.
The Kings ratcheted up the physicality in Game 2, but McDonald and the Flames were ready for it. With Calgary up big in the third period, a melee broke out on the ice — with Lanny at the centre of it.
McDonald I remember their coach yelling at (Jim) Wiemer to take me on. There’s four or five fights going on. I didn’t have time to look around to see who else is fighting. I knew I had my hands full. You’re fighting for your teammates. You’re fighting for pride. The last thing you ever want to do is lose a fight in front of your home crowd. When it [was] all said and done, I remember getting back to the bench, being absolutely exhausted. (You’re) getting mobbed by your teammates, knowing full well hopefully you helped turn the series and I think it actually did help. When you fight for each other, whatever it takes, [it feels] like, “Yep, we own this series. We’re not going back, we’re going forward.”
The Flames won the game 8–3, then tied a bow on the series winning Games 3 and 4 in L.A. by a combined 10–5 score.
Patterson The second game we played much better and much stronger. All of a sudden we started getting three and four lines going, which was very important for that run.
Robitaille I think we wasted so much energy in that first series, by the time we got against Calgary it seemed like we had totally run out of gas. Calgary was the best team in league. Even though they had a lot of great players, there were no individuals on that team.
Fletcher I mean, when we play L.A. and win four straight with Gretz in their lineup, we just totally relaxed and we were a totally different team. We’re full of the confidence that we had during the regular season and didn’t feel any real extra pressure at all.
Next up was the Chicago Blackhawks, who had squeaked into the playoffs with 66 points before beating Detroit and St. Louis on their way to the conference final.
Murzyn We weren’t overconfident by any means. We knew we could be beat if we didn’t do what we had to do properly.
Otto (Blackhawks coach) Mike Keenan’s teams were always pretty solid.
Crisp I knew going in, my tactics would have to change. When you go head to head with Mike Keenan you have to prepare for a war.
Patterson Chicago was a hard-playing team. But we probably matched up better against them than other teams. We had big guys who could handle their big guys.
Roberts Otto, Peplinski, Hunter — they were a force in that series physically.
The Flames and Blackhawks split the first two games in Calgary before heading to Chicago, where the arena and fans played a major role.
Roberts I can remember being in the old Chicago Stadium and I’ll tell you, there were chills running up my spine before the game.
McDonald That building was phenomenal as a player. It gave them an advantage right off the bat. You needed to find a way to take the life out of it — certainly scoring a few goals helped.
Vernon [It wasn’t] an easy building to play in. It was like, “Verny, keep us within one in the first 10 minutes and we should be alright.”
The Flames overcame the raucous environment and exploded for five goals in a Game 3 victory. Patterson collected an assist on a first-period Joe Mullen goal, but the biggest highlight of his night came after the game.
Patterson When I got off the ice, I was told [my wife, Sherrie] was going into labour. At that point it’s too late to catch a flight. [When] I got to the airport it was like six in the morning, and back in the day with the old telephones, I was able to dial into the birthing room and my mother-in-law held the phone up and I heard the birth of my daughter. I flew back to Calgary, held the baby, kissed my wife and basically got back on the plane to Chicago and we played the next night.
Though the Blackhawks put up another good fight in Game 4, MacInnis scored on a power play in overtime to give Calgary a stranglehold heading home.
Crisp When that goal went in, that’s when I probably breathed my biggest sigh of relief of the playoffs. Something went through me — you know, we’re good, we’re fine. I said to myself, “We’re going to win the Cup.” It went through my mind. I can’t tell you why, I just had that feeling in my soul and my heart. Now, I’m glad Montreal didn’t hear that.
Gilmour We were on a roll. The last game in the Stadium, we score in overtime, and Crispy leaned over the glass and kissed Norma MacNeil, Al’s wife. Oh, yeah, there was a lot of excitement.
Crisp My wife and some of the other wives were sitting right behind our bench, and I jumped up and I straddled the glass. How I did that, I have no idea. The lady right there … jumped up the same time and I just gave her a big kiss. And then I realized, “Yoo, woo, that’s not my wife.” It was our assistant GM’s wife, Norma. I’ll tell you, the static I got over that is never going to go away. Thank goodness my wife had a sense of humour — she just laughed.
After the emotional high of the Game 4 victory, the Flames won 3–1 back at the Saddledome to reach the Cup Final.
Otto Joe (Nieuwendyk) scored a couple in Game 5, put us over the edge.
The Stanley Cup Final was a rematch of 1986. But this time both teams were, in some ways, expected to be there. The Flames and Habs, in that order, were the two best teams in the regular season, separated by just two points.
To get to the Final, the Canadiens had swept the Hartford Whalers in the opening round, defeated the Boston Bruins in five games in the Division Final, and beaten the Philadelphia Flyers in six in the Conference Final.
McDonald After ’86, we thought ’87 was a championship team, ’88 was a championship team — I never dreamt it was going to take us three more years. But that tells you how tough it was and what a fine line it is. Isn’t it ironic we ended up playing the same team we played in ’86?
Guy Carbonneau, Canadiens centre We felt pretty good going into that series. I thought we had the better team. The fact we had won in ’86, the experience we had… and we still had some good veterans who had won the Cup in the past.
Vernon We had such a good rivalry with them. I think it was kind of fitting that we played them again — that we got another kick at the cat, so to speak.
Roberts Two Canadian teams in the Stanley Cup — I just remember the excitement around the series.
Patterson When you look at the two teams, it’s almost like looking in a mirror.
Crisp Montreal was the best team in goals against and we were second best. But we both had firepower. We both had solid goaltending. It was an even matchup.
Patterson Mike Vernon and Patrick Roy, two great goaltenders of that era, battling it out. It was really neat to see.
The Flames opened the series with a 3–2 victory, with Fleury scoring the game-winning goal midway through the second period. MacInnis also got on the board with two first-period goals.
Fletcher No one back then could shoot the puck anywhere near like Al could. And he was absolutely the key to our power play. He’s a Hall of Famer and he played like one.
Macoun As the playoffs went along he just got better and better and he turned himself into an all-star — good defensively and obviously great offensively.
But the Canadiens bounced back in Game 2. Chris Chelios and Russ Courtnall scored in the third period to put the Habs over the top 4–2.
Carbonneau Opening (a series) on the road, you always want to win one. In those years, home-ice advantage meant more than today.
Before Game 3, Crisp and the coaching staff made the decision to remove McDonald from the lineup, which they’d done at points in the regular season and five times during the first round versus the Canucks.
Crisp We had so much depth. You sit down as a coach and say, “What’s it going to take to win this game tonight?” As coaches, you live or die by it.
McDonald Everyone would take warm up. You hoped you would be in the lineup, but as disappointing as it was, you can’t let those emotions be shown in the dressing room because your guys are heading for the ice.
The Flames led 3–2 late in the third period of Game 3 at the Montreal Forum, but Mats Naslund scored to force overtime. Then, in double OT, the Canadiens caught a break with a boarding call on Mark Hunter.
Patterson [Referee] Kerry Fraser made the call on him. To me, it was a really bad call.
Fletcher There hadn’t been a penalty called in about 60 minutes. So we were a little upset.
Canadiens centre Ryan Walter scored the game-winning goal as the penalty ended. Just as they had in 1986, the Flames trailed in the series, 2–1.
Otto Losing Game 3 more pissed us off than rattled us. We felt we should have won.
Fleury It was a disappointing loss, for sure, but I didn’t see us panicking. We just kind of rolled up our sleeves and knew what we had to do in Game 4.
Crisp I always say game four is the pivotal game no matter what — it’s a big swing game.
Gilmour There wasn’t one guy with his head down. We knew we could come back and take the next game. We’re not looking at a full series, just the next game.
Fletcher We were down by a game just like ’86. In ’86, we had come off two seven-game series and I think our team was mentally tired. In ’89, we had more rest because we won one series four straight and the next in five.
Carbonneau (When) we were up 2–1 … we knew they would come hard.
Peplinski One of our rules was, you don’t lose two in a row. So if you happen to lose a game, then you’ve got to get refocused. You don’t have two bad shifts in a row. Was it a must-win game? Sure. But when the game starts, you just play the best you can and don’t worry about what’s in front of you. And the first rule of Italian driving: What’s behind you doesn’t matter.
With McDonald sitting for a second straight game, Gilmour and Mullen put the Flames ahead with two first-period goals. Calgary went on to win 4–2.
McDonald For the guys to find a way to win that fourth game in Montreal was pivotal.
Otto Our guys stepped it up.
Fletcher We played a really solid game. And you know the other difference between ’89 and ’86? We had Doug Gilmour in ’89 and Joe Nieuwendyk. No one competed as hard as Doug did game in, game out. He was a main cog on our team.
The series even, the Flames returned home for Game 5 at the Saddledome. Otto scored just 28 seconds in, then Mullen notched another first-period marker to stretch the lead to two. The Flames led 3–2 after two periods, which would be the final score, giving them a chance to win the Stanley Cup two nights later in Montreal.
Gilmour It’s nerve-wracking, obviously. It’s always in the back of your mind that you have Game 7 (as a last resort), but you know, at the same time, Game 6, let’s win this game.
Crisp We kept hearing no visiting team had won the Cup in Montreal. But our guys are saying, “Why can’t it happen now?”
Macoun People are telling us, “Well, Montreal’s never lost [a Cup] at home, you’re going back to Game 7” and all this stuff. And we’re just sitting there, “No, we’re going to close it out tonight.”
Carbonneau It wasn’t in the back of our minds, but there was a lot of talk leading up to the game. “Montreal Canadiens have (won) 23 Stanley Cups and they never lost at home.” We didn’t want it to happen, that’s for sure.
McDonald No one wanted to go to Game 7. We’d rather win it in Montreal because Patrick Roy could do it again to you; he could stand on his head and steal a game. “Okay, guys, whatever it takes — we got to find a way to win Game 6.”
Roberts I don’t think we had fun with Game 7 against Vancouver. I don’t think we wanted to go down that road again. We had to [become] the only road team to win the Stanley Cup in the Forum.
Peplinski That morning, I remember seeing Lanny at church. We didn’t normally go to church, but there was a cathedral close to the hotel. I think it was just a quiet place.
McDonald I went and lit a candle. I had been in that church before. Whenever you go into a new church, you’re supposed to light a candle. Even though I had been there before, being a good Catholic boy, I wanted every advantage I could possibly get.
Patterson The dressing rooms in the Forum were pretty small, and Lanny and I, we’re sitting in the corner talking in the morning, and I said, you know, “I would love to score.” As a defensive player, you know if you can score it really helps the team. And then Lanny looked at me and he said, “I scored my first goal here and I hope I will score my last one here.”
Fleury I went down to the rink around 2:30 in the afternoon. I couldn’t sleep. I grabbed a cup of coffee and all my sticks, and I went and sat up in the stands, sat up in the blues, the top level of the Forum. All the lights were turned off and I just kind of sat there and stared at all the Stanley Cup banners. It’s almost like you could see the ghosts of all those incredible Montreal teams that I used to watch as a kid. I’ll never forget that.
Patterson had a memorable moment of his own when a mysterious package arrived in the dressing room.
Patterson So, two buddies who I’d known since high school, they had this company where they would distribute hockey sticks. They asked me to use one of their sticks and I said absolutely I would. I don’t hear anything from them all year. Game 6 in Montreal, I’m getting ready for the morning skate and a guy comes in and says he has a package for Colin Patterson. It was the sticks. I’m running around the room making a big deal out of it. I couldn’t have carved a better stick out of a tree in my backyard.
McDonald He got this new batch of Hespelers. They were logs. There’s no way anyone should have used those sticks in a game. [Laughs] I begged him, “Don’t use these sticks.”
The team got another surprise gift when Crisp decided to dress McDonald after sitting him out for the previous three games.
McDonald I didn’t find out until before the game. (Assistant coach) Doug Risebrough came into the dressing room and he gives me the call. I’m not sure — am I in, am I not? We go into the training room and he tells the trainers, “You’re out of here.”
Jim “Bearcat” Murray, head athletic trainer [Risebrough] told me to get out of the room, and I was in the corner folding towels listening.
McDonald I remember thinking, “Just please tell me I’m in.” He doesn’t say it that way. He actually says, “You know how the power play works?” At that moment, I know I’m in. I see a movement at the far end of the training room. Bearcat, who was not supposed to be in, he steps into the other room.
Jim Murray I look down the hallway and there are three heads poking out of the dressing room. It was Al (Murray), Nieuwy and Roberts. I give them two thumbs up and within seconds the whole room was yelling and cheering, hitting their sticks on the wall. They went crazy.
Crisp Lanny was the rallying cry for this hockey team — for these guys. We’re thinking, “Who’s the player who has the most that hinges on this?” And if Lanny is going to retire this is the time now for him to take a crack at it. It wasn’t monumental or anything genius. We as coaches work with [our hearts] and you’re thinking, “What do you want on your bench, what do you want in your dressing room, what do you want during the game?” We said we wanted Lanny in that hockey game.
McDonald I knew I had to find a way to do something, play a great team game, maybe get a big assist, or a goal, or a big hit. Make a difference.
Al “Alley Cat” Murray, assistant trainer Once we got going in the playoffs, I had this thing where I would talk to their sticks just to give them good luck. If some guy’s in a slump, he’d come and talk to me, “Al, my stick needs to be talked to. I need a good game tonight.” I’d say, “This guy’s been struggling a bit — he really needs some help tonight.” I talked to (Lanny’s) stick before Game 6. Sometimes they’d ask, sometimes not — that one I personally took it on and said, “This one’s for Lanny — the big one.”
McDonald would definitely make a difference. And Patterson, with his new lumber, had his wish come true.
Patterson I hadn’t scored the whole series, so why not use the new stick? In the first period, I get the puck and beat Patrick Roy bottom, stick-side.
Claude Lemieux tied it at 1–1 early in the second period, but then destiny entered the series. At 2:13, McDonald was given a penalty for holding Canadiens’ centre Bobby Smith.
McDonald About 15 seconds before I took the penalty, there was a shot from the blue line. Patrick Roy makes a save and he’s half down. I’m right in front of the net. All I had to do was take half a step to the side, wait him out and throw it up top. But I took a quarter step to the side and threw it right into his pads. The puck went into the corner and because I missed this great chance — I really couldn’t believe it — I knew I had to get the puck back. I race into the corner, [where] Bobby Smith was going up the boards. I think I’m just barely holding him, [but] I get the penalty. So you go from should have scored the goal to … sitting in the penalty box. Now you’re sitting there praying the guys find a way to kill it off. I must have said 400 Hail Marys in those two minutes, which seemed like 200 minutes.
Crisp I don’t even remember what the penalty was, but at the time I’m thinking our job is, “How are we going to kill it?” We had great penalty killers. I imagine the guys are saying, “Okay, guys, Lanny’s in there — let’s save his bacon.”
The Flames successfully stifled the Habs’ power play, allowing just a single shot on goal that Vernon easily turned away.
McDonald The second I got out of the penalty box, I jumped into the play. I have never seen the entire tape of this game, but I can close my eyes and see it. As Hakan Loob gets over the blue line, we have a clear three-on-two. He throws it across to Nieuwendyk, who receives the pass and fires it through Chelios’s stick and skates right to my stick. Because it had gone side to side and we had watched film of Patrick Roy — when he comes across he is spread eagled and he’s got his shoulders up as high as they can possibly go. We knew the only place to score is to go top shelf. When the puck gets on my stick and I shoot, I know that I’ve got him.
Otto I’m getting goosebumps thinking about it right now. That patented wrist shot we saw throughout all the years.
Patterson Vintage Lanny.
Roberts What an amazing shot.
Crisp The bench went nuts and I did, too. A big goal to have. You don’t get caught up in the moment because you’re coaching, but I think I did get caught up in that moment. I think a little grin came on my face for Lanny, for the team, for the coaching staff, too.
Carbonneau Lanny coming out of the penalty box and scoring — that one hurt.
Fleury Kinda had a feeling when that goal went in that it was game, set and match.
Maher That was a really pivotal goal that he scored. It was a real thrill for me because the very first game that I ever broadcasted in the NHL was Toronto against Pittsburgh, and Lanny scored the first goal that I ever called. And then I had the privilege of calling the last goal that he would ever score that night in Montreal.
Fleury You just know it’s destiny. You just know that it’s our time and it’s Lanny’s time.
Gilmour We knew it was there if we’d just get one more.
The goal was McDonald’s first of the playoffs and gave the Flames a 2–1 lead. Gilmour scored on a power play midway through the third period to make it 3–1. But Habs defenceman Rick Green responded 51 seconds later to cut the lead to one.
Murzyn I remember halfway through the third period, I looked up at the clock and went, “Okay, you do your job here for the next 10 minutes and you can be a Stanley Cup winner.” The shifts seemed to get shorter, but felt longer. It just couldn’t tick off fast enough.
With little more than a minute left, Gilmour scored into an empty net to seal the win.
McDonald I remember standing on the bench the whole last two minutes beside Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk. The three of us were holding hands and saying prayers. There were four or five whistles and we’re exhausted. We’re so close to the end. Finally, Gilmour scores the empty-net goal and we started hugging. To the end we kept holding hands. It was meant to be.
Roberts When Dougie scored the empty-netter, you couldn’t get the smiles off our faces.
Patterson You’re looking at the clock thinking, “We’re almost there.” That feeling was spectacular.
Crisp I always remember, when I played in Philly and we won the Cup that first year against Boston, and I got the puck from the linesman. So I’m standing behind the bench in Montreal and I look up at the clock. We’re ahead and there’s a minute and a half or so on the clock. So I’m standing behind Killer — Gilmour — and I say, “Dougie, do you want to be on the ice if all goes well and we win this thing?” He’s laid back, says, “Yeah, I guess so.” “I’m going to put you on the ice; the deal is you celebrate, but you get the puck and I get it from you.” I put Gilmour on, sure enough, I’m over the boards and Killer already has the puck. To this day, I still have the puck. As usual, I can rely on Gilmour.
Gilmour When it ends, it’s just, wow, it’s over. The excitement on the ice is crazy. I remember I grabbed the puck and gave it to Crispy.
While it was never stated in the lead-up to the game, to a man the Flames wanted to win the Stanley Cup for Lanny McDonald — for themselves, for each other, of course, but especially for Lanny.
Gilmour Yeah, winning for Lanny, it’s in the back of your mind.
Fletcher I don’t know if it was “Win it for Lanny,” or Lanny winning it for us. The players loved Lanny. He was our leader.
McDonald I tried to make sure whenever that was brought up, “Guys, this is not for Lanny — it’s for the entire team, it’s for the city of Calgary, for every fan who walked through those doors.” I didn’t want it ever to be about me.
Macoun I think that’s usually a little bit of a fairy tale, but in this particular case there was some truth to it.
Roberts You talk about what Lanny meant to our team. He was an amazing teammate, friend and mentor.
Vernon Lanny was probably the best captain I ever had. And I had a lot of good captains, but he really sticks out. He’s a special person. We all kind of had a feeling that it was his last year and for him to score that goal and go out in style like that — very proud of him.
Johnson Lanny had meant so much to all these guys and the fact that he finally got there after 16 years, you can’t write that kind of script.
Carbonneau To see Lanny win was not fun that night, but a few weeks or months down the road, you forget about it and it’s nice for him.
Fletcher I think it would have been special for Lanny just winning the Cup. That he did score that key goal was icing on the cake for him.
McDonald As good as the goal was, my dad always said he liked the check I threw against (Larry) Robinson in the second period — I remember the two of us going into the corner and I knocked him off his feet — better than the goal. I said, “Dad, what are you thinking?” He said the goal was good, but that check set the tone.
The clock finally ticked down to zero. The Calgary Flames were Stanley Cup champions for the first time in franchise history.
Fletcher The last few minutes, I had a hard time watching. I was hiding in the dressing room by then looking up at the TV monitor. When it was over, total elation.
Crisp Now you’re looking around, thinking, “Wow, we just won the Stanley Cup in the mecca of hockey, the Montreal Forum.”
McDonald I’ll never forget — the Montreal fans were unbelievable. They stayed. They had never seen a visiting team celebrate winning the Cup. They were so gracious. And I think they applauded great hockey on both sides.
Maher I would venture three quarters of the fans remained in the Montreal Forum that night and they all stood up and gave a cheer for the Flames, but I think it was more for Lanny.
Crisp That was one of the classiest things I’ve seen in sports.
MacInnis I grew up watching a lot of Canadiens games. The Montreal Forum was my favorite building to play in. Obviously, the excitement took over. It was a quick flashback. Your youth hockey and the people that helped you get through and how exciting it was to win. And to win a Conn Smythe Trophy on top of that, it was a dream come true.
MacInnis finished the playoffs with 31 points — six more than the next highest scorer, Philadelphia’s Tim Kerr — en route to claiming playoffs MVP.
Murzyn Al was phenomenal. I had the best seat in the house being his partner. I remember his rushing up the ice, he’s coming down the right side and he wound up for a slapper. I could actually see Roy kind of just lift a little bit because we all know Al can crank a puck and he can shoot it anywhere. It was a pleasure playing with him.
Peplinski It’s funny the stuff you remember. I remember Al MacInnis: “I’m going to Disneyland.” [I thought] of all of the people who I’d come in contact with that helped me in some way. I was excited for the guys who I played with. I was excited for guys like Cliff, who had worked their entire careers for this opportunity — for guys who were at the end of their careers. A wonderful part of an accomplishment is the journey, all the missteps and the screw-ups.
Fletcher To be the general manager of a team that wins the Cup, it’s a very special feeling.
Murzyn I remember a couple of weeks later saying, “Holy crap, we won the Stanley Cup.” Being a 22-year-old kid, winning the Stanley Cup, I think it’s become more and more special over time.
Fleury I don’t know if anybody has ever been able to describe the feeling the way that it needs to be described. It’s so hard to put into words. And it’s a blur. We all today appreciate that moment.
Vernon I was exhausted. It was very fulfilling. I had proven to myself that I could play in the NHL and win a Stanley Cup. The ultimate dream.
As one of the Flames’ three captains, McDonald was called to centre ice by NHL president John Ziegler to accept the Stanley Cup. But he had one final thing to do before lifting it.
McDonald You see it happen with all these other teams and then all of a sudden the [league president] is calling you forward to hand you the trophy. I remember getting there and before I took it I turned and called Jim Peplinski and Timmy Hunter over to share in that moment because they didn’t dress for that game. They were our assistant captains and they needed to be there.
Crisp That’s Lanny. It was hard — Peplinski and Timmy Hunter, along with Lanny the classiest guys I had the honour of coaching.
McDonald When you get that trophy, yeah … even though it weighs 36, 37 pounds, it weighs nothing when you actually win it. It’s kind of like time stands still, you’re holding the Cup up, then you have a chance to hand it off to the rest of your teammates.
Roberts I remember being on the blue line with Joe thinking, you know, “That was pretty easy. How many more of these are we going to win?” I remember looking across at him and he was crying. It was so emotional. It was so awesome to share that moment with my childhood buddy. Those are the memories you will always have.
Gilmour The excitement on the ice. I never carried the Cup on the ice. I got it in the dressing room. I had my dad there with me and some friends. That was my first sip out of it.
A year earlier, Gretzky and the Oilers started what would become a Stanley Cup tradition — a team picture with the Cup at centre ice. But a few Flames didn’t get the memo.
Patterson Afterwards, the picture, that was a really neat moment, too. Unfortunately, Joel and Rick Wamsley missed the picture.
Otto I was the fourth or fifth guy to carry the Cup around and celebrate, and then I buggered off into the dressing room. I didn’t know everybody was out there taking the picture. The greatest picture in Calgary Flames history to this point and I’m not in it. Myself, Rick Wamsley, Gary Suter was injured, [assistant coach] Tom Watt — four of us aren’t in it. Pretty disappointing, but I promise I was there.
Later that night, the Flames boarded a charter flight home to Calgary with a very special guest.
Gilmour When we’re departing, the Stanley Cup was underneath the plane.
Fletcher The league rules were that the Cup had to go in the hole with the luggage; it wasn’t allowed in the cabin.
McDonald As we get to the plane — it had an opening at the front and stairs at the back — right away the vets [head] to the back of the plane trying to grab the first beer we could get. Al Murray, our assistant trainer, comes to Jim Peplinski and I and said, “The Stanley Cup is downstairs. It’s in the trunk. I can get the big bolt cutters and I can bring the Stanley Cup up.” We said, “Perfect. Do it.”
Al Murray We’re packing up all the equipment at the rink and the last thing — they put the Cup in a crate, with six locks on it, and we put it in with the equipment. They said NHL security has keys at the other end to open it up. We get to the airport and we’re loading the plane and the Cup is the last thing to go onto the plane…. And I’m going, “This isn’t right.” You work all year for this thing — it didn’t seem right to stick it in the belly of the plane. I talk to the grounds people and I say, “You wouldn’t have some bolt cutters, would you?” And they say, “Yes, we do.” Five minutes later they come back with the bolt cutters. Our stick boy, Greg Little, was with me and we talked it over and we figured, “Well, we gotta do it.” We got the locks cut off the box.
Otto Al Murray took a wire cutter and cut the lock off and stole the Cup.
McDonald We put the Cup in the washroom and we put an out-of-order sign on the door.
Vernon The plane was pulling out, and the airline rep who flew with us got up and goes to the pilot. We had to pull it back in — he didn’t think there was enough beer on the flight.
McDonald We’re about half an hour out of Montreal and we get the pilot to announce, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a special guest on the plane. If you turn your attention to the back of the plane…” [Then] Al brought the Cup out of the washroom.
Otto Lanny paraded the Cup and everyone went bonkers. We had an incredible time.
McDonald The plane went crazy.
Patterson It was just euphoria.
Fleury There was a lot of drinking and a lot of reminiscing.
Fletcher We had the Cup there the five-hour ride home and enjoyed drinking champagne out of it.
Crisp The flight home, with the Cup on our plane, was sheer mayhem. The Cup did not lack for love.
Murzyn You take all 30 of us to the back of the plane and all of a sudden the seat belt lights are on. Flight attendants are running back wondering what’s going on. Planes aren’t designed to have 30 hockey players stand at the washroom and take pictures. They asked us to get it done and get back in our seats.
McDonald What a way to end it. Before the playoffs I knew the writing was on the wall. I still believed I could play and play effectively, but the last two months were unbelievable. I score my 500th goal, my 1,000th point. And then you win the Stanley Cup. You win, you walk away and say, “Thank you very much.” It couldn’t have worked out better. I scored my first goal in Montreal and I scored my last goal in Montreal. “Okay, I’m outta here.” Everyone had this celebration for five hours straight coming from Montreal. That’s what a family’s all about, having a chance to celebrate all together after all those years of hard work.
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