A rising tide lifts all boats and the tide was rising as far as PEI hockey was concerned at the start of the 1980’s. The decade would become perhaps the most dynamic in the province’s history in the sport. Several ships were about to sail. The Sherwood-Parkdale Metros gave the Island its biggest thrill since the 1970 Charlottetown Jr. Islanders by advancing to the Centennial Cup final in the spring of 1979. A year later and the Metros were back in the national tournament in Toronto after finishing off the Cole Harbour Colts in the Maritime Junior finals. The Island Junior Hockey League welcomed two new expansion franchises, the Summerside Western Capitals and Baganall’s North River North Stars as the new decade began. The Charlottetown Islanders would win two Hardy Cup national championships, representing the Canadian Senior Intermediate “A” title coming in 1981 and 1984. The first time a PEI team claimed a national title at any level. The Islanders swept the Winnipeg North End Flyers three straight to capture the Hardy Cup in the spring of 1981. The Islanders were back together to claim a second Canadian championship in 1984 and they did it at home taking the finals in five games at the Forum over the Moose Jaw Generals. The teams repeated in the final in 1985 but this time host Moose Jaw got to hoist the Hardy Cup sweeping the championship series.
The UPEI men’s hockey program took off with an AUAA title in 1984-85 and two years later in 1986-87 under head coach Vince Mulligan, who also played on the 1963-64 Maritime Intercollegiate champs at St. Dunstan’s. Bill MacMillan, the former NHL star and coach, took over the program in 1988-89 as Mulligan left the post on a year’s leave of absence and commenced a rebuilding job that would see UPEI reach the conference final a year later, bowing to Moncton but winning the AUAA again in 1990-91 by eliminating the highly favoured Dalhousie Tigers in the final. One of the oddities of the decade was UPEI hosting the Chinese National Team at the Charlottetown Forum in 1982 in an exhibition contest. Also, the first all-out on-ice brawl for a Soviet team facing a Canadian squad. It occurred in 1984 as the Canadian University All-Stars faced a Soviet select team at the Charlottetown Forum. The teams were engaged in a long series as they toured across the county which resulted in bad blood and the resulting war on ice at the Forum. Island referee Mike Brown and crew tried to keep the peace but the two sides were determined to settle their despise for each other on the ice.
At the NHL level Rick Vaive became the first Toronto Maple Leaf player to score 50 or more goals in a season and he did it three years in a row. Vaive also became the Leafs captain wearing the “C” and still in his early twenties. Gerard Gallant’s career took off in Detroit with the Red Wings where he became a second team NHL all-star left wing in 1988-89 on a line with Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri of the Edmonton Oilers. Al MacAdam won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for perseverance with the Minnesota North Stars in 1979-80 where the Morell native collected a career high 42 goals, 51 assists and 93 points. Errol Thompson finished his brilliant NHL career with Pittsburgh in 1981 just a year after being named co-captain of Detroit in 1979-80. Bill MacMillan had his name etched on the Stanley Cup in 1980 as the New York Islanders began their dynasty that resulted in four straight NHL championships. Brother Bob MacMillan finished out his career playing in Calgary, Colorado, New Jersey and finally Chicago.
Five future professional coaches were also rising in the 80’s. Doug MacLean started with the Summerside Western Capitals and would be followed by Dave Cameron and Gerard Gallant in the PEI Western Capital. Mike Kelly, a star with the North River North Stars would get his foot in the door in coaching. Al MacAdam also went behind the bench at the University level, then in the AHL and NHL. Cameron guided the Caps to the Centennial final in the spring of 1989. The tournament was played at Cahill Stadium in Summerside. The Thunder Bay Flyers prevailed in the championship game, 4-1 over the Capitals.
Off the ice two Islanders were in distinguished company. John “Jake” Milford, born in Charlottetown in 1914 and played junior hockey with the Winnipeg Columbus Club. Milford was offered tryouts with the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers but turned down those offers to play in England prior to World War II, starting in 1936. He served fourteen years in the New York Rangers system. Milford also was the first player to be traded for two sets of goalies pads when Eddie Shore decided to deal from Springfield to Buffalo in the AHL. He became general manager of the Los Angeles Kings and served from 1973 to 1977 before joining the Vancouver Canucks in a similar capacity. He was GM of the Canucks until his passing after a battle with pancreatic cancer on Christmas Eve in 1984. Milford built a team that made it to the Stanley Cup finals in 1982. He was voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Manitoba Hockey Hall Fame and the PEI Sports Hall of Fame following his death.
The 1980’s also saw Clair Sudsbury, who served as President of the PEI Amateur Hockey Association from 1976 to 1981, jumping to the national scene as Chair of Finance of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association and then as Vice-Chair in 1985. The Summerside native was known for his leadership, strong judgement and dedication to hockey at the administrative level as well as on the ice. Sudsbury was also named to the PEI Sports Hall of Fame.
The 80’s would mark the final decade of hockey played at the Charlottetown Forum. An era of new rink construction would begin in the province over the next twenty years starting with the new Civic Centre in Charlottetown which began to be built in 1988. New arenas would spring up across the Island after that in places like Summerside, Charlottetown, Montague, O’Leary, Tignish, Crapaud and Borden-Carleton.
Organized hockey would also celebrate 100 years on the Island at the end of the decade. The 1980’s may have been the best ten years in the province’s history of the game as far as success was concerned. More good things would follow as the 1990's unfolded.