Rob Vanstone remembers a 1988 matchup between the Notre Dame Hounds and Calgary Canucks — the best hockey series ever.
A YEAR IN A CAREER: 1988
The best hockey series ever, in this appraisal, was not a production of the NHL, WHL or IIHF.
It wasn’t even a television production. The only live coverage of this seven-game classic was provided by the great Peter Loubardias, via radio.
The crowds consisted of, at best, a few thousand spectators.
I was among the fortunate few who saw that series — the best-of-seven Western Canada Centennial Cup (now RBC Cup) final, between the Notre Dame Hounds and Calgary Canucks.
What happened behind the scenes was just as compelling as the hockey.
We take you back to April 29, 1988, at Hill-Polich Arena (now Duncan McNeill Arena) in Wilcox (now, uh, Wilcox).
Notre Dame had just won 7-2 to reduce Calgary’s series lead to 3-2.
The first stop for this then-cub reporter was outside the Canucks’ dressing room, where head coach Don Phelps had just executed a door-slam for the ages.
He soon re-emerged, carrying iron bars and broken hockey sticks, before agitatedly dumping all the detritus on the floor.
“What a (bleeping) circus,” Phelps emoted. “This ain’t nothing but a (bleeping) reform school! Look at the (bleeping) iron! Is this what they bring to hockey games here? That’s what they’re throwing on the ice. (Rob) Sallis almost got hit in the eye. That’s why he got thrown out of the game.
“They were throwing two-by-fours. Look at them! They’ve been broken on purpose. This one’s been sawed. Look at the way this one’s been sharpened. You won’t see lumber being thrown in our rink.”
As for the game …
“I don’t want to talk about it,” replied Phelps, who would spend 27 years with the Canucks during a remarkable and accomplished coaching career.
Calgary goaltender Buddy Brazier had been rather chatty after the previous night’s game, won 7-6 by the Canucks in overtime.
Brazier labelled the Hounds fans, most of whom were enrolled at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame, “snot-nosed kids.”
For some reason, they took offence to that.
Notre Dame students turned out in full force for Game 5. Even during the warm-up, they were chanting at and insulting Brazier.
Emotions began to boil over after Notre Dame assumed a 3-1 first-period lead. A beach ball, a plastic bucket and a piece of wood were tossed onto the ice.
Calgary defenceman Mark Astley attempted to use his stick to fling the bucket into the stands.
“Brazier then fired a puck into the crowd, moments before swinging his goal stick at the frenzied gathering,” I wrote in the best-selling, April 30, 1988 edition of the Regina Leader-Post.
“Calgary’s Perry Mannington followed suit, as did Sallis — twice. Brazier then repeated his act, further antagonizing many of the 965 spectators.
“Phelps stormed onto the ice, hoping to sort out the confusion. He returned to the bench, only to swing a stick at some fans.”
After five minutes of utter chaos — and furious scribbling by yours truly — referee Dennis Pottage called a premature halt to the first period. The teams were sent to their respective dressing rooms.
Good times …
After the Hounds’ lopsided victory in Game 5, the series moved to Calgary. The Canucks needed just one home-ice victory in two tries to seal the series.
Notre Dame proceeded to win 5-3 on May 2, setting up a seventh game that was an appropriately dramatic climax to an eventful series.
With Notre Dame clinging to a 3-2 lead, Hounds defenceman Jeff Batters knocked his team’s net off its moorings while Calgary was applying relentless pressure.
The Canucks’ Dean Larson was awarded a penalty shot. Just five seconds remained in the third period. You could cut the tension with a … broken hockey stick?
“It’s a funny story,” Hounds goalie Curtis Joseph told me from Calgary after making a series-clinching pad save.
“After the second period, Larson spat right in my eye as I was going off the ice. He just happened to be taking the penalty shot. There was no way I was going to let that one in.”
The Hounds’ Rod Brind’Amour — like Joseph, a future NHL star — won the ensuing faceoff and the final few seconds elapsed.
After being pushed to the precipice of elimination, the SJHL champions won the final three games of the series … and, ultimately, the Centennial Cup.
All these years later, the Hounds/Canucks series is still the clear winner in my books.