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Gilmour put Flames over the top during epic 1989 Cup run

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

The year following the 1989 Stanley Cup victory, goaltender Rick Wamsley was grocery shopping at Safeway when he stumbled upon a $19.95 video of the Flames' title run on sale in the checkout line.

"Every once in a while,'' he admitted many years later, "I'll pop in that old video.

"And all I know is there's a lot of Doug Gilmour in it."

Like when he swatted the puck past Patrick Roy just past the midway mark of the third period to stake the Flaming C to a 3-1 lead at the Montreal Forum on that touchstone evening of May 25, 1989.

"A powerplay,'' recalled Gilmour. "I took a backhand, knocked it out of the air and it went five-hole on Patrick.

"Obviously stuff like that's not planned.

"I don't know … it just went in. My hands we up and we had the lead."

He then plopped the puck into an empty net - Roy on the bench in favour of a sixth attacker and the Habs on a powerplay - at 18:57 to seal the deal, 4-2.

The architect of the championship trek, GM Cliff Fletcher, has never wavered from his long-ago declaration that adding that extra jigger of competitive nitro from the St. Louis Blues was what put his Flames over the top.

Embroiled in an ugly legal conflict, the 25-year-old Gilmour - a Canada Cup winner just a year earlier - needed a change of scenery, and the Blues, while reluctant to part with so valuable an asset, felt it would be in their best interests, too.

So on Sept. 6, 1988, the opportunistic Fletcher swooped in, offering 48-goal/103-point centre Mike Bullard, tough guy Craig Coxe and minor-league defenceman Tim Corkery. Blues' GM Ron Caron obliged, shipping Gilmour, Mark Hunter, Steve Bozek and Michael Dark to Calgary in exchange.

Two-hundred and 52 days later, the Flames were hoisting the Stanley Cup aloft.

A coincidence?

Not even remotely.

When Gilmour first arrived in Calgary, he immediately understood the dynamics had changed for him, too. Exponentially. 

The Flames had laid claim to their first President's Trophy the year before but been rudely swept out of the playoffs by the Edmonton Oilers in Round 2.

"It's hard to believe I was traded to the No.-1 contender for the Stanley Cup," was his frank admission. "I know a lot of guys on this team and there's a lot of top calibre players here.

"In St. Louis, I had to score a goal or pick up a couple of assists every night. Here they've got a lot of players who can do that.

"Here they'll just rely on me to go out and do my job."

That job was multi-faceted. Winning key faceoffs. Shutting down the opposition's top centres. Scoring vital goals. Scrapping for every loose puck.

"With Killer,'' said Wamsley, in a shrewd bit of evaluation, "it was kind of like the 'my dad's tougher 'n your dad' skinny-little-kid-in-the-playground thing.

"You hit him once, he had to hit you twice. You hit him 10 times, he had to hit you 11.

"He might have looked like hell, but he never seemed to tire. It was like he had this bottomless well of energy."

To say a player's value goes beyond mere points has devolved into the realm of cliché. Not here.

Gilmour began Calgary's 22-game playoff run slowly in a seven-game stress-filled series against the Vancouver Canucks.

After that, versus L.A., Chicago and finally Montreal, the 165-pound dynamo was nothing but lights-out good.

"He made Nieuwendyk better,'' said Wamsley in summation. "He made Fleury, when he was called up, better.

"Like a lot of players - and I mean great players - he was able to elevate the games of the people around him."

To championship heights.


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