Hardy Cup Islanders
Senior hockey on Prince Edward Island was rejuvenated in the early 1980’s as businessmen Mike MacKinnon and Glen Patterson put together a strong line-up of players from the junior and university ranks and even some former pros to win the Hardy Cup, Canada’s Intermediate “A” hockey championship, not once but twice in the spring of 1981 and again in 1984.
The Hardy Cup playoff years would precede an Allan Cup national senior hockey championship in 1991. Several of the early 80’s Islanders would be part of the Allan Cup team.
1980-81 - First Cup
The Charlottetown Islanders most important acquisition in their Hardy Cup run was signing goalie Yves Belanger who had played parts of five NHL seasons with St. Louis, Atlanta and Boston 1970’s. Belanger, a former Shebrooke Castor major junior, had his best season in 1975-76 playing in 31 games and compiling an 11-17-1 record and 3.85 goals against average with the Blues. Belanger joined the Islanders as a free agent in December, 1980. The Baie-Comeau, Quebec native had not tended the nets since March in the previous spring but when asked by Islanders coach Angus Carroll if he was ready and how much practice time he might need, Belanger replied “the warm-up should be okay.” Belanger went out and won his first game.
There would be many more wins over the next five months for the Islanders, who finished with a 20-5 record in the New Brunswick Senior Hockey League. The Islanders defeated the Campbellton Tigers in the league final and had to wait three weeks to resume play as the march for the Col. Hard Cup began. First up was the Fredericton Red Wings, coached by former NHL star and Fredericton native Danny Grant (Montreal, Detroit, Minnesota). The Islanders made it a four game series by running over the Red Wings, 8-2 in the opener and led by Kevin Murphy with a hat-trick. Fredericton won the second contest, 7-4. The Islanders put it away after that with 9-7 and 10-1 triumphs.
The Fredericton series over, Charlottetown next had to take on the Timmins North Stars from northern Ontario. The series was scheduled to begin on Good Friday in April, however Charlottetown City Councillor Peter Kays lobbied to have the series start the following day and not on the Holy Day. The day’s delay didn’t hurt as the Islanders won handily, 8-4 at the Forum. The Islanders completely dominated Timmins in the second game, 10-4 the next night. Charlottetown clinched the series with a three game sweep, 5-2 over the North Stars with Ron Carragher scoring twice and adding an assist. Charlottetown was presented with the Col. J. Bourque trophy as Eastern Canadian champions.
The team was banged up entering the national final which would be played in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Defensemen Peter Williams (knee) and George Brown (hip) were not available due to injury. Forward Rory Beck had school commitments and Bobby MacGuigan was coaching the Sherwood-Parkdale Metros in the Maritime junior playoffs.
The Islanders with a depleted line-up made it to Winnipeg to begin the national Hardy Cup finals facing the Winnipeg North End Flyers. Winnipeg won the West by beating Bonneyville, Alberta but the Flyers were cashed strapped with only 600 fans attending the games at the small Keewatin Arena. The club’s owner and general manager took out a second mortgage on their houses to raise the $20,000 required to host the finals by the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. That money would pay for the Islanders flight, accommodation and meals. Winnipeg’s line-up had former NHL player Lanny Bolonchuk (Vancouver and Washington). Charlottetown added university players Mike Ready(a.k.a. Tony as in Tony the Tiger), Brian Ostroski, Gary Trainor and Gerry McCarron and junior star Mike Kennedy, Forbie’s kid who played in the Quebec Major Junior League.
The games were broadcast back to Charlottetown by play-by-play man Cy Yard on CHTN radio. Bill McGuire covered the series for The Guardian newspaper.
Charlottetown won the curtain riser on the series, 8-5 as Ron Carragher had a big personal night with six points (a goal and five assists). Don MacKay and Wayne Squarebriggs both scored twice each. Belanger made 49 saves. The Isles were down 5-3 at one point but came back for the opening game win.
Game 2 almost didn’t happen. There were disputes over the hotel where the Islanders were staying plus player cards, tickets and even the uniforms the Islanders were wearing. A compromise was made and the Islanders went out and won again, 5-4. Rory Beck, back from school work, scored the winner with eight minutes left. Two Islanders had to leave the game with injury. Ostroski picked up a hip injury and Squarebriggs suffered an eye injury after being gouged by a Winnipeg player.
The series was over in another Charlottetown sweep with the Islanders winning Game 3. Carragher, the opening game star, scored twice to put away the hosts. The Flyers led 1-0 before Carragher tied it up in the first period. Jamie Kennedy set up Bob MaGuigan, who arrived after his coaching duties, to make it 2-1. Kennedy scored himself in the second stanza and Carragher made it 4-1 and Ready made it 5-2 by the end of the second. The North End Flyers were not finished and Romeo Profeta and Bolonchuk cut the margin to 5-4 before Ready iced it with an empty net goal at 19.36. Islanders Captain Wilf MacDonald hoisted the Hardy Cup and PEI’s first ever national championship was realized.
It was a costly win. MacGuigan took a hard hit into the boards after his goal in the first period. He was taken to hospital. Mike Kennedy took a hard shot off his ankle.
Belanger made 43 saves in the clincher. Ready was named the series MVP. “We played our hearts out,” said Ready, who shared the most valuable player award with his team-mates. Flyers coach Ray Boyko said his team’s loss was due to the outstanding Islanders goaltending. “Belanger was the difference. He made saves where other goalies we played didn’t.”
The Islanders convinced the CAHA to let them take the Hardy Cup home to celebrate with Island fans but it required the team putting up a bond.
On Tuesday, April 28, 1981 the new national champs arrived at the Charlottetown Airport by Premier Angus MacLean along with a huge crowd of fans. Charlottetown Fire Trucks rushed the players to the downtown as fans lined the streets and waved and cheered in the welcome home parade. A victory party was held for the new champs at the Royal Canadian Legion on Pownal Street. A team party followed at the Spa in the Charlottetown Mall. 91 years after the first organized hockey game was played on the Island, the whole province celebrated its first national title.
1984 - Second Cup
Three years after winning the Hardy Cup, the Charlottetown Islanders were re-formed into a team that was put together in the winter. This would be a different attempt at going after the national championship as the Islanders did not play in a league. Retired NHL standout Errol Thompson and Jamie Kennedy were named the coaches. Captain Wilf MacDonald was back along with veterans Paul Gormley, Kevin Murphy, Mike Devine and others.
“Eat Your Words”
The ’84 Islanders were voted out of the New Brunswick Senior League two seasons previous. There’s would not be an easy ride toward a second national Intermediate “A” title, not with just two exhibition games under their belt. The task seemed to be a mighty one indeed, especially with their first round opponent the Riverview Trappers, who were unbeaten at home as they won the New Brunswick senior title and had only a few losses all season. That prompted CFCY sports reporter John Moore, a former Mount Allison Mountie university player and coach, to predict boldly that the Islanders would not win the series, not against a powerhouse like Riverview. He also stated he would literally eat his words if the Islanders won that series and went on further in the playoffs. Islanders GM Mike MacKinnon made the prediction of failure a rallying point for the team and said Moore would be held to this promise. The players all agreed. To be fair to the reporter he was right in making the prediction. The Islanders might have a good line-up on paper but hadn’t played at a high level all season.
Riverview protested the series right from the start saying the Islanders had no right to play since they were not in a league. The CAHA had a different opinion and stated independent teams like Charlottetown could compete. The Islanders were hoping to have goalie Yves Belanger back but he was moving from Montreal to Toronto and was not available. The Islanders would rely on Wayne Bernard (a boxer and the best fighting goalie in hockey in the Maritimes) and Kirk Firlotte who signed after playing in the nets with the St. Thomas Tommies of the AUAA. Newcomers Dunstan Carroll, Danny Revell, Shane Turner, Trevor Crawford (father of Corey Crawford of the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks) and David Ellis joined the ’84 Islanders for the playoff march. The Islanders shocked the Trappers in the Moncton Coliseum wining the opening games 4-3 and 4-3 in the best of five series. Riverview used a five goal third period to rout the Isles, 8-1 in the third game but Charlottetown ended the series with a 6-4 victory in the fourth contest. The Trappers filed another protest saying the Islanders had too many imported players. It was thrown out. The only two imports were Firlotte and Belanger on the roster. Back in those days it seems there were two games that were played – on the ice and in the board room.
Another familiar independent team arrived in Charlottetown for the next round. The Timmins North Stars, coached by former pro Bep Guidolin (Boston, Detroit and Chicago in the 1940’s and 50’s) arrived at the Forum. The Islanders beat the North Stars in the 1981 playoffs but had lost to them, 3-1 in the 1983 playoff run in Charlottetown. This time the Islanders were back in the win column taking the first game 4-3, losing 5-1 but securing the short series with 4-1 and 5-2 victories.
The Islanders had a chance to win the series on home ice with the Moose Jaw Generals arriving from Saskatchewan. No Island team had ever won a national title at home. History was about to be made at the Forum which would host its first and only Canadian championship.
The series didn’t start out on the right foot for the Islanders. The Generals, coached by Jim Hryciuk, won the series opener, 5-4. A pre-game brawl prior to Game 2 resulted in five players from each side being ejected for fight and given game misconducts. Referee Allie Affleck was in the Forum press box and took down numbers to see who would face ejection. The Islanders won the game, 7-3. Firlotte was unstoppable in Game 3 making 39 saves for a 3-0 victory. The Islanders took the next game, 6-1 and Firlotte got his second shutout as the Isles won the final game, 6-0 in Game 5. Over 2,600 fans turned out to watch history in the making and cheered and yelled and waved banners supporting the local heroes. The old Forum was vibrating as the Hardy Cup was hoisted and skated around the ice. Firlotte was named the series Most Valuable Player. Peter Williams led the attack with 12 points. For players like Williams and Bobby MacGuigan it was great to win at home. They had toiled with Junior Islanders in then 1970 and 1971 national playoff run. Another happy guy was Goops Wooldridge, future Hockey PEI President and a long time trainer. He was there in the ’70 and ’71 when the junior team carried PEI’s hopes in the nationals.
The Islanders returned to the Hardy Cup finals in 1985 this time in Moose Jaw facing the Generals who won the series four straight. The scores were 5-3, 7-1, 4-2 and 11-0 in the final game.
Sadly, four members of the Islanders were not on hand when the Islanders of ’81 and ’84 entered the PEI Sports Hall of Fame. Defenseman George Brown passed away in 1984 after a battle with leukemia. Coach Angie Carroll, General Manager Mike MacKinnon and winger Rory Beck all passed away before the Islanders were inducted inducted in September, 2013.
And that promise and prediction made in the late winter by radio sports reporter John Moore? John kept his word by combining his prediction typed out on yellow newsprint used for broadcasts with corn flakes in milk for breakfast in front of the Islanders brass. Debt paid. Championship won. Moore went on to a fine career broadcasting Halilfax Mooseheads major junior games. His prediction actually worked in the Islanders favour. It fired them up and banded the players together with a common cause.
1984 Islanders Line-up
1984 Hardy Cup Champion Islanders
1981 Hardy Cup Champion Islanders
Front row: Bob MacGuigan, Wilf MacDonald, Laurie Downe, Gerard Smith, Yves Belanger, Mike Brown, Jamie Kennedy, Roy Wilson (trainer)
Middle row: Angie Carroll (coach), Shane Carr, Peter Williams, Mike Ready, Paul Gormley, Garry Trainor, Rory Beck, Wayne Squarebriggs, Mike Devine, Mike MacKinnon (general manager)
Back row:Gerry MacCarron, Kevin Devine, MIke Kennedy, Ken Campbell,Ron Carragher, Brian Ostroski, Don MacKay