Monday, February 27, 2017

1988 Lewis Cup Finals

For the first time since 1982, the Lewis Cup Finals would feature two teams who had never won the championship before. The Long Island Concordes were making their second appearance in the finals after losing their first one to the St. Louis Spirits in 1984. The Milwaukee Choppers were making their first appearance in the finals after entering the league as the Dallas Metros in 1974 and relocating to Milwaukee eleven years later.

There was a fair amount of hype surrounding the series just prior to game one in Milwaukee. Some fans were even making bets about the series. When game one finally got underway it was the Choppers who managed to draw first blood. Travis Curry’s goal late in the second period proved to be the winner in an eventual 5-2 Choppers win. Long Island stepped up big in game two as the game went into overtime. Stuart Burns scored the winner for the Concordes to steal home ice advantage and tie the series. In game three the lead went back-and-forth until Bruce Gratton banged in a rebound to give Milwaukee a 4-3 lead. Scott Daffney made several big saves late in the third to preserve the lead as the Chops re-took the series lead 2-1. Long Island responded two nights later with a big game from Doug Macintyre, who scored two goals as the Concordes tied the series yet again with a 6-4 victory.

Game five would be critical as neither team wanted to climb back from a 3-2 deficit. The game was tied 3-3 until a big goal from Curry gave Milwaukee the lead. With only 43 seconds to go, Long Island pulled Pascal Renaud for the extra attacker. Bruce Gratton fired the puck down the ice just missing the empty net by about a foot and Craig Davidson took it up the ice. Davidson found Bryan Trask who whipped the puck past Daffney to tie the game with only 28 seconds to go. Just seconds later, Alan Chadwick stunned the Milwaukee crowd with another goal to put Long Island up 5-4. The lead held up and the Concordes found themselves just one home win away from their first Lewis Cup. Game six was another tight one as Milwaukee kept getting leads and Long Island kept erasing them. Both Renaud and Daffney played spectacularly throughout the third period as the clock wound down and the game went into overtime. Halfway through the first overtime, Stuart Burns found himself on a breakaway. The Long Island crowd roared as Burns lifted the puck over Daffney’s glove. The cheering immediately turned to dismay when the puck hit the crossbar and fell on the goal line where Daffney quickly swatted it away. Just two minutes into the second overtime, Joe Pickard, who had been relatively quiet throughout the playoffs, beat Renaud to win the game for the Choppers and send the series to a seventh game.

For the third year in a row, the Lewis Cup Finals would be decided by a winner-take-all game seven. Long Island fans were already emotionally exhausted after coming so close to victory in game six. The front page of Newsday featured a photo of Burns’ shot just before it hit the crossbar with the headline “That Close!” above it. Nevertheless, Burns and the Concordes remained focused. “If you told us at the start of the year that we’d have a chance to play game seven of the Lewis Cup Finals, I think we’d take it” said Burns. The Choppers, meanwhile, were just relieved to still be alive in the series. “We put ourselves in a hole, we managed to climb back out, now it’s time to finish the job” said captain Bruce Gratton.

Milwaukee arena sold out in minutes for game seven. The lineup at the box office began forming nearly 40 hours before puck drop. Both teams came out fast and aggressive. Curry opened the scoring for the Choppers, before Gratton made it 2-0. The fans were ecstatic, but Long Island refused to quit. Macintyre brought the game to within one early in the second, before Terry Hawkins restored Milwaukee’s two-goal lead. Toward the end of the second, however, the Choppers got into penalty trouble. Shayne Boggs was assessed a roughing minor and the Concordes wasted no time taking advantage, with Burns scoring the goal. Less than a minute into the third period, Theo Sprouse tied the game with a hard point shot. The building, which had been shaking with noise all night, was now silent. Long Island had a chance to go ahead halfway through the third when Olivier Meloche was called for a slash. The Concordes pressed hard but Daffney was up to the challenge, preserving the tie. As the clock approached five minutes remaining, Meloche sprung Curry on a breakaway. Curry deked Renaud, convincing him to drop before flipping the puck over his left pad. The crowd erupted. The Choppers now led 4-3. Long Island pushed hard for the tying goal with a barrage of shots during an extremely hectic final five minutes for Scott Daffney, but the 27-year-old goaltender once again passed the test. As the crowd chanted out the final seconds, Daffney’s teammate’s mobbed the exhausted goalie. Just three years after moving from Dallas, the Milwaukee Choppers had won their first Lewis Cup. Travis Curry was named playoff MVP, and when Bruce Gratton accepted the Lewis Cup, he immediately handed it to defenseman Cliff Lyle, who had announced prior to the game that it would be the last of his career. For the Concordes, it was a bitter ending to such an incredible season. “There’s no doubt it hurts” said Stuart Burns. “But we’ll be back.”

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