Tuesday, May 29, 2018

2004 Lewis Cup Finals

The 2004 Lewis Cup Finals began on June 2 in Philadelphia as the Cinderella Bighorns, playing in their first-ever final, faced the heavily favoured Redshirts, playing in the finals for the second time in four years. Game one went to Philadelphia thanks to two goals from Alexei Ivanov. Game two was much closer, as the teams remained deadlocked at 2 until the third period, when Jared Baxter beat Philippe Gagnon with a hard slap shot. Philly took a 2-0 series lead with a 4-2 win.

The series shifted to Vancouver for game three, the first Lewis Cup Finals game ever in the city. The statue of George Vancouver in front of City Hall was dressed in a large Bighorns jersey and an overflow crowd of 18,900 packed into Northwest Air Center. The Bighorns knew they needed a win to stay in the series. The game would go to overtime, where the Redshirts nearly took a 3-0 series lead when Jared Baxter rung a shot off the post. Moments later, Vancouver took a penalty when Tory Partridge was called for roughing. Philadelphia had another chance on the powerplay. But Gagnon stood tall, stopping 12 shots during the powerplay. As Partridge exited the box, defenseman Trevor Kerwick hit him with a pass and sprung him on a breakaway. Partridge beat Pierre Noel to win the game. In game four, Blair Horton was the overtime hero for Vancouver as the Bighorns tied the series.

The pressure was now on the Redshirts heading into game five back in Philly. Captain Jared Baxter, held scoreless in Vancouver, knew he needed to step up if the team was going to close out the series. The Bighorns took a 2-0 lead early, leading coach Clint Allen to pull Noel in favour of backup Steve Christie. Noel, unhappy with being pulled, smashed his stick over the boards and had a few words with Allen before storming off to the dressing room. Meanwhile on the ice, Redshirts pest Alex Leblanc drew a penalty when he yanked Blair Horton’s stick right out of his hands after a whistle. Horton threw a punch at Leblanc and was called for roughing. Leblanc then scored on the powerplay and nodded his head toward Horton as he left the penalty box. An irate Horton once again went after Leblanc while Corey Powell and Tory Partridge squared off as well. Clint Allen even jumped up on the boards a started yelling at the Vancouver bench, calling them “a bunch of thugs”. After handing out several penalties, the officials finally got the game under control. That’s when the Philadelphia captain finally stepped it up. Jared Baxter beat Jonathan Adams to a puck in the crease and jammed it past Gagnon to tie the game. Then, with three minutes remaining in regulation, Baxter scored again as Philly took the lead. The Redshirts held on to take the game and a 3-2 series lead.

With the cup in the building in game six, the big story concerned the Philadelphia net. Pierre Noel had struggled, while Steve Christie had played well. Christie was given the start. Noel made his disappointment with his coach known. “I think I could come back and win this for us but I guess he disagrees” said Noel. “We’ll see what happens I guess.” What happened was a 4-0 rout for a desperate Vancouver team to force game seven. The first time since 1987 and 1988 that the finals would go to seven games in back-to-back years.

Prior to game seven, Clint Allen met with his number one goalie in an attempt to patch things up and to inform him that he would be starting game seven. Allen faced 38 shots as the game went to the third period with no score. Early in the third period, Sean Nowakowski finally broke the tie and gave Philadelphia the lead. The Bighorns scrambled to tie the game but Noel stood tall. Vancouver pulled Gagnon in a last-minute effort to tie the game, but Baxter took the puck the length of the ice and sealed the win with an empty-net goal. The Philly crowd counted down the final seconds as the players poured off the bench. The Redshirts had waited 62 years for their first Lewis Cup, the wait for their second was only three. Jared Baxter was named playoff MVP after an inspired performance.

In Vancouver, the fans handled the loss with grace and class, despite their disappointment. They quietly left the Northwest Air Center, where they had watched on the big screen. Some fans even helped clean up garbage on their way out, while others were seen washing the windows of a police car. “Nobody would’ve blamed those fans if they rioted after the loss” said CBC commentator Graham Helm. “But they showed incredible sportsmanship.”

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