The 1986 Lewis Cup Finals would pit arguably the two top teams of the 1980s against one another for the second time in the decade. The teams had met in the finals in 1982 as well with David Appleby’s Spirits winning the series in six games to claim their first Lewis Cup. Four years later and Appleby and Danny Stevenson had established themselves as the top players of the 1980s. The St. Louis Spirits entered the series clearly as the team of the decade to that point, while the Pittsburgh Stingers were the team trying to prove themselves as equals.
Game one was all St. Louis as Appleby, Millen, and Niklas Ekberg all scored in a 6-4 victory. Game two went into overtime after a very tight contest with Ekberg netting the winner for the Spirits. St. Louis took a commanding 3-0 series lead in game three with another 4-3 overtime win this time with Grant Millen scoring the winner. The Spirits stood just one win away from their third Lewis Cup. The overtime epics continued in game four as the Stingers tried desperately to extend the series. Jakob Martensson’s play through two extra periods was nothing short of heroic as the Spirits pushed hard for the winning goal. Finally, Dave Breedon ended the marathon with just 1:31 left in the second overtime to extend the series to a game five in St. Louis. Just prior to game five, Pittsburgh head coach Bob King made an emotional pre-game speech challenging the team to play like the team they knew they could be. Rumours had been circulating all year that the 70-year-old King would retire at season’s end.
Game five went back and forth with St. Louis giving up the lead three times. Pittsburgh finally pulled ahead on a goal from Stevenson late in the third. The Spirits pushed for the tying goal but could not beat Martensson as the series stretched to a sixth game in Pittsburgh. Frustration boiled over toward the end of the game as both teams began pushing and shoving by the benches and a few fights broke out with Nate Carroll and Roy Jones engaging in the main event at center ice. Pittsburgh was now only two wins away from the biggest comeback of all time while the Spirits suddenly found themselves unable to close out games.
St. Louis barely got into game six. Dave Farris opened the scoring and Pittsburgh went on to hold the lead the entire game until the final minutes when the Spirits found themselves on the powerplay when Brad Bush was called for high-sticking. The Spirits pulled Ricky Spooner and tried desperately to tie the game until Breedon slid the puck into the empty net to seal the win and force a miraculous game seven in St. Louis.
The Stingers had managed the impossible, rallying from a 3-0 deficit to force a game seven. Meanwhile, the stunned Spirits struggled to find answers. Martensson had played unbelievably for the Stingers, holding Appleby and Millen to only four points through three games. Game seven would be the first PHL game ever played in the month of June, and the Spirits came out flying in the first period. David Appleby scored just three minutes in before Niklas Ekberg followed with two goals of his own. St. Louis finally had control again for the first time since game three. Dave Farris scored for Pittsburgh to bring the game within two but that was as close as the Stingers would get. Grant Millen and Adam Lawless each scored before Appleby scored his second of the game to secure a 6-2 win and the third Lewis Cup in six years for the Spirits. An emotional Bob King had nothing but praise for his team. “I’ve never seen 20 men play like my guys did this week.” Said King, who refused to confirm his retirement.
With the victory, the Stingers clearly established themselves as the PHL’s latest dynasty. Appleby once again confirmed with his performance in game seven that he was among the best clutch performers in history.