Skip to Main Content

 

'NOT THIS TIME'

By Ryan Dittrick - CalgaryFlames.com

The wounds were still fresh.

The bubbling anger turned to a furious boil.

There they stood, that sorrowed bunch, both bitter and despondent. A fearless visiting squad, not 90 feet out, hoisting the trophy they've dedicated their lives to.

On their ice, for good measure.

But three years after having their dreams dashed by a formidable foe, the wildly talented club from the west got a second chance to exact their revenge.

It was their time to make things right - to celebrate careers and the heroes behind them.

And to give their city a moment like none other in its passionate, sporting history.  

Straight from the hearts of those who experienced it and brought glory to our town, this is the story of the 1989 Stanley Cup champion Calgary Flames:

Lanny McDonald, Forward, Co-Captain: If you go all the way back to '86, you think you're automatically going to be back again the very next year. Didn't happen in '87, didn't happen in '88. Now, you realize that the core of the team is getting older. You started to miss that window and going into that season, we all believed that it was Stanley Cup or bust.

Jamie Macoun, Defenceman: You don't count your chickens before the eggs hatch, but we thought we had a chance to go to the final, to finally prove that we had the best team in the league.

Terry Crisp, Head Coach: One of the graces we also had going for us was that the guys who were still on our team from '86, they had a long memory - and they still had a bitter taste in their mouths. ... They wanted a little bit of vengeance.
 
Crisp: I was blessed with the team that Cliff Fletcher, Al MacNeil, Al Coates and all those guys put together. The goal-scorers - 50-goal scorers - like (Joe) Nieuwendyk, (Joe) Mullen, Hakan Loob. The skill. The grinders. All the guys that they inter-mingled to make it all happen. And then there was the leadership. … I had a core of leaders in that dressing room that I'd call in (to my office). I'd say, 'Fellas, we're having a bit of a problem here with so-and-so.' They'd say, 'Coach, leave it with us.' A day or two later, no problem.

The Flames - who finished the regular season with a Presidents' Trophy-winning 117 points - drew the Smythe Division-rival Vancouver Canucks in Round 1. The Canucks were serious underdogs, having ended the regular campaign with a 33-39-8 record for 74 points, but ultimately gave the league's top team all they could handle.

Colin Patterson, Forward: You can never take anybody for granted in a playoff run. Every game, every period can change from having home-ice advantage to not having it anymore. That's what happened in that first game - we ended up losing and all of a sudden, all the doubters, and everyone's talking about it. As the series went on, it was a tough grind and they played us extremely well.

McDonald: The first round is probably the hardest to get out of, period. Both teams are fresh, both teams are ready to go, and you haven't had that number of games that you play against the same team and it becomes very physical and personal, especially against a rival like Vancouver. They played unbelievable in that series. They had a game plan and stuck with it through all seven games. They kept dumping it in and going after (Al) MacInnis and (Gary) Suter, and not giving then any time or space to get the puck up the ice.

Patterson: When we lost in Game 6 in Vancouver, (GM) Cliff Fletcher came on the bus and said, essentially, if we don't win this series, there'll be a lot of changes on this team. That resonated with everybody. Cliff never came in much to talk about things. He was a great man and a great leader and a great GM, so when he got on the bus and said that, everybody listened. You could hear a pin drop.

Game 7 went the distance. The Saddledome was rocking and goaltender Mike Vernon was doing everything possible to give his team a chance. Then, at 19:21 of the first overtime session, a sharp-angle shot from Jim Peplinski pinballed off the skate of Joel Otto in front, a swarm of white sweaters crowded the goal crease, and the Flames were officially on to Round 2.

Otto: I was relishing the playoff moment. I got to play lots. Surprisingly, I was even on the powerplay units. I used to tease Dave King towards the end of my career and I'd say, 'Look at these old films! I'm on the powerplay!' Having (Joe) Mullen, (Al) MacInnis, Gary Suter was on the backend, (Doug) Gilmour - that was our unit on the powerplay, so I got a lot of ice time. When Gary went down with his broken jaw, Theo (Fleury) kind of came into his own and played point on the powerplay and really did himself proud.

McDonald: Winning in Game 7, that was like a weight lifted. We weren't unhappy with how we played - not in the slightest - but the Canucks played us well and you have to give them credit. But where the credit REALLY lies is with Mike Vernon. Mike played unbelievable, and especially in overtime. There were three big saves that stand out to me. Everybody remembers Stan Smyl's breakaway - the glove save. But Tony Tanti had a one-timer and Petri Skriko had another from right out in the slot, and somehow Mike made those saves. Then Joel (Otto) and Pep (Jim Peplinski) went back the other way, found a way to score, and it was like this massive weight came off our shoulders. We were ready to deal with LA. 'Bring it on,' we said. 'We're ready, Gretzky or not.'

Crisp: The guys were so confident in our game. When we dodged that bullet against Vancouver, the boys were off and running.

Patterson: When we moved on to the next round, we seemed to have more confidence. You'll see that in any series or in any Stanley Cup run, everybody finds a way to contribute. Everybody took their role and played it well. Guys that maybe you didn't count on in the regular season for scoring, WERE scoring, and that can be the difference. Rick Nattrass on defence, Jamie Macoun - guys who were probably unheralded for the work they put in. You look at all our lines - they connected.

The Flames went on to sweep the Los Angeles Kings in Round 2 before dispatching the Chicago Blackhawks in five en route to the Cup Final.

Macoun: Just look at our team. These are big names. BIG names. It's something that rarely happens nowadays. Pretty well to a man, we believed that we were the better team and that we were going to beat Montreal.

McDonald: We'd already beat them - in Montreal - during the regular season, so we knew that we matched up well against them, even though they had four extremely good lines. We had two unbelievable offensive lines with (Doug) Gilmour and Nieuwendyk up the middle, and then we that great checking line with Joel Otto, and then whoever played on the fourth line was a mixture of physical, in-your-face players who would knock you off the puck and try to set the tone. We felt we matched up very well and were ready for the challenge.

Otto: I grew up a Montreal fan - my dad was, so it was kind of cool growing up in Minnesota as a North Star fan, then becoming a Montreal fan because he was. Certainly playing against them, I was not a Montreal fan. I couldn't stand them.

Patterson: Making it back to the Final, everyone was getting that feeling that, 'Hey, this has got to be our year.'

Otto: We got another crack.

McDonald: To be honest, we kind of did it ourselves in '86. We lost Game 6 in St. Louis and had to come back here to play Game 7, while Montreal was sitting and waiting for us. Even though we won Game 1 [in '86,a also], they were the fresher team, while we were just coming off a tough, seven-game series. So, yeah, we wanted to take care of business this time. To be the best, you've got to beat the best. They had Patrick Roy, but we had Mike Vernon. They were physical, in his space and running the heck out of him, chipping away at him, but he hung in there. And when all is said and done, Verny could easily have been the MVP. They probably could have given it both to Al, who'd set a record for the most points by a defenceman, but to Verny as well for how he played throughout the entire four series' and how he got us into Montreal in the first place.

Macoun: We were pretty beat up. Guys were sore, guys were tired. It's unfortunate. I know that in football, for the Superbowl, they have an extra week in there for guys to hopefully heal up so you have the two best teams going head-to-head. Sometimes that helps, sometimes it doesn't. If we somehow had like five or six days off, just to rest and get ready for that series, it would have been interesting to see what would have happened. I think we would have been better for sure. Montreal, I'm assuming they would have been better. But we definitely had some injuries and we definitely had guys that were playing hurt.

Loob: The energy in the city was incredible. When you'd go out for a walk or whatever you did, you'd meet people and they were always so enthusiastic. They wanted but for us to win that Cup. It was crazy. The flags everywhere, the C of Red really taking off. I look back and I get chills now. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. My wife sometimes gets mad at me - you know, the birth of the kids. ... That's how big this was. The energy. Sometimes in the regular season you'd really have to push yourself to get to that level, but this, you're almost afraid that you have so much energy that you'd lose it because you'd wake up in the morning and be so pumped up to play.

McDonald: The one thing we didn't want was to go to a Game 7. Even though we would have been the home team, ANYTHING can happen in Game 7. A few bad penalties, a bad bounce, or Patrick Roy being on the top of his game - which was a very real possibility - are all the circumstances we had to avoid. That was our goal. We knew it was going to be a long series, but seven games? We had no desire in that.

Crisp: But the thing that grabbed us the most was that people kept hammering on about the ghosts of the Montreal Forum - that the Canadiens had never lost the Stanley Cup on home ice ever before. That was almost a blessing for us, because we had some of the job done for us. Whenever anybody brought that up or said something about it, we'd say, 'Yeah, but WE'VE never been in here before.' Really, we respected those ghosts, but we weren't going to stand around in awe of them. And we didn't.

Patterson: We tried to keep it loose. If you stay too focused, you kind of lose the forest for the trees. We had a fun atmosphere the whole year, and there was no point in changing that. The ride might be a little different, but we kept it light.

McDonald: We knew that we had a team that was strong enough and big enough and physical enough that we could play anyway that any team wanted to play - whether it was a skating game, a checking game, or if it was an all-out, rough-and-tough game. We believed we had the horses. There was a lot of pressure. And for myself, knowing that sooner or later, this was going to come to an end and if you didn't win it this year, maybe it's over for good. That was not only personal, but it was for the team as well.

The Flames kicked things off with a 3-2 win at the Saddledome to take a 1-0 series lead - just like they did three years earlier. But the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge roared back with a 4-2 victory in Game 2, and earned a 4-3, double-overtime triumph in Game 3 to put the series count in their favour entering a pivotal Game 4 at the Montreal Forum.

Macoun: Winning Game 1, it helped us relax a little. To get into the Final again, and then to win one - you get your little calculator out and you're like, 'OK, now we only need to win three, we don't need to win four anymore!' It's crazy how you think about little things like that.

Crisp: When they called that penalty on Mark Hunter (in overtime of Game 3), I thought, 'Ooooh boy. Oh Lord. This is the wrong guy to call this penalty on.' And it was a pretty good hit - a little strength on it, maybe. But when he did it, I thought, 'Ooooh, this is going to cost us.' Mark was just irate, upset over it. He's got that Hunter blood in him. ... Unfortunately for Mark we didn't kill it off for him. But when we went into the dressing room afterwards, the guys were still very confident. They knew we played well. They knew they had a good game, a solid game, against a very good club. When you're in the Stanley Cup Final, the next-door team is no (pushover). They've got to be pretty good in order to get there. But, we survived it and the boys kicked it into gear from there.

Loob: Being up in the series (1-0), then to have them tie it up and win (Game 3) in overtime, it put so much pressure on us. But to go out and played as well as we did in that fourth game, it shows the character our guys had to step up and show everyone that this is a team that could really win the Stanley Cup. I thought we'd shown all year that we played our best hockey with some pressure on us. You don't win that last game, the sixth game, if you won't win that one, going down 3-1.

Macoun: We, 100%, thought we were going to win Game 4. And we, 100%, thought we were going to win the series.

McDonald: We were focused. Locked in. We wanted to get ourselves ready on that plane ride from Calgary back to Montreal for Game 6. Not only mentally prepare yourself, but prepare your teammates around you. I didn't play in Games 3, 4 and 5, so I wasn't even guaranteed or even know if I'd be playing in Game 6. So, there was that nervous energy that built up inside of you, just hoping that you have the opportunity to play. But, more importantly, if I did play, find a way to help out and make a difference.

McDonald: We vowed in Game 6 to throw EVERYTHING at Roy. We knew it was going to be physical. We didn't realize there were going to be as many penalties as there were, especially in that first period. But we never wanted to take our eye off the prize until the end of that game.

Otto: I remember not sleeping great the night before. I'm a great napper - but that day was a little tougher than most knowing what was on the horizon. Just wanted to get the game going, get excited, and get to the rink. It was a ruckus atmosphere, for sure, after Game 5. The fans were there hours before the game and it was quite a scene. 

Patterson: Even just going out for the warmup was a treat. You just got the aura of the building, of all the names that have been through there, all the championships they've won. People always talk about the 'ghosts,' but it was more the aura of it. It's the Mecca of Hockey. You're fortunate if you get to it once in a career, and we got to do it a couple of times.

McDonald: We had so many great players on our team, so many guys that don't enough credit. Jiri Hrdina - a guy who was in and out of the lineup could play, and play well, in all three forward positions. Joel Otto, Jim Peplinski, on and on, they just made the players around them better. But the guy, to me, that was probably our most unheralded guy was Colin Patterson. For him to play with Joey Mullen and Dougie Gilmour, he took all the pressure off those guys. They were not only great offensively; they were great defensively as well. It was mostly because they could do whatever they needed and knew Colin had their back, all of the time.

Patterson: I remember we were getting ready for the game and Lanny looked at me and said, 'You know, I scored my first NHL goal in here. I'd sure like to score in my last one.' And I said, 'I'd just like to score ONE.' That one resonates with me because Lanny ended up retiring, but both of us ended up scoring in that game.

Patterson scored the game's opening goal - his third of the playoffs - at 18:51 of the first period, while McDonald put the Flames back in front with his first of the post-season after Claude Lemieux tied it early in the middle frame.

Patterson: Patrick Roy was giving me the top, glove-side, and I was looking at the top, glove-side. I was going there, but when I released it, it went bottom, stick-side. But it went in. Back in the day, the picture they would take for the first run of the newspapers all came from the first period, and I was the only guy who scored in the first period. So, they had a great picture of me holding up the 'Hespeler' stick.

Why the misfire? Turns out, Patterson already agreed to use the infamous twig as a favour to his two buddies, who distributed the sticks under the 'Hespeler' brand after acquiring the rights to it back in 1988.

Patterson: I said, 'Absolutely.' The stick's not going to make a difference for me. So, I don't hear from them for basically a year - and then Game 6, basically the morning of, this package arrives for me. I look at them and think, 'Oh goodness.' I could have probably carved a better stick out of a tree in the back yard. But I thought, 'Oh, I have to use it.' So we go out for the morning skate, used it - a little tough to control some of the shots, but I could work with it. So, I used it in the game and got that first goal. … They've shown that game so many times on TV, people think I'm a goal-scorer now.

McDonald: I wasn't even thinking about scoring in that game. It's interesting: When you first start out, you're fighting for ice time. And, usually, when you're at the tail end of your career, you're fighting for ice time all over again. That's exactly what happened. I didn't play all of the regular-season games, and I didn't play in Games 3, 4 and 5, and I was so happy to be back in for Game 6. I wanted to make a difference. I didn't even think about scoring a goal, let alone one of that significance. I just wanted to be physical and try to make a difference that way. To be lucky enough to not only score a goal, but - my dad always said that my hit on (Larry) Robinson was the turning point. I said, 'Dad! I just scored a goal.' He said, 'No, no. That hit was where it turned.' I said, 'OK, dad, sure.' But imagine the rush of scoring that goal. I saw a lane and skated as hard as I possibly could. I remember my eyes got so big, hoping that pass would come. Of course it did. Of course Joe (Nieuwendyk) made that play. We had so many big-game players, so many heroes, and that pass couldn't be any better.

A pair of goals by Doug Gilmour in the back half of the third period iced a 4-2 victory and etched Calgary's name on Lord Stanley's Mug for the first time.

Crisp: He was a warrior. You hear Don Cherry talk about him all the time, but I was lucky enough to coach him. I'm going to put Joey Mullen in that category, and I'm going to put Theo Fleury into that category. Gary Roberts and probably a few others I'm missing, too. You didn't have to coach them. You almost had to rein them in, because when they were going over the boards, they were going full-bore, holding nothing back, no matter where the play was. As a coach, when you have spirited horses like that - you don't try and hold them (back), you just try and lead them a little; you guide 'em. Don't try and break the spirit. Gilmour was one. He took no prisoners. … When that final buzzer went and the boys were hitting the ice, you sort of stand there for a moment and reflect. You think, 'Yeah, it's been a good run.' I want to thank all those guys.

McDonald: How cool is it that now that the Forum no longer exists to be the only team to win on Forum ice? That was the cherry on top of it all. The Montreal fans had never seen the Cup raised by an opponent, ever, in the Forum. For them to stay and watch the celebration, I thought was so cool and it meant so much to all of us. ... I will always appreciate the fans for doing that.

Otto: It was exciting to be able to share it with everybody. I wish I could have done it again, because there's lots of things I didn't do, or I would have done (if I could do it all over again). I would have relished holding the Cup on the ice again, or giving a priority of who should have gotten it first. I was a dumb, young guy and probably grabbed it fourth. I shouldn't have been there (laughs). They took that picture at the end because they just started that tradition, and I wasn't in that picture - I was in the locker-room. All kinds of things I wish I could do again, but I never got to do it again.

Patterson: We thought we'd win again. But we didn't. That makes it extra special. … We got a picture of (my daughter) sitting in the Cup. It was pretty neat. Those are pretty special moments that we have. My other kids hate when we talk about it, because I never won a Cup when they were born (laughs).

McDonald: It was so much fun. The longer you wait, the more a guy like me appreciated it after 16 years. I tried to remind Nieuwendyk, Roberts and Theo - the youngest guys on the team - 'Enjoy this. This isn't going to happen every year.' For Roberts and Theo, it never did happen again.  

Crisp: A miserable, old, tough coach like me, was melting down. It might have been Lanny's last year, he might have been retiring, but he scores the goal, he wins the Cup, and when he hoists it - that (emotion) stays with me.

Otto: Winning bonds you. I was fortunate. In all my Calgary years, we had incredible leadership with Pepper (Jim Peplinski), Lanny, Doug Risebrough was the captain my first few years here. The team evolved. ... And it was always fun. We knew we had a good team, but we had a great time together, too. As a team, all you have is time. Back then we flew commercial, we were together often, stayed overnight after games. So, we always had time to hang out. It was a really close-knit group.

 

Hakan Loob celebrates with the Cup in what was his final NHL appearance.

 

Loob: I decided in the fall that it was going to be my last year (in the NHL). So, I didn't really think about those being my last few games. I was just happy that we went further and further and ended up the Final, ending the best way it ever could have. When I got home, I got a really, really nice statue from the guys. I don't know how many tears were flowing down my cheeks and other guys, too. I remember Timmy Hunter presenting that to me and it was so amazing. It was sad, but with the jubilation of winning the Cup, it was awesome. … That's when you realize it isn't fiction. It's reality.

McDonald: For me, the plane ride home was the best part. (Assistant Trainer) Al Murray came up to the captains and said, 'I can break the locks off the Stanley Cup case.' We're absolutely into that idea. So, we hide the Cup in the bathroom. Al comes to me 20 minutes later and says, 'Do you want to bring the Cup out?' I said, 'Hey, this is your idea. You bring it out.' So he did, and the party was ON for the next four-and-a-half hours. It was unbelievable. You couldn't have asked for a better way to celebrate, with only the people that were really responsible. Players, staff, management, ownership and some of the wives. All of us, and only us. We were trying to talk Cliff Fletcher into landing the plane in Winnipeg because we were running out of booze. Of course, it was too late. But we didn't care - we were trying to come up with creative ways to keep the party going. Everyone looks back on it now, and we realize the celebration went on for weeks, anyway.

 

Files from Flames TV host Brendan Parker contributed to this story

VIEW MORE FLAMES EXTRA ARTICLES

Check out more of our in-depth, long reads on your team, published every Saturday or Sunday during the season.