Thursday, July 13, 2017

1995 Lewis Cup Finals

After an epic seven-game showdown in ’94, the Montreal Royale and Chicago Shamrocks prepared for round two of their new championship rivalry. As the teams prepared for game one in Chicago, the city threw its support behind the Samrocks. The John Hancock Center flew a giant “Let’s go Shamrocks” banner that could be seen from everywhere in the city, while local radio station, Rock 103-5, called for everyone to wear green throughout the finals, whether they were attending the games or not. The overwhelming fan support seemed to work in game one, as the Shamrocks skated to a 5-1 win thanks to a 2-goal performance from Vladimir Kozakov. In game two, Montreal goaltender Ari Hannula, acquired from LA in November, played one of his best games in years, stopping 51 Chicago shots in a 3-1 Montreal win.

Tied 1-1, the teams would head to Montreal, where enthusiasm from the fans matched, if not surpassed, that of the Chicago fans. The Colisée Expo was shaking from the fan noise starting around 5 PM. Vincent Ducharme and  Sylvain Landry each scored while Hannula was spectacular once again as Montreal won the game 2-0 to take a 2-1 series lead. Despite being down in the series, the Shamrocks remained confident. “We went down 2-1 last year too” said forward Kevin Trainor. “Things turned out OK for us last year, there’s still a lot of hockey left to be played.” Game four would be a much higher-scoring affair. Vladimir Gaganov opened the scoring with two quick goals to give Chicago a 2-0 lead entering the second period. Midway through the second, Ducharme and JC Girard each scored to tie the game. Late in the second period, Ted MacDougall was given a cross-checking penalty and the Royale took advantage, with Ducharme scoring on the powerplay to give them the lead. Knowing his team was in trouble, Don Saleski called a timeout. After regrouping following the go-ahead-goal, the Shamrocks came out much stronger in the third period, but Hannula once again was incredible in net. finally, with eight minutes to go in the game, Martin Vannier took a crisp pass from Vladimir Kozakov in the slot and flipped it into the top corner of the net to tie the game. Both goaltenders played very well as the game went into overtime. Just 48 seconds into the extra frame, Kevin Trainor was sprung on a breakway. He deked Hannula and beat him, giving Chicago the win to tie the series.

The teams headed back to the Windy City for what was now a best-of-three. Montreal received some bad news upon arrival in Chicago. Ari Hannula, who had been incredible for the Royale so far, had gotten food poisoning and would miss game five. 20-year-old Jonathan Bouret would get his first career playoff start. Bouret was tested early by the Shamrocks but met every challenge. Meanwhile, Sergei Vetrov opened the scoring for Montreal before Vannier made it 2-0. A goal early in the second period from Ducharme made it 3-0 and it looked like the Royale would head home with a chance to claim the Cup. Chicago finally responded early in the third, when a Theo Sprouse point shot found its way through traffic and into the net. Just 29 seconds later, Ted MacDougall brought the Shamrocks to within one. Bouret, who had looked so good at the beginning of the contest, was getting shaky. Throughout the third period, Chicago pushed hard for the tying goal, but Bouret stepped up, stopping everything until defenseman Hannes Rehnquist, likely playing in one of his final games, sealed the win with an empty net goal. The Montreal Royale were now just one win away from avenging the previous years’ loss on home ice.

Jonathan Bouret was lauded for his efforts in game five, but Don Shelburne decided to go back to a now-healthy Ari Hannula for game six, where the Lewis Cup was in the building. After a scoreless first period, JC Girard opened the scoring for Montreal before Gaganov tied it just seconds later. Towards the end of the second period, Ducharme once again put the Royale ahead. The 2-1 Montreal lead lasted until halfway through the third period, when Vannier, who was having the most memorable playoff of his career, tied it once again. It appeared overtime was inevitable, as both teams played a more conservative game through the second half of the third period. Finally, the Royale caught Chicago on a bad line change. Sergei Vetrov passed the puck ahead to Sylvain Landry, sending him on a breakaway. Landry opted to shoot and made no mistake, beating John Gage over his glove. The Colisée erupted. With just four minutes to go, the Royale now held the lead. Chicago called a timeout, then pushed desperately for the tying goal, but Hannula stood tall, holding on until the last second. As the buzzer sounded, the Royale players piled off the bench and mobbed their goaltender. Vincent Ducharme was named playoff MVP with an incredible 39 points in the post-season. With their second Lewis Cup of the decade in their fourth finals appearance, Montreal was beginning to emerge as the team of the 1990s.

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