THE ALLAN CUP
ARMOUR FENCE ISLANDERS- 1990-91
1991 turned out to be a big year on Prince Edward Island with the Canada Games held in February and just weeks later the UPEI Panthers won the AUAA hockey title and advanced to the Nationals. That spring the Armour Fence Islanders also began a trail that ended with the Island’s first major Canadian hockey title.
The Islanders began the season with training camp in the fall of 1990 under rookie Head Coach Paul Saulnier. His assistant was former pro Kevin Smith. Another former professional, Peter Williams was in his second year as General Manager, assisted by Mike James, who been GM with Sherwood-Parkdale in the Island Jr. Hockey League.
The Islanders had a strong front office led by team President Bruce Wheeler and his wife Nalda Wheeler, who was secretary and fundraiser. Wilf MacDonald, who also played on the team, was Vice-President. Jim McTague served as treasurer and directors included Donnie Murnaghan, Glen Patterson and Barry Reilly. The senior team had a dedicated major sponsor in Earl Redmond, who was at nearly every game.
The management team assembled a strong unit that included many veteran players from past seasons and a number of rookies like goalie Monte Emery, and forwards Derek Roberts, Kevin Harvey and Marc Gallant. There were hopes of big things as training camp began.
The team was star studded. Souris native Craig Jenkins who played major junior with Montreal and Drummondville (11 goals and 29 points in just 33 games in 1983-84) returned back to the Island after two seasons with the Saint John Vitos. The centre was 26 as the season began. Jenkins had played a few games in Europe with Stuttgart, Germany in 1988-89 and had a two game stint with the Halifax Citadels in the AHL the same season. Jenkins would score 14 goals and pick up 38 points for the Islanders in 30 regular season games in the New Brunswick Senior League.
Another centre, Shane MacEachern, came home from playing in England, had played in 11 games for the Islanders in 1989-90 picking up 7 goals and 19 points. MacEachern played with eight games with the Islanders in 1990-91 after spending the fall with the UPEI soccer Panthers. He was very productive scoring 8 goals and added 7 assists. MacEachern was not eligible to join the UPEI Panthers until January having played professional hockey. The speedy forward proved to be a plus dispite a limited role with the Islanders. MacEachern played in one game in NHL with the St. Louis Blues in 1987-88. His best season in organized hockey was in 1986-87 with the Hull Olympiques in 1986-87 where he had 44 goals, 58 assists and 102 points as one of the top scorers in the QMJHL.
Dave Cameron, who only two years previous had guided the Summerside Western Capitals to the Centennial Cup final, joined the Islanders from Fredericton and was impressive with 24 goals, 22 assists and 46 points in 30 games. The former NHL player added experience and leadership to the team. He led the 1990-91 Islanders in scoring.
Team Captain Ron Carragher, a member of the Hardy Cup national champion Islanders in 1981 and 1984 provided 12 goals and 16 points coming off the 1989-90 season where he had 11 goals and 28 points in only 21 games.
Former UPEI star Darwin McCutcheon, coming off a knee injury the previous season, was healthy again. He was potent on defense with 5 goals and 22 assists and 109 minutes in penalties. The 6-5, 218 pound Ontario native also had five years in the pro ranks in the AHL and IHL after a fine junior career with the Toronto Marlies, Kitchener Rangers and Windsor Spitfires before joining UPEI. McCutcheon played his only NHL game with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1981-82.
Rob Moffat was another key on defense. He had 5 goals and 12 points in 23 games.
Derek Roberts, coming off a 34 goal campaign with the Charlottetown Abbies in junior, was the Islanders top rookie scorer with 10 goals, 22 assists and 32 points.
Another important addition was UPEI forward John Nelson, who contributed 9 goals and 9 assists in 14 games plus an historic goal in the final game of the season.
Tough guys Bob Doiron and Bob MacDonald led the team with 202 and 113 minutes in penalties respectively.
Wayne Bernard was the Islanders top goalie. He had a 10-3 record with a 3.76 goals against average. Dave Matte and Monte Emery combined for a 6-10 record as the back-ups. Bernard also had 44 minutes in penalties. The goaltender (and amateur boxer) will go down as one of the best fighters in Island hockey, all-time.
Some more pieces of the puzzle were added as the season progressed. Gordie Whitlock took over as coach in November and Gerry Fleming, another former UPEI Panther would play an important role in the Isles playoff run.
In many ways the 1990-91 Armour Fence Islanders were the perfect storm. A culmination of former Atlantic junior, university and senior hockey champs plus some former pros and top amateurs from the past twenty years. This would prove to be PEI’s greatest team ever to play on the ice.
The Championship Season
The 1990 portion began with the Islanders reeling off five straight wins including four victories at home. Three of those wins over Campbellton and one each against Saint John and Miramichi. Charlottetown would not lose until Remembrance Day, November 11th in Miriamichi. After that the Islanders continued to win at home but had some difficulty on the road. The Campbellton Tigers folded in January, so the New Brunswick Senior League was down to three teams, the Islanders, Vitos and Packers. Charlottetown ended the season on a high note with two wins but found itself down 2-0 in the league’s round robin playoffs before mounting a comeback. The Islanders won the last three games in the round robin and advanced to the league finals versus the Saint John Vitos.
Islanders Captain Ron Carragher later reflected on the near loss in the round robin. “We could easily have been out of it (the playoffs) but our team showed resilience and determination and did not let it happen,” said Carragher. “Just to think our Allan Cup playoff hopes could have been snuffed out like that…. but we came back.”
The Islanders faced another uphill battle with a new twist. Their home ice at the new Charlottetown Civic Centre was not available with the Canada Winter Games underway. The Isles were forced to move to Cahill Stadium in Summerside for the finals. After playing 30 games in the regular season it would take another take near 30 more games to reach the pinnacle and win the Allan Cup.
The series with the Vitos went the distance. Saint John took a 3-2 lead in the best of seven but the Islanders won back home, 7-4 to force a deciding game. The Isles won that contest, two nights later in Saint John, 3-1. It was also the turning point in the playoffs for Charlottetown. The Islanders were New Brunswick Senior champs.
The Atlantic finals came next with the Islanders hooking up with the Dartmouth Arrows and again a 3-2 deficit in the set. But they also won the last two games, 4-2 sparked by Gerry Fleming and 4-1 at home to clinch the series and add Atlantic champs to their growing list of accomplishments on the ice. Ron Carragher with three goals in the last game that the series.
The Isles made some major additions prior to the playoffs. When Campbellton folded goalie Dave Matte joined them. Gerry Fleming joined the Islanders after Christmas but suffered a broken leg on his return. Shane MacEachern joined UPEI and was an important key to their AUAA championship run. Two other players, Bob MacDonald and Pat Noiseaux left the team.
The Atlantic champs next faced the Laval Lunasso from Quebec in the Eastern Canadian finals with the Islanders winning in five games. Laval had eight players from the Montreal Chomedy that won the Allan Cup in 1990 in their line-up. The Isles won 6-3 but lost the second contest, 3-2 in double overtime. 4-2, 4-3 (2 OT) and 6-4 victories followed. Kevin Harvey scored the winner in the second overtime in game four. This playoff series win vaulted the Islanders in to the Allan Cup finals. Captain Ron Carragher accepted the J.P. Bolton Memorial Trophy as Eastern Canadian champs but he and his team-mates knew the journey was not complete yet.
Some History to Deal With
The Armour Fence Islanders would be matched against the Thunder Bay Twins, who were five time Allan Cup senior Canadian champions. In 1975 the Twins defeated the Barrie Flyers 4-2 in their first Allan Cup win. They followed that with victories in 1984 over the Cambridge Hornets, then in 1985 facing the Corner Brook Royals, in 1988 versus the Charlottetown Islanders and in 1989 as they downed the St. Boniface Mohawks, 2-0.
The Islanders were swept by the Twins losing 7-4, 10-2, 9-3 and 7-1 in the Allan Cup finals. Rick Adduono, who had a cup of coffee with the Boston Bruins and Atlanta Flames in the NHL, was a standout for the Twins. He was a team-mate of Island raised star Rick Vaive with the Birmingham Bulls in the WHA in 1978-79. Thunder Bay was 28-6-2 in the regular season
The Islanders came into the 1991 final as the hometown favourites but perhaps underdogs considering the team they would be facing. The underdog status did not deter the Island team. Not after enduring through a lot of struggles during the regular season and playoffs and having the kind of experience and sheer grit that made this team special.
No one was prepared for the kind of series the Islanders would play in the Allan Cup finals. Nine players including Dave Cameron had played on the Islanders that was swept by Thunder Bay, three springs earlier.
Cameron set the stage for the Islanders biggest series of the season by scoring twice and setting up another in a 5-3 victory in the opener on Saturday, April 27. Charlottetown won the Game 2 on Sunday, April 28, 5-2 with John Nelson scoring twice. Game 3 was on Monday, April 29 and the Islanders won again, 5-4, taking a 3-0 lead in the finals.
Tuesday, April 30 and the new Charlottetown Civic Centre was packed with 3, 164 fans on hand who came out to see if the Islanders could sweep and take their first major Canadian hockey title.
Craig Jenkins put the Islanders on the board scoring a power play goal 6.56 into the first period. He was set up by Cameron and Nelson. The Twins took the lead on the goals by Terry Menard and Rod Brescia before the period was over. The Islanders then broke out in the second with three unanswered goals. Defenseman Rob Moffat tied the game on a hard shot from the edge of the face-off circle to beat Twins goalie Marty Abrams at 1.21. Craig Jenkins took a two-on-one pass from Fleming at 16.45 to put the Isles up, 3-2. Fleming then tipped in his own rebound at 18.36 to make it 4-2.
In period three, the Twins rallied and tied the score. Randy Cameron beat Islanders goalie Dave Matte at 4.26. Greg Hankkio forced overtime putting the puck past Matte in a goal mouth scramble at 18.59.
Overtime produced a new hockey hero on PEI. John Nelson, a 5-11 190 lb. right wing, was Toronto Marlie grad who his best year in the OHL in 1988-89 where he scored 39 goals and added 60 assists for 99 points in 66 games plus 156 minutes in penalties. His last year in major junior was in 1989-90 which was split between the Hamilton Dukes and Kingston Frontenacs. He joined the Islanders for 1990-91 and then spent three years at UPEI. His best season with the Panthers was in 1994-95 where he produced 18 goals, 38 assists for 56 points in 26 games. Nelly would play three games in the AHL with the St. John’s Maple Leafs and also played in the minor pros with Port Huron, Saginaw, and Winston-Salem. Nelson was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres going 203rd overall in the 10th round of the 1989 NHL entry draft.
Nelson was an enthusiastic, glass half full type of guy, who brought a lot of energy to the dressing room. That energy paid off in overtime in what would be the last game of ’91 Allan Cup final.
The drama of OT would end quickly as defenseman Mike Devine picked up a loose puck off the stick of the Twins Scott Masters and fed it to Ron Carragher who passed it to Nelson.
Nelson had a clear cut breakaway as he split the defense after picking up Carragher’s pass from the left wing and snapped his shot between Abram’s pads at last second. The time on the clock was 57 seconds. The series was over and the party began on the ice as the Islanders celebrated their first Canadian senior hockey title for PEI.
Nelson described the clincher this way, “I cut in on the D and he kind of gave up on me and I walked in, the puck was rolling and I just shot it at the net and hoped for the best and I guess the best happened,” he added. “I just prayed it would go in and it did. I guess sometimes that is what hockey is all about, luck.”
The crowd over 3,000 went crazy as Harry MacConnell, director of senior hockey for the CAHA and David Archer, the PEIHA senior director presented the Allan Cup and the CAHA Senior AAA hockey championship banner to Islanders captain Ron Carragher. The players then took turns skating around with the Allan Cup for the fans to see. Many of them had been on hand at the old Forum only seven years previous as the Islanders won the Hardy Cup.
Dave Cameron received a watch as the series MVP.
The dressing room scene was one of joy, happiness and pride as the celebration began.
Nelson dedicated his winning goal to the memory of his mother who passed away a year earlier. “This is for you Mom,” said the overtime hero as he choked back a tear.
It was also a moment for all Island hockey fans.
The national title was the first for many of the Islanders players and staff and the first for head coach Gordie Whitlock, who still considers it his best moment in the game.
A civic reception was held for the Allan Cup champion Islanders a few days later on the steps of Confederation Centre of the Arts with hundreds of fans on hand on Grafton Street to greet the players and coaches. Charlottetown Mayor, Jack “Spy” Ready, a former Islander himself in the Big 4 days in the early 50’s, congratulated the team. A gala dinner for the Islanders was also put on at the CP Prince Edward Hotel with the mayor acting as host.
The Islanders returned to the Allan Cup in 1991-92 in Saint John, New Brunswick but did not repeat in what was now a tournament-style format. The Isles lost 5-4 to the Warroad Lakers but dropped the Stoney Plain Eagles, 5-1 before losing 5-3 to the hometown Vitos. Stoney Plain skated past the defending champion Islanders, 5-1 in the semi-final before bowing 6-2 to Saint John in the final.
In January, 1992, the Islanders hosted a fund raising dinner starring TV hockey great Don Cherry at the Prince Edward Hotel. 1,000 fans turned out to see Grapes who had been persuaded by Islanders executive member Nalda Wheeler to come to PEI to speak and help in the cause. She met Cherry at his restaurant in Moncton and wouldn’t take no for answer. Much the same spirit the Islanders as a team showed during the 1990-91 campaign.
The Armour Fence Islanders were voted into the PEI Sports Hall of Fame on October 2, 2015 at the induction dinner at Red Shores race track in Charlottetown. Carragher and Wheeler accepted the honour while most of the players, coaches and staff looked on. It was a night to celebrate, again.
Nalda Wheeler passed away in the spring of 2016. Her husband Bruce died a few years earlier. Both played a vital role in keeping senior hockey alive on the Island which led to the Allan Cup championship for the Islanders in 1991.
Don Clow (15) hugs Darwin McCutcheon after Islanders won the Eastern Canadian championship, 6-2 over Laval at the Civic Centre on April 17, 1991
Craig Jenkins scored twice in the Allan Cup clincher
Captain Ron Carragher accepts the Allan Cup from CAHA senior director Harry MacConnell as PEIHA senior director David Archer looks on
Islanders Captain Ron Carragher who is the only Island player to play in national finals in Junior "A", intermediate, university & senior hockey
On October 2, 2015 the Armour Fence Co. Islanders were inducted in to the PEI Sports Hall of Fame. Ron Carragher joins other 2015 inductees Lisa Devine (racquetball) and John Wilbert (Judo) at the induction dinner.
The Thunder Bay Twins came in as five time national champions in the 1991 Allan Cup finals
Allan Cup MVP Dave Cameron with son Connor after the final game
Captain Ron Carragher, executive member Nalda Wheeler & PEI Sports Hall of Fame Chair Mike Hennessey at the Islanders induction ceremony in October, 2015. Sadly Nalda passed away just seven months later in May, 2016 and 25 years after the Islanders won the Allan Cup
Wilf MacDonald (18) & Ron Carragher accept the J.P. Bolton Memorial Cup from Harry MacConnell (far right & Dave Archer as Eastern Canadian champs
Overtime hero John Nelson
Craig Jenkins shot this one high of Thunder Bay goalie Marty Abrams. The first of two for Jenkins in the final
Charlottetown Mayor Jack "Spy" Ready welcomes the new national senior champs at a civic reception in Charlottetown in May, 1991
The stick Craig Jenkins scored two goals with in the final game of the 1991 Allan Cup finals
No one messed with Isles goalie who was known for his fighting and goaltending skills