Thursday, February 9, 2017

1987 Lewis Cup Finals

The 1987 Lewis Cup Finals would pit the St. Louis Spirits, a team looking for their fourth title in six seasons, against the Nova Scotia Claymores, a team looking for their first title in twenty years. The Claymores run to the finals further established their cult-like following across Canada’s east coast as devout fans from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia to St. John’s, Newfoundland and everywhere in between made the journey to Halifax throughout the playoffs to watch “Atlantic Canada’s Team”.

Nova Scotia even had fans across the continent as the finals began, as fans became tired of St. Louis’ domination. This did not bother the Spirits, however, who willingly embraced the “villain” role. “We really couldn’t care less what other fans are saying.” Said Grant Millen the morning of Game one. “The way I see it, if fans outside our city hate us, we’re doing something right. It’s going to be quite a series.”

 The Spirits set the tone for the series early on, winning games one and two at home with David Appleby and Grant Millen continuing to carry the team. Back in Halifax for game three, the teams were welcomed by an enormous “Let’s Go Claymores!” banner hanging from the McDonald Bridge. The Barrington Arena nearly shook itself to pieces with the deafening crowd noise throughout the game as Harry Hayes scored twice, while Dave Mack, Jim McCarthy, and Doug Lyons each scored as well in a 5-3 Nova Scotia win. Game two would go into overtime as Brent MacDonald and Jaroslav Danek both stood on their heads in the nets, keeping their teams alive. Halfway through overtime number two, The Halifax crowd reached a whole new level of loud when longtime captain and fan-favorite Russell Buchanan ended the game with a breakaway goal. The series was now a best-of-three.

Heading back home for game five, St. Louis knew they needed a big performance from their dynamic duo to regain control of the series. David Appleby was held to just one goal in Halifax as the Claymores checkers did a brilliant job shutting him down while Grant Millen was held to just one assist. It was Millen who stepped up for the Spirits in game five, scoring twice and adding an assist on a Niklas Ekberg goal as St. Louis regained the series lead with a 4-2 victory. The St. Louis crowd game their team a standing ovation in the hopes that the Spirits would return from Nova Scotia with their fourth Lewis Cup.

Game six was another tight one, with St. Louis opening the scoring on a goal from Ekberg before Mack tied it up for the Claymores. Toward the end of the second period, Owen Kennedy gave Nova Scotia the lead on a tipped point shot. The Crowd was deafening throughout the third period as the Claymores nursed their fragile 2-1 lead. With under seven minutes to go, Millen suddenly tied the game with a goal from an impossible angle on the goal line. Seconds later, Appleby was sprung on a breakaway. The crowd held its breath as MacDonald made a spectacular save to keep Nova Scotia alive. With 2:20 to go in regulation, it looked the game was headed to overtime once again, until former Washington General James Russell knocked in a bouncing puck to give the Claymores the lead. St. Louis pressed for the tying goal but simply could not solve MacDonald nor overcome the emotion in the once again shaking arena. Dave Mack slid the puck into the empty net to seal the 4-2 victory and send the series to game seven in St. Louis.

Game seven started out as the epic showdown it was supposed to be, with the teams skating to an intense scoreless tie through the first half of the game. Halfway through the second period, Grant Millen came up big once again, giving St. Louis the lead before Appleby made it 2-0 three minutes later. By the third period, Nova Scotia had run out of gas. Adam Lawless and Doug Pittman each scored for the Spirits in a convincing 4-0 win. The Spirits were Lewis Cup Champions for the fourth time in franchise history. Grant Millen was named playoff MVP, marking the first Spirits victory where someone besides Appleby claimed the honour. For Nova Scotia, it was a disappointing end to a fantastic run. One week after the loss, the city of Halifax held a parade for the Claymores to celebrate their successful season where Russell Buchanan promised the crowd another parade in the future, this time with the Lewis Cup.

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