Several had come close, but until 1981, no team in the lengthy and successful history of P.E.I. hockey had won a Canadian championship. And tonight’s inductee into the PEI Sports Hall of Fame – the Charlottetown Islanders intermediate A hockey team – has won two national Hardy Cup titles.
The best chances prior to 1981 were the 70-71 Jr. Islanders who lost 4-2 in games to Red Deer Rustlers in the Centennial Cup final in Charlottetown; and the 1978-79 Sherwood-Parkdale Metros who lost in the final game to host Prince Albert Raiders in that Centennial Cup final.
The two Hardy Cup wins were very different – in 1981, the team played in a league all season and won their championship in a bitter series in Winnipeg against the roughhouse North End Flyers; while the 1984 champions, with a dozen players still active from 1981, won the title on home ice, and entered Hardy Cup play as an independent team, having been assembled very late in the season.
And a number of players from that 2nd team were still playing as the Isles won the 1991 Allan Cup senior championship on home ice, the first Maritime team to perform that feat in 56 years. But that 1991 team will likely be the focus of another hall of fame induction. Tonight the focus is on 1981 and 1984.
These Hardy Cup Islanders teams are getting long overdue recognition tonight, 32 years after that memorable national title, sadly without the attendance of coach Angie Carroll, GM Mike McKinnon, defenceman George Brown and forward Rory Beck, to savour this crowning tribute for the team’s achievements. All four left us much too soon. Several directors have also passed from that 1981 team. (Roy Wilson and Dukie MacPhail)
The 80-81 team, under rookie coach Angie Carroll, started play in early November 1980 with a long opening road trip to Campbellton and Dalhousie with just 12 players. Yves Belanger, who had seen NHL action with St. Louis, Calgary and Boston in a 10 season pro career, joined the team before Christmas.
The team went on to dominate play with a 20-5 record. They defeated Campbellton in the league final and were idle for over three weeks awaiting the start of Hardy Cup action.
The first team on the HC trail was defending Atlantic champions Fredericton Red Wings coached by Danny Grant. Fredericton, fresh from eliminating Bonavista, NL., came to the Charlottetown Forum for a best of 5 Eastern Canadian semifinal. Islanders won Game 1 Friday, April 10, 8-2 with five goals in the 3rd, paced by Kevin Murphy’s hat trick. Saturday, the Isles were down 7-4 and fought back to win 9-7. Sunday afternoon was a 10-1 romp.
Timmons North Stars downed Louiseville, Que. to advance to the Eastern Canadian final. Timmins came in with a 19-3 playoff record and high hopes. And planning to start on Good Friday night, April 17. Only, Chtn city council had other plans, as the Forum was staying closed.
So the series started Holy Saturday with an 8-4 Isles win followed by a 10-4 win in Game 2 Easter Sunday and 5-2 in Game 3 as Ron Carragher scored twice and added an assist for the series sweep on Easter Monday April 20.
It was the first ever Eastern Canadian title for a PEI team when the Col J Bourque Trophy was presented.
Isles captain Wilf MacDonald, playing his first season since returning home from Kalamazoo, MI., said the difference was Belanger. The team had played much of the Timmins series without defencemen Peter Williams, out with knee ligaments, and George Brown, who was suffering from a severe charley horse. Rory Beck had school issues and Bobby MacGuigan was coaching the Sherwood Parkdale Metros in junior playoffs against Cole Harbour.
There was a glowing column that week by Fred MacDonald who said there was never a PEI team with better overall defence, or more depth. Fiddler predicted a Hardy Cup crown to earn this club a permanent place in the long and storied history of PEI hockey. That came true and is being officially recognized here tonight.
For a time it appeared that Winnipeg North End Flyers would be coming east for the national final. The team had eliminated Bonneyville, AB in the west final before small crowds at their home rink but it was finally announced on Tues April 21 they would host and the Isles would fly West on Thur April 23 to start the final series the next night.
The Winnipeg owner and GM had taken out second mortgages on their homes to raise the $20,000 CAHA guarantee required to host, to pay for Isles travel, meals and hotel. One questions that decision when the small Keewatin Arena was only getting just over 600 fans a game and the team had lost money against Bonneville.
The Flyers who played in a 7 team Manitoba Inter A league, boasted such players as Larry Bolonchuk who had played with Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals.
So on Thurs April 23, the Isles headed west with high hopes, bolstered by the additional of intercollegiate players Mike Ready, Brian Ostroski, Garry Trainor and Gerry McCarron and junior Mike Kennedy. The good feeling was tempered by news that Peter Williams would not be playing in Winnipeg, out with a knee injury suffered in game 2 against Timmons. It’s interesting to note that the 1981 team was almost all local products, except for Belanger and Ostroski.
I was working as The Guardian bureau chief in Summerside at that time. Wayne MacDougall, who was the host PEIHA rep for the first 2 series, announced he was going on some Liquor Control Commission junket to Florida, so I had to represent the association in Winnipeg. The newspaper reluctantly agreed to let me take holidays to head to Winnipeg as long as I filed stories back to The Guardian. Some things haven’t changed, eh Don. I wasn’t the only PEI media on hand as the games were broadcast back home on CHTN with Blair Daniels and Cy Yard.
Game 1: Isles scored 4 unanswered in 3rd to erase 5-4 deficit and win 8-5. Ron Carragher scored once and added 5 assists, Don MacKay and Wayne Squarebriggs 2 each.
The Flyers ran goalie Belanger on the first shift and Isles were busy taking penalties trying to protect their goalie. The opening hit didn’t affect Yves as he was spectacular, with the Isles outshot 54-33.
Game 2: Rory Beck scored only goal in third to snap a 4-4 tie at 12:08 and Belanger made it stand up. Isles never trailed and had other goals from MacKay, Carragher, Shane Carr and Kevin Murphy.
The bad news was that Brian Ostroski was gone in the first period with a charley horse after he was kneed in the corner; Wayne Squarebriggs was gouged in the eye in the first period and taken to hospital; while Brown on still on the sidelines with that nagging charley horse.
Ron Carragher scored 2 goals as the injury riddled Isles won 6-4 to sweep, and complete an unblemished playoff record. The Colonel Hardy Cup was presented by Frank MacKinnon, CAHA board chair, to captain Wilf MacDonald.
The depleted bench got even thinner when Bob MacGuigan was hurt in first period after scoring on a breakaway, he was checked heavily into the boards and taken to hospital; while Mike Kennedy took shot off the ankle and he missed some action.
In the championship game, the Isles led 5-2 after two. The Flyers stormed out in 3rd, scored eight seconds in, and Bolonchuk made it 5-4 at 14:27. Then there was a line brawl which saw six players assessed fighting majors midway in the third. The Flyers pulled goalie Ken Tesluck but Mike Ready sealed the win with with an empty netter at 19:36.
It took five months, three weeks and two days from that first game of the season in northern MNB, but PEI had its first national title.
The team had to stay in Winnipeg Monday after it couldn’t make connections in time and instead flew home Tuesday. The CAHA at first refused to let the trophy go home with the team but there was no way the Isles were leaving Winnipeg without it. The PEI branch had to put up a bond to make it happen.
After the final game, Flyers coach Ray Boyko said Belanger was the difference. “He makes saves where other goalies we played didn’t.” The Flyers outshot the Isles 47-37 Flyers in the final.
In a post game interview coach Angie Carroll said he was glad over it was over in three before there was more injuries. He said the Isles had to adjust their free wheeling style because the Flyers were spearing on every play. “They were the roughest team I’ve ever seen.” He said the Flyers only hope was to play that style – hit hard, hit often and hit dirty.
Mike Ready was named MVP of that series, playing forward as well as defence because of team injuries, while Belanger was 2nd in voting and I believe Ron Carragher was a close third.
Belanger said the Flyers deserved to lose. “They played like monkeys, with hate in their hearts.”
Mike Ready said all players played their hearts out. Everyone played a key part in the win, including the list of injured who joined the small contingent of PEI fans who made the trip to cheer them on.
Ready said he shared his MVP selection with all his teammates.
It certainly was an interesting time as the PEIHA’s senior /intermediate director. There were hassles over accommodations, sweaters, ticket passes, player cards, and the tourney was almost being called off after Game 2 Saturday.
Then it was a matter of calling back to The Guardian and dictating a story over the phone right on deadline. There were no computers, emails or twitter back in 1981. That two-hour time difference meant there were some later than usual press times that week
The team landed at the Charlottetown airport mid-afternoon Tuesday, April 28, greeted by Premier Angus MacLean, deputy mayor Jack Ready, fire trucks, and hundreds of fans. Two pictures from that parade made the front page of the newspaper.
RCMP and city police escorted the players on the fire trucks with the Hardy Cup from the airport, through city streets where hundreds more Islanders waved and cheered, then to the Charlottetown Legion Home where the legion had organized a victory party. There was another party later that night at the Spa and I’m sure a few more in the following days and nights.
The 1984 team started its disputed quest for a national title with just two exhibition games under their belt. They were without a league for two years after the NB had voted them out.
New coaches Erroll Thompson and Jamie Kennedy were behind the bench and Mike MacKinnon continued to display his magic, putting together the right combinations of veterans and younger players, and of course great goaltending.
And by this time I was Guardian sports editor, coming back from Summerside in June 1981 when Don Morrison stepped down to pursue a new career. So I got to watch from the press box while Harry MacConnell handled the off ice issues.
The playoff hunt started in early April with a best of five series at Moncton Coliseum against the favored Riverview Trappers. Riverview played in the NB Intermediate Hockey League, losing just here games all year and were unbeaten on home ice.
Just to get things going, Riverview protected the series, claiming the Isles were ineligible for Hardy Cup because they didn’t play in a league. That was thrown out by the CAHA who ruled that independents teams could compete.
The Isles thought they had Belanger lined up but he was moving to Montreal from Toronto at the time so Kirk Firlotte, who just graduated from St. Thomas, was signed to play goal along with Wayne Bernard.
Some of the other new players from 1981 were Shane Turner, David Ellis, Dunstan Carroll, Trevor Crawford and Danny Revell.
The Isles won games 1 and 2, 4-3 and 4-2. Riverview won Sunday 8-1 with 5 late third period goals, but Isles clinched winning 6-4. The cap it off, Riverview protested again, claiming PEI had too many imports – when they only had 2, Firlotte and Belanger.
Then Timmins was back in Charlottetown. Under Bep Guidolin, they had eliminated the Isles a year earlier 3-1 in games in Charlottetown, before losing to Winnipeg North End Flyers in the Hardy Cup final. Timmons was also an independent team when they came to town in 1984 after their league folded.
The Isles won the opener 4-3 on a Friday and Timmins came back 5-1 in game 2. The Isles then posted 4-1 and 5-2 wins to claim the series.
Then it was Moose Jaw Generals coming to town for the Hardy Cup final. It was a special series for Bobby MacGuigan and Peter Williams. Both were youngsters in 1971 when the Jr. Islanders lost to Red Deer in the Centennial Cup final in Charlottetown. Both were in Winnipeg for that national title 10 years later and now both had a chance to win a national on home ice.
This time there was another Good Friday glitch. Moose Jaw thought the series would start Holy Saturday but the Isles and the city were ready to go Good Friday this year. It turned out the series was delayed to Sat because the Generals couldn’t change their travel plans and get here in time for the best of 7 to start on Friday.
Game 1, Moose Jaw won 5-4. That was a mistake. In the pre-game warmup Sunday of Game 2, there was a wild brawl, while the officials were still in their dressing room. Backup official Allie Affleck was in the press box taking down numbers and before the puck dropped, five players from each team were assessed majors and game misconducts. The Isles won 7-3, and then Firlotte stopped 39 shots in Game 3 as Isles won 3-0, then 6-1 in game 4 to grab a stranglehold 3-1 series lead. Firlotte then backstopped the Isles to a convincing 6-0 win in game 5 to win the series 4-1and claim the Isles first national title ever won on home ice.
The sellout crowd of over 2,600 put on a display never before seen. P.E.I. crowds are notoriously low key – but this crowd was boisterous and energized — singing, chanting, stomping, and waving banners. It was delirium for sure as the Hardy Cup was carried around the Forum ice.
Firlotte was named MVP; Peter Williams led playoff scoring with 12 points
It was a celebration not rivaled until 1991’s Allan.
The 1981 and 84 Islanders were certainly a team of destiny in the golden age of Intermediate A hockey in Canada. Congratulations on being inducted into the PEI Sports Hall of Fame.