The 1981 Lewis Cup Finals featured a rather unexpected matchup between the Washington Generals and the Cinderella Calgary Wranglers. Washington was seeking its first title since 1955, when the team still played in Hamilton, while Calgary was hoping to win their first Lewis Cup in franchise history and become the first Canadian team to win the championship since the Montreal Royale did it in 1968.
Game one took place in Washington on May 13, 1981. Immediately, Calgary took the lead thanks to a goal from Bruce Ricketts. Washington responded with a goal from Gilbert Boudreau before the Wranglers jumped ahead 3-1. The Generals brought the game within a goal at the start of the third period but Calgary goaltender Dick Lentz stood on his head to preserve the win. After losing home ice advantage in game one, Washington came out with a sense of urgency in game two. Joe Tyler scored first before Archie Stone made it 2-0. It appeared the Generals were in control. Then, with just three minutes left in the second period, Calgary’s Pete Powell and Don Taylor each scored to tie the game. Washington would respond early in the third with a goal from Gerry Stokes to make it 3-2 Washington. The final minutes were intense as Don Lapin made save after save to maintain Washington’s lead. Finally, when Calgary pulled Lentz for the extra attacker, Jeff Leroy slid the puck into the empty net to seal the game for the Generals.
With the series tied 1-1 heading home, the Wranglers were a confident team. Meanwhile Washington was beginning to feel the pressure, knowing they now had to win at least a game in Calgary. Game three was another close one, another 2-2 tie until the third period when Warren Jensen scored two goals within a couple of seconds. That was all it took as Calgary skated to a 4-2 victory. After losing game four in overtime, Washington was in trouble. Game five was back in Washington and the Lewis Cup was in the building. The Generals dominated the play early on. Jeff Leroy opened the scoring for Washington and the Generals held on to the 1-0 lead for the remainder of the first period thanks in part to some big saves from Don Lapin. Just seconds into the second period, Johnny Bedford drilled it past Lapin to tie the game. Just one minute later, Warren Jensen gave Calgary the lead with a beautiful run up the ice where he deked every Washington player on the ice to put the puck top shelf. Calgary tried to hold the lead but gave up a goal to Washington’s Gerry Stokes. Entering the third period, the game was tied 2-2. Both teams played a tight game the first several minutes into the third before the Wranglers began to attack. Don Lapin turned away shot after shot before Don Taylor finally found the back of the net. Calgary now led the game 3-2 and was just four minutes away from winning it all. Now it was Washington’s turn to turn on the pressure. Dick Lentz came up huge in the final minutes, stopping 13 quality shots in the last two minutes. With just 11 seconds left, Stokes had a wide open net but rung it off the post. As time wound down the Calgary players piled off the bench and mobbed Dick Lentz. Warren Jensen, the playoff MVP, accepted the Lewis Cup from Alan Garcia. For the first time in franchise history, the Calgary Wranglers were Lewis Cup Champions.