A memorable Memorial Cup finale featuring a 17-year-old Eric Lindros tops my list of the best five games I’ve ever witnessed in person during my four-plus decades watching and covering the game.
When you’ve watched hockey for more than four decades and covered it for almost three, the first thing you think is, “Man, I should really make that appointment to get my prostate checked.” Get it? I’m old.
I figure it’s time to take stock of the best five hockey games among the thousands I have seen over the years. So here they are. The rule: I had to actually be in attendance at the game, either as a spectator or media member.
5. December, 1974, Sudbury Arena – Sudbury Wolves 6, Wings of Soviet 5
I was 12 at the time and I had never before seen a player from the Soviet Union in person. Neither had Jim Bedard, now the Detroit Red Wings goalie coach, who was playing for the Wolves. “I saw these guys in warmups and I thought, ‘We’re dead. These guys are huge,’ ” Bedard says. “They were hitting each other in the warmup.”
The Wolves fell behind 3-0, but paced by stars Bobby Russell, Rod Schutt, Ron Duguay and Randy Carlyle they battled back admirably and, against all logic, won the game. The Sudbury Arena was an old barn even then, and I’ve never heard it louder or more appreciative.
4. Feb. 28, 2010, GM Place – Canada 3, United States 2 (OT)
This game would have been a classic regardless of which team or player scored in overtime, because it was the best game in the best best-on-best tournament ever played. After an unimpressive start to the tournament, the Canadians had come on, but they were also smarting from losing to the U.S. in the round-robin. Halfway through the game, Canada was ahead 2-0, but the Americans battled back, capped by a goal with 25 seconds left by Zach Parise, whose father Jean-Paul played for Canada in the 1972 Summit Series.
The entire tournament was a frenzy of speed and skill, but the final game took all of that to another level. You could tell the coaches were frustrated they couldn’t put a stamp on the game because things were happening too quickly. The game was almost as impressive as the river of vomit flowing down Robson Street from people celebrating after the game.
3. Jan. 2, 2000, McIntyre Arena – Team Ontario 6, United States 5 (SO)
Ilya Kovalchuk was the star of the 2000 under-17 World Hockey Challenge and made a name for himself with his ridiculous skill and brawling in the pre-tournament games. But it was the semifinal that provided one of the wildest momentum swings these eyes have ever witnessed.
With future NHLers Stephen Weiss, Derek Roy, Jay McClement, Trevor Daley and Dennis Wideman in the lineup, Ontario took a 2-0 lead before the U.S., with Tim Gleason and Eric Nystrom in their lineup, scored four goals to take a 4-2 lead. Ontario tied the score, then Team USA scored before Canada tied it late. Weiss provided the winner in the shootout to send Ontario to the final against Russia. After the game, a concussed Brendan Bell was sobbing uncontrollably.
2. June 5, 2006, RBC Center – Carolina 5, Edmonton 4
Hockey fans had waited two years to see a Stanley Cup final game after a lockout and the Hurricanes and Oilers did not let them down in Game 1. The Oilers jumped out to a 3-0 lead, partially on the strength of a penalty shot goal by Chris Pronger, but the Hurricanes came back with three of their own before going ahead for the first time in the game on a breakaway goal by Justin Williams.
The Oilers tied it before disaster struck when Dwayne Roloson was knocked out of the series with a knee injury. Ty Conklin, who replaced Roloson, misplayed the puck and Rod Brind’Amour scored with 32 seconds left. Then Cam Ward robbed Shawn Horcoff of a goal with 3.8 seconds remaining. Had the Oilers won that game, there’s no doubt they would have won their sixth and most unlikely Cup.
1. May 13, 1990, Copps Coliseum – Oshawa 4, Kitchener 3 (2OT)
It was the best game of what many believe was the best Memorial Cup ever played, but it was an unlikely hero who ended it. Defenseman Bill Armstrong of the Generals scored on a floater from the point that glanced off two sticks and into the net behind Rangers goalie Mike Torchia, who had stopped a mind-boggling 19 shots in the first overtime period.
A 17-year-old Eric Lindros, who was quiet until the final, had three assists in the title game, which featured two teams that could not have been more evenly matched. The Generals won the OHL final that year over the Rangers in seven games and the teams had played a double overtime game in the round-robin.
Generals goalie Kevin Butt was injured during the game and replaced by Fred Brathwaite, who rushed to Torchia’s side to console him after the overtime goal. It was thought to be a wonderfully heartfelt gesture, but what most people didn’t see was while Brathwaite was consoling Torchia, he was reaching for the puck in the back of the net.