The WHL, Part 3: Bruins’ dynasty ends, franchises on the move and more mayhem . . .

At some point in the late 1990s, while I was the sports editor at the Regina Leader-Post, I put together a brief history of the Western Hockey League. I had pretty much forgotten about it until recently when I was asked if I might post it again. So I am doing just that. . . . As you read each piece, please remember that I wrote them more than 20 years ago and they cover only the league’s first 25 years. It isn’t an all-encompassing history, but hits on some of the highlights and a few lowlights. . . . The stories are pretty much as originally written. . . . Here is Part 3. . . .

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The mid-1970s belonged to the Ernie McLean-coached New Westminster Bruins. They were the Western Canada Hockey League’s most-dominant team.

If you didn’t believe that, well, they would convince you of it. And they’d do that any way they felt like it.

ErnieMcLean
The legendary Ernie McLean. (Photo: The Coaches Site)

The Bruins ran their string of WCHL titles to four, and won the Memorial Cup the last two seasons, in 1976-77 and 1977-78. But by the time the 1980-81 season ended, the bloom was off the rose in New Westminster. Little did anyone know that it never would return.

Prior to the start of the 1976-77 season, the WCHL instituted a rule calling for an automatic game misconduct to any player who initiated a fight. Ironically, the first player stung was Brandon Wheat Kings starry centre Bill Derlago. He got the heave-ho after starting a scrap with Brian Schnitzler of the Saskatoon Blades in a season-opening 3-0 Brandon victory.

Two coaches felt WCHL president Ed Chynoweth’s wrath on Nov. 2. Ivan Prediger of the Kamloops Chiefs was suspended for 20 games, while Ken Hodge of the Portland Winter Hawks got 10 games. Prediger apparently struck Hodge during an altercation between the benches on Oct. 24.

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There was joy in Regina on Jan. 27 when the Pats scored a 3-2 victory over visiting Portland. It ended a 36- game Regina winless streak that covered 96 days. “I hope the players don’t become satisfied with the win,” said Lorne Davis, who had taken over as GM/head coach from Del Wilson and Bob Turner with the Pats at 2-32-5.

A nine-hour meeting in Calgary resulted in a new playoff format. Under the original format, the Flin Flon Bombers, third in the East, were 20 points ahead of Regina and all but had a playoff spot locked up. Suddenly, there was a new format and the Bombers were fighting for a spot. Oh yes, they were also on a 15-game West Coast road trip.

“In this league, you need two pieces of equipment,” said Flin Flon boss Mickey Keating. “You need a face-guard when you play some of the teams on the ice and a back protector for the committee room. I had inklings that there may be changes in the playoffs but I had confidence there were intelligent hockey men in this league. I was shown different.”

In Portland, the Winter Hawks were beginning to carve out a niche, which resulted in this March 1 comment from GM Brian Shaw: “We’re selling the all-American boy image. Our players are all properly dressed in public. They all have respectable hair lengths. We feel image is important. Our players have become our outstanding selling point, and they have actually played much better because of the great acceptance which now is blossoming in Portland.”

In mid-April, Kamloops majority owner Ephram Steinke admitted the franchise would likely move to Spokane over the summer. The reasons? Steinke blamed almost $500,000 in losses over four years, and the city’s refusal to construct a new arena.

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The often-emotional Bob Strumm. (Photo: Regina Leader-Post)

On May 12, the Calgary Centennials signed Bob Strumm as general manager. One of Strumm’s first moves was to confirm that a move to Billings was being contemplated.

Strumm, who had been Chynoweth’s executive assistant, was, at 29, the WCHL’s youngest GM. He would be one of the league’s most-prominent figures through the mid-1980s.

The Calgary move became official on May 19. Eleven days later, Kamloops moved to Seattle and became the Breakers under new owner John Hamilton.

On July 19, at the annual meeting in Calgary, the transfer of the Winnipeg Monarchs to Calgary was approved. Del Wilson, president and governor of the Pats, was named chairman of the board, replacing Bill Burton.

When Winnipeg moved to Calgary and became the Wranglers, owner Gerry Brisson named Doug Barkley as GM. The coach? It was Brisson. Would the GM be able to fire the owner/coach.

Stay tuned.

The 1977-78 regular season hadn’t even started when McLean was in trouble. It stemmed from an exhibition game against the host Victoria Cougars when midway in the second period he ventured into the stands to tangle with a fan who was taunting him. For his troubles, McLean got a gash on his forehead and, later, a $250 fine. This would serve as an omen.

A fierce rivalry was building between Regina and the Brandon Wheat Kings. After one early-season game, Davis had this to say: “If (Dave) Semenko would have been close enough to the box I would have swung at him . . . he came over by our bench trying to intimidate us.” To which Brandon coach Dunc McCallum responded: “How can a 220-pound man be held back by a stick boy?”

A few days later, Semenko joined the WHA’s Edmonton Oilers. A couple of years later, Davis joined the Oilers as a scout.

BillDerlago
BILL DERLAGO

Derlago, perhaps the best pure offensive talent this league has seen, had a 40-game point streak end on Nov. 9 when he left a game with a thigh injury during his first shift. One month later, he blew out a knee in an exhibition game against the Moscow Selects. Had Derlago not been hurt, who knows what kind of numbers he would have put up? When he was injured, he had 48 goals and 80 points in 26 games. He was on pace for 133 goals, three more than the then-CMJHL record of 130 held by Guy Lafleur.

On Feb. 3, Jack McLeod resigned as coach of the Saskatoon Blades. He stayed on as GM, but put Garry Peters behind the bench. In Calgary, Barkley, the GM, took over as coach from Brisson, the owner.

More bad ink, and lots of it, in early February when McLean was slapped with a 25-game suspension for allegedly hitting an official. He returned for the playoffs.

“Our league has long been accused of protecting either our coaches or, more particularly, owner/coaches, but there is no way one coach or one franchise is bigger than the league,” Chynoweth said. “I can live with the so-called violence on ice, as projected by the media, but when it comes to our officials, qualified or unqualified, I look at things much differently.”

More bad ink in the first round of the playoffs. Yes, it emerged from a round-robin series. This one featured Brandon, Flin Flon and Regina in a double home-and-home series. When it got to the final game, Flin Flon at Regina, the Pats had to beat the Bombers by at least six goals to eliminate Brandon and set up a Regina-Flin Flon division final. Regina won 10-4 and the high-powered Wheat Kings, led by the likes of Derlago, Brian Propp, Laurie Boschman and Ray Allison, were done like so much burnt toast.

“For us to say anything is stupid. You saw what happened,” Flin Flon defenceman Ray Markham said after the game.

Ultimately, Flin Flon, New Westminster and Billings advanced to the WCHL’s round-robin semi-final to eliminate one team and put the other two in the championship final. Out went Flin Flon. New Westminster then swept Billings in the final. It was the Bruins’ fourth straight WCHL title and they would win their second consecutive Memorial Cup.

The Bruins, a power for oh, so long, would rarely be heard from in a positive light again.

On May 22, Flin Flon governor Gord Mitchell revealed that the community-owned team would cease operations. “I hate to see it go,” Mitchell said. “It’s certainly not the fault of the league. The league’s not kicking us out. But there comes a time when something like this seems to be the most reasonable thing to do. We’re a small centre and it got to the point where the league had outgrown us.”

A week later, Chynoweth, who had threatened to resign, announced he would remain as president, thanks to a promise from the governors that an executive assistant would be provided to help with such things as discipline. Wilson, the part-owner of the Pats, filled the bill as vice-president and referee-in-chief. Shaw replaced Wilson as chairman of the board.

On June 1, Gregg Pilling was named GM/coach in Regina, replacing Davis who, in a surprise move, was fired. Davis professed sadness, saying he had worked awfully hard and that all of that work would bear fruit in two years. Which is exactly what happened — two years later the Pats were in the Memorial Cup. But Pilling was gone by that point.

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It was during the summer of 1978 when Chynoweth began talking of an education program. On July 4, he announced a program whereby teams would provide a year’s tuition and books at a recognized post-secondary institution for every season a player was in the league.

On Aug. 16, Chynoweth announced an Edmonton group headed by Bill Hunter had purchased the Flin Flon franchise from the league. Hunter would be president and governor, Vic Mah would be first vice-president.

The 1978-79 season began with news of a name change and ended with a new champion for the first time since the spring of ’74.

With three of 12 teams situated in the U.S., the WCHL was no more. Now it was the Western Hockey League.

GreggPilling
GREGG PILLING

The goofiness started on Oct. 22 when Pilling went into the penalty box at the start of the third period of a game in Calgary. He said he would serve a bench minor handed him for delay of game at the end of the second period in what would be an 8-1 loss. Pilling also alternated goaltenders Jeff Lastiwka and Gregg Dumba every shift change after a brawl at 2:52 of the second. Changing goalies ended 30 seconds into the third period when, with the faceoff outside Regina’s blueline, Dumba lined up behind his net. He was given a gross misconduct.

Chynoweth, who fined Pilling $1,000, said: “I thought it was a circus. I wouldn’t blame anybody if they didn’t go back.”

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This was to be the season of McCallum’s Wheat Kings. That much was evident when Brandon ran its two-season unbeaten streak to a WHL-record 49 games and its single-season streak to 29 games. Brandon finally lost, going down 9-4 in Edmonton on Dec. 13 with the Oil Kings scoring all nine goals with the man advantage.

There was more news from Brandon on Jan. 11 when GM Jack Brockest, one of the WHL’s most likeable people, bought the team.

If any team could match Brandon it was Portland. The Winter Hawks had a 19-game unbeaten streak ended when visiting Brandon won 7-4 to go to 42-3-7.

In mid-March, rumours had the Edmonton franchise, which was averaging about 500 fans a game, moving to Great Falls, Montana, or Red Deer.

Things got ugly on March 22 in New Westminster when an incident involving the Bruins and Portland resulted in McLean’s being suspended indefinitely and seven of his players being charged by police. A game-ending brawl broke out, but this one was different because, while the Bruins left their bench, Hodge managed to keep his players under control.

On March 27, Wilson said McLean would not be allowed to coach during the playoffs, nor would he be allowed to communicate with the bench from the press box as he had done during previous suspensions.

McLean apologized for the brawl at a Vancouver press conference: “I have to take the full load, the full responsibility for what happened . . . when I look at it, maybe the game has gone by me. Maybe my coaching style isn’t what’s needed anymore. I’m an old horse that’s been at it for 25 years and it’s tough to change your thinking. The game is changing — maybe I haven’t changed with it.”

On April 4, GM Bill Shinske and McLean announced the Bruins were for sale, for $350,000.

The Winter Hawks got a small measure of revenge, beating the visiting Bruins 5-3 on April 8 to eliminate them from post-season play.

But this sad episode would drag on through the summer.

Meanwhile, Brandon was finishing with a 58-5-9 record, setting or tying 19 records.

The Oil Kings were sold on April 10, with ownership handed over to a Portland group headed by Bob Cooper and Tom Gauthier, who said they would move the franchise to Great Falls. “I guess sports is not my bowl of rice,” said Mah, an Edmonton restauranteur. It was Mah’s second go-round as an owner in Edmonton, and he wouldn’t give up. He would try and try again and again to get another franchise for the Alberta capital.

On April 20, charges of common assault were filed against seven Bruins — J.P. Kelly, Terry Kirkham, Bruce Howes, Rick Amann, Boris Fistric, Rob Roflik and Bill Hobbins. In August, the seven pleaded guilty. Judge James Shaw — no relation to the Portland general manager — granted conditional discharges to all seven, then banned them from league games at any level until Dec. 1. McLean said Shaw was “trying to be the judge who is going to clean up hockey. I’m worried about the affect on the game because the judge’s ruling makes a hip-check a criminal offence.”

Portland and Brandon ended up in the final, with Brandon winning in six games.

And, on May 28, Chynoweth resigned, effective June 30. This time he would leave, becoming part-owner of the Wranglers. “It’s more than 25 per cent and less than 50,” said majority-owner Jim Morley.

In late May, Pat Ginnell, who had been with the Lethbridge Broncos, moved north to take over the Medicine Hat Tigers. Mike Sauter would replace him in Lethbridge. Dave King left as coach in Billings to become head coach at the University of Saskatchewan.

The Pats were sold on June 8, with Wilson, Bill Patton, Gord Wicijowski, D.K. MacPherson, Wilf Degelman and Bob Babchuk selling to the Pinders — father Dick and sons Herb, Gerry and Tom. The price was believed to be near $300,000. Strumm was named GM, governor and part-owner.

Strumm later signed Bryan Murray as head coach and one of the great turnarounds in WHL history was under way.

But before that got started, Dave Descent was chosen to run the WHL. In his third season with the Canadian Amateur Wrestling Association at the time, Descent had lots of hockey experience at various levels in the OHA. “This job is an opportunity to get back into hockey, which is my chosen sport, and advance my sporting career,” he said.

Regina, which finished 18-47-7 (last in the East, second-worst in the league) in 1978-79, would go 47-24-1 in 1979-80 to win the division.

It was obvious early that the Bruins were going to pay a steep price for the brawl against Portland. They got their first point, after 13 losses, with a 5-5 tie in Great Falls on Oct. 31.

And on Nov. 16 McLean was at it again. And again it involved Portland.

McLean got tangled up with a fan at a game in Portland and was charged with fourth-degree assault. In one of the most ironical situations in WHL history, McLean was in jail until Brian Shaw posted his bail of $525. Charges were later reduced to harassment and it was all cleared up when a civil compromise was signed, ending the criminal case.

In mid-December, Descent’s title was changed from executive director to president. And concern was being shown about Great Falls, which was 2-22-1 and hurtin’ at the gate. The Americans folded on Dec. 13.

On March 2, McLean threw a 30-gallon garbage can onto the ice to protest the work of referee Ken Wheler during a game against visiting Portland.

The next day, Descent announced his resignation. Said Descent: “Speaking honestly, I’ve enjoyed my stay and feel it was a positive experience. But for personal reasons I’ve decided to take a different career path which is something I’m not at liberty to discuss now.”

Shaw said a five-man board would run the league, and that McLean would be suspended for three games for throwing the can. Oh yes, McLean was later named acting chairman of the management committee.

On March 24, McLean said he was leaving the Bruins. “I’ve made up my mind,” he said. “I’ve worn out my welcome. I will not be in New Westminster next year. We built a dynasty here but it’s time to move on.” All this after the Bruins set a WHL record with 61 losses. It was the first time in 18 seasons that McLean had missed playoffs.

On April 17, Vancouver businessman Nelson Skalbania bought out McLean and Shinske for slightly more than $300,000.

A week later, the WHL announced that Winnipeg would have an expansion team for 1980-81 and that the owners were former Pats star Fran Huck, his law partner Gerald Gunn and Winnipeg businessmen Harry Buekert, Arnold DeFehr and Marsdon Fenwick. Buekert would be GM, with Huck as coach.

On April 27, Regina beat visiting Victoria, 5-4, to win the WHL final, 4-1. The 1980 Memorial Cup, which would be won by the Cornwall Royals, opened in Brandon and closed in Regina.

During the Memorial Cup it became apparent the major juniors were terribly concerned with NHL’s practice of drafting 18-year-olds.

Chynoweth said: “I understand the legal problems the NHL has, although I don’t sympathize with it . . . at this rate, the pros will be scouting midgets soon.”

McLeod remembered the 1979 draft: “Back in June one NHL general manager said there was nothing to worry about, that only seven or eight under-ages would be taken. When they took 58, we were a little disturbed. Once they got into it, they just kept going.”

Junior teams were to be paid $50,000 to $65,000 for under-age players who stuck in the NHL.

Some NHL people said they weren’t in favour of the 18-year-old draft, either.

“The general managers unanimously fought to the 11th hour to avoid drafting under-ages,” said Washington GM Max McNab. “We were going to get caught in a lawsuit. But the NHL is like the government in the eyes of the public here. We’re going to get shot at in any decision.”

On May 15, the WHL announced that the dormant Great Falls franchise would relocate to Spokane with Cooper remaining as majority owner.

NelsonSkalbania
NELSON SKALBANIA

On June 26, Skalbania, already the owner of New Westminster and the NHL’s Calgary Flames, bought 50 per cent of the Wranglers. Skalbania explained: “It’s a sympathetic thing. I said when we bought the Flames that we’d support junior hockey in Calgary and I can’t think of a way we’d be supporting it any more than owning the team. I just hope we don’t lose that much money with them.”

Pat Shimbashi, a minority owner in Lethbridge, bought the other 50 per cent of the Wranglers from Jim Morley and Chynoweth, which meant that the latter would return as WHL president.

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ROZANDA SKALBANIA (Photo: archives.newwestcity.ca)

On June 27, Skalbania completed his purchase of the Bruins, buying 100 per cent for $325,000. McLean stayed as GM, while Skalbania’s 20-year-old daughter, Rozanda, was named president.

McLean resigned a couple of weeks later and Tracy Pratt was named GM. “I’d like to forget about the big bad Bruins of the past,” Pratt said, “and I’d like to think of them as the scrappy Bruins in the future. My concern is putting families back in the building. There was a shade too much violence in past years and many people became very bitter about what happened at Queen’s Park Arena.”

The league lost its referee-in-chief on Aug. 8 when Wilson announced he would scout for the Montreal Canadiens, a team with which he had long been associated.

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The 1980-81 season opened quietly enough, but the silence was shattered on Dec. 1 with a shakeup in Saskatoon. McLeod and coach Lorne Frey ended their association with the Blades. Majority owner Nate Brodsky bought McLeod’s share (20 per cent) and named Daryl Lubiniecki GM and coach.

Lubiniecki began shaking things up when, on Jan. 15, he traded one player — centre Rocky Trottier — to Billings for six players — Pat Rabbitt, Dave Brown, Brad Duggan, Dave Chartier, Lyndon Byers and Al Acton.

Fighting was still a concern and on Dec. 17 Chynoweth announced that teams would be fined $2,500 if their players fought before games or between periods. Players who started the fights or were main combatants would get a minimum of five games.

A black cloud continued to follow the Bruins. A labour dispute forced them to play their last 29 games on the road. Their last 13 home games were played in such places as Bellingham, Wash., Kamloops, Trail, Duncan, B.C., and Coleman, Alta. The Bruins set a WHL record by losing 25 in a row and had to give season-ticket holders a refund for the 13 home games that were moved.

There were rumblings out of Swift Current that the locals were interested in a WHL franchise. John Rittinger, president of the SJHL team there, was trying to raise money for the venture. “I can’t give you a figure at this time,” he said on April 1, “but, personally, I feel there has been insufficient support.”

The juniors were beginning to realize they were going to have to live with the 18-year-old draft. Said Chynoweth: “The under-age situation is a problem but also a fact of life. The law of the land says at 18 you can fight for your country, drink and get married. Consequently, they’re also eligible to be drafted and play for NHL teams.”

The WHL had a new referee-in-chief — Richard Doerksen — and he was in the news in the playoffs after Strumm grabbed him in the press box during a game. Strumm was slapped with a two-game suspension and a $1,000 fine.

Victoria, under coach Jack Shupe, would win the WHL championship in 1980-81. Trailing Calgary 3-1, the Cougars bounced back and wrapped it up on May 1, beating the visiting Wranglers, 4-2, in Game 7.

Singing a song that would become popular in NHL circles in years to come, Calgary coach Doug Sauter explained: “(Goaltender Grant) Fuhr was the difference.”

NEXT: Part 4 of 5.

Charron, Karpan remember great moment in Canada’s hockey history

When Canada won the 1987 Izvestia Cup, Eric Duhatschek was there. He was in Moscow, covering the tournament for the Calgary Herald.

“I’ve long maintained,” Duhatschek, who now is with The Athletic, wrote in a Hockey Canada newsletter, “this was Canada’s Miracle on Ice — winning, on the road, against a

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The Canadian team that won gold at the 1987 Izvestia tournament in Moscow. (Photo courtesy Murray Brace)

Russian team that played three 6-5 games against the Canadian team of Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Dale Hawerchuk three months earlier. A special, if under-appreciated moment in Canada’s hockey history.”

I wrote this feature five years ago and it first appeared in the pages of the late Kamloops Daily News. Guy Charron lives in Kamloops where he is enjoying retirement. Vaughn Karpan is the director of player personnel with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights.

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There have been many memorable moments for Canadian teams on the international hockey scene.

Yes, it all starts with the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union.

There also have been many memories made by Canada’s national junior team. And the 1961 Trail Smoke Eaters have to be included on anyone’s list.

But what of the 1987-88 Canadian national team?

This team, under head coach Dave King, deserves its own place high on that list . . . really high.

All Canadian hockey fans know that Paul Henderson’s goal on Sept. 28, 1972, scored in the Luzhniki Ice Palace in Moscow, won the Summit Series for Canada. What you may not know is that over the next 15 years not one Canadian team was able to win even one game against the Soviets in the Soviet Union.

And it wasn’t for a lack of trying, because Canada was a regular participant in the Izvestia Cup, a pre-Christmas tournament that was sponsored by the Izvestia Daily newspaper. (The tournament now is the Channel One Cup and is sponsored by a television company.) The purpose of the tournament, which began in 1967, was to get the Soviet national team some top-notch competition before the following spring’s World championship.

Prior to 1987, Canada’s Izvestia take amounted to silver medals in 1969 and 1986, and a bronze in 1978. But Canada had never won gold.

That drought ended in December 1987.

“It wasn’t as known or important to a lot of people,” Guy Charron, the head coach of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers and an assistant coach on that Canadian team, says. “People

Charron
Guy Charron, shown here as head coach of the Kamloops Blazers, has fond memories of 1987 and Moscow. (Photo: Christopher Mast/mastimages.com)

don’t know and don’t care that Canada won the Izvestia tournament. But it’s the only Canadian team that has ever won Izvestia.”

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As Canada headed for Moscow in December 1987, the 1988 Olympic Winter Games were on the horizon, scheduled for Feb. 13-28 in Calgary.

“Izvestia is something that was always on our schedule, and especially the season of the Olympics,” recalls Charron, who worked under King and alongside fellow assistants Tom Watt and Dale Henwood.

“Guy was a critical part of the team,” says Vaughn Karpan, a forward on the Canadian team who now lives on the Lower Mainland and works as a pro scout for the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens. “Dave was tough and he was on 24/7; he had to be. He led the charge. He got the most out of every one of his guys.

“Guy was the guy the players could go to. He was good at it. I can’t say enough good things about Guy.”

The team was stationed in Calgary, where it spent most of its season practising. But there were jaunts to various locales for games and tournaments. And this would be a big one.

The 1987 Izvestia Cup would allow the competing teams to get a read on where everyone stood with the Olympics just two months away.

“It was the biggest competition prior to the Olympics,” Charron says, adding that it would allow the Canadians to see where they were at “and how can we compete with the Russians, knowing that they were going to be a big machine in the Olympic Games.”

Ahh, yes, the Soviets.

This was before the Iron Curtain fell. The Soviet Union was one gigantic nation. Czechoslovakia hadn’t split in two. West Germany had a hockey team. Times were a whole lot different.

“We had gone there a number of times,” Charron recalls. “We played Izvestia every year. Getting into that rink was always very special. I have great memories.

“They had key ladies . . . you had a designated room and we always had the same key lady. I remember her saying my name in Russian . . . ‘Welcome Guy!’ I have great memories of going to Russia even at a time that was much different from now.”

For example, there was the hotel.

“Our accommodations were the pits,” Charron says. “I had to sleep with the lights on so the bugs wouldn’t crawl down the wall. I’d walk into the room and say, ‘I’m back!’ “

He’s laughing now, but you can bet it wasn’t funny 25 years ago.

“You got accustomed to it,” he adds. “It was always a great experience and Dave always brought us to different places to learn about their culture. I just wish I had had the opportunity to go into a family home.”

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There was no doubt that the Soviets would win the 1987 Izvestia Cup. After all, they had won this event eight of the previous nine Decembers, the exception being 1985 when Czechoslovakia had shocked the hockey world.

In 1987, as in most appearances at this tournament, the Canadian amateurs were seen as cannon fodder.

“We didn’t have the names,” Charron says. “With the exception of some of the players, we were an amateur team. Some of those players played in the NHL afterwards but this team was not made of NHL players.”

Goaltender Andy Moog was between NHL jobs, while defenceman Randy Gregg had played in the NHL. But it’s safe to say there were more household names on the Soviet roster than on Canada’s.

The Soviets had the KLM line – Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov – and it was magic on ice. More often than not, those three were on the ice with defencemen Vyacheslav Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov. In fact, those five were known in the hockey world as the Green Unit, thanks to the green sweaters they wore in practice.

The Soviet roster also included a young Alexander Mogilny, as well as the likes of Evgeny Belosheikin, Vyacheslav Bykov, Sergei Yashin, Valeri Kamensky, Anatoly Semenov and Sergei Starikov. The team was under the thumb of legendary head coach Viktor Tikhonov.

The Canadians? Along with Moog and Gregg, the roster featured Gord Sherven, Ken Berry, goaltender Sean Burke, Karpan, Marc Habscheid, Zarley Zalapski, Cliff Ronning,

VaughnKarpan
A veteran NHL scout, Karpan is no stranger to hockey arenas around the world. (Photo: IIHF.com)

Serge Boisvert, Brian Bradley, Chris Felix, Bob Joyce, Serge Roy, Wally Schreiber, Tony Stiles, Claude Vilgrain, Craig Redmond, Ken Yaremchuk and team captain Trent Yawney.

The Canadian team was just that – a team in every sense of the word. Hey, even the coaching staff did grunt work.

Charron uses the word “camaraderie” to describe what he experienced.

“Here I am, I’ve played in the NHL and we’re unloading the bus and I’m carrying sticks with Dave,” he says. “I remember a couple of times we had guest coaches and they couldn’t believe that Dave and I were carrying luggage and sticks and bags.

“For me, it was the Olympic team and everybody had to chip in.”

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The 1987 Izvestia opened on Dec. 16 with the Soviets pounding West Germany 10-1, Czechoslovakia getting past Finland 2-1, and Canada edging Sweden, 3-2.

The next day, the Soviets and Finland played to a 3-3 tie, while Sweden beat West Germany 3-2, and Canada dropped a 4-1 decision to Czechoslovakia.

The Izvestia Cup’s world was unfolding as it should.

After a day off, the tournament resumed on Dec. 19 with the Swedes beating Czechoslovakia 2-1 and Finland dropping West Germany, 8-2. The day’s big game, however, featured Canada and the Soviet Union.

“As an underdog, you go into those games competing, making sure you don’t embarrass yourself with one of the best teams in the world,” Charron says in describing Canada’s mindset. “I’m not sure we went into the game thinking, ‘We can beat these guys.’ But we had momentum and we felt good about ourselves. We said, ‘Let’s go out there and play, play hard, play the best we can.’ “

As the game progressed, the Canadians started to believe, maybe not in miracles, but that they could win this game.

Just talking about it 25 years later causes Charron’s voice to tremble a bit.

“Wow! All of a sudden realizing we can win this game, there was lots of emotion, lots of intensity,” Charron remembers. “It was like a big-time game when you have a sense that you can win this game. There was a lot of tension and a lot of intensity, a lot of big-game feelings at that game.”

Karpan, a native of The Pas, Man., had to sit out the game because of a high ankle sprain suffered against the Czechs. He got it taped and later played in Canada’s last two games.

But he remembers that “Sean Burke and Cliff Ronning were the stars for us that night” against the Soviets.

Berry came through, too, scoring a pair of third-period goals as the Canadians skated to a stunning 3-2 victory.

“I can vividly recall the smells and sounds in the arena,” Burke wrote in a Hockey Canada alumni newsletter, “and how in beween periods we were served hot tea. The crowd sitting in wood seats all dressed in greys and blacks and whistling their disapproval at the Russian stars, realizing they might actually lose in their homeland to a bunch of unknown Canadians.

“I can still see Ken Berry scoring from long range and the immediate thought that we were going to have to hold on for dear life to win the game . . .

“And then I remember the euphoria of our dressing room and the faces of guys that had worked so hard for this moment. We all knew we still had to beat the Finns to win the tournament, but how could anyone stop us if we just beat the most feared team in the world?”

A lot about Canadian hockey had changed after our first really sustained look at the Soviets in the eight-game series of 1972. Practice habits were different now, and there was more of a European influence in the flow of the game being played in North America.

The Soviets, however, hadn’t changed.

As Charron puts it, in 1987 he was glad “they didn’t pick up on our way of doing things sooner.”

“It didn’t matter how the game went on, he rolled four lines,” Charron says, referring to Tikhonov, the great Soviet coach. “If the fourth line was up for the power play, the fourth line played the power play. He wouldn’t double-shift the KLM line.”

Charron remembers watching the Soviets play earlier in the tournament and feeling the urge to yell at Tikhonov.

“Even watching against other countries, I was shocked,” Charron says. “I’d say, ‘Gawd, put that line back out there.’ But it was the fourth line’s turn, so . . .”

Charron also remembers one other thing about the Soviets from that era, something that is oft-mentioned by hockey observers from back in the day.

“There was no emotion from them,” Charron says. “The energy that Canadian teams have when they sense they can win something . . . that was something I noticed and I thought if they could ever have brought emotion. . . . Now they do.”

Charron noticed quite a difference when he was on Team WHL’s coaching staff when it played a Russian team in a Subway Super Series game in Kamloops in 2010.

“I could see the (Russian) kids in the hallway having fun, playing games,” he says. “I thought, ‘Wow, that’s different from what I was used to seeing in those years.’ “

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Beating the Soviets put the Canadians in control of their destiny. But the Canadians still had to play West Germany and Finland.

Even after the high of having conquered the great Soviet team, there wouldn’t be a letdown.

“We knew what we were on the verge of accomplishing,” Karpan says.

On Dec. 20, the day after beating the Soviets, Canada got past West Germany, 2-1, while Sweden and Finland tied 2-2, and the hosts beat Czechoslovakia, 5-3.

Two days later, the tournament concluded with Canada beating Finland 4-1, West Germany getting past the Czechs, 4-3, and the Soviets disposing of Sweden, 4-1.

But even after the tournament ended, the games didn’t stop.

“The Russians always won,” Karpan says, adding that the hosts loved the tournament-ending trophy presentations. “They didn’t win this time, so they had a trophy made up for the team that had won the most Izvestias.”

Years later, in the alumni newsletter, Sherven, a forward from Weyburn, Sask., admitted he was really looking forward to the presentations.

“As it was my third Izvestia,” Sherven wrote, “I remember really looking forward to hearing our national anthem at the closing ceremonies, instead of the Russian anthem. Unfortunately, they never had a recording of our national anthem, so we had to listen to the Russian anthem again. I guess they didn’t expect us to win.”

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This Canadian team would beat the Soviets again, also by a 3-2 count, this time in Saskatoon in a tuneup game a week before the Calgary Olympics began.

As Karpan points out, this was the same Soviet team that Mario Lemieux and Team Canada had beaten in the third game of a best-of-three series to win the 1987 Canada Cup in September. After the Soviets won Game 1, Lemieux scored the winning goal in each of the next two games, one in double overtime and the other with 1:26 to play in the third period.

“We had two wins in our three games against them,” Karpan says.

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“We won Izvestia, which was a great thing for Canada,” Charron says. “But looking back, winning a medal in the Olympics probably would have been more important to all of us.”

There would be no medal for Canada in Calgary. Canada placed fourth, with the Soviets winning gold, Finland taking silver and Sweden bronze.

“It gave us a good feeling going into the Olympic Games,” Charron says of the Izvestia victory, “except I’ll never forget Dave’s comment after we won. He said, ‘We just won too early.’ “