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Recapping the 1985 Calder Cup run that helped launch the last great Canadiens generation

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A game-by-game look at the Baby Habs’ historic playoff run, one year before several of the players hoisted the franchise’s 23rd Stanley Cup.

Canadiens captain Brian Skrudland accepting the AHL Calder Cup from President Jack Butterfield
CBC/Radio-Canada

It was quite the inaugural season for the Sherbrooke Canadiens in 1984-85 after Montreal moved their AHL farm team from their long-standing home in Halifax. Barely scraping into the playoffs by winning four of their final five games, Sherbrooke would embark on a historic playoff run that began the legends of multiple players who used this experience as a springboard to the NHL and plant the seed of a remarkable 1986 Stanley Cup run.


First Round: Fredericton Express vs. Sherbrooke Canadiens

The first-round series saw the Canadiens take on the Fredericton Express in a parallel of the NHL playoffs where their parent clubs, Montreal and Québec, were facing off against one another in a chapter of the Battle of Quebec.

Game 1: Sherbrooke wins 5-2

  • Tomas Rundqvist (1) [Jeff Teal]
  • Brian Skrudland (1) [Rundqvist]
  • Claude Larose (1, GWG) [Teal, Ric Nattress]
  • Kent Carlson (1) [Mike Lalor, Remi Gagne]
  • Paul Pooley (1) [John Newberry, Carlson]

Opening the series in Fredericton, the Canadiens knew that they had to play a disciplined, emotion-free first game on the road to have any chance at success, and they managed to pull it off. Sherbrooke broke a 1-1 deadlock going into the third with three straight goals in eight minutes to blow the game wide open. Fredericton, known for their rough play were unable to exert any consistent pressure.

“To hit them means we would first need to catch them. They got the puck out of their zone so fast that we were unable to maintain any consistent pressure. We managed to do it for a few minutes here and there, but the Canadiens controlled the play so well that even if we managed to play our game, we probably would have still lost,” said Express head coach Earl Jessiman.

The Canadiens played with three extra defencemen in forward roles because of call-ups to Montreal, but the top line, dubbed the United Nations Line, of Brian Skrudland, Jeff Teal, and Thomas Rundqvist was the best on the ice defensively and offensively, a story that would repeat throughout the playoffs. They took all three stars in this game.

Game 2: Sherbrooke wins 3-2

  • Larose (2) [Paul Pooley, Nattress]
  • Gaston Gingras (1) [Lalor, Skrudland]
  • Michel Therrien (1, GWG) [Bobby Dollas]

Similar to Game 1, the Canadiens had another three-goal outburst in the third period, bringing them from an 0-2 deficit to a 3-2 victory and a two-game lead in the series.

Michel Therrien (yes, that Michel Therrien) gave the Canadiens the victory with a slapshot from the point that beat Express goaltender Clint Malarchuk (yes, that Clint Malarchuk). Marc Crawford (yes, that Marc Crawford) did his best to intimidate Claude Larose (No, not that Claude Larose), but the latter told the wanna-be pugilist “I’m not afraid of you. I know that you won’t drop your gloves”. Crawford earned himself a double minor.

Gaston Gingras and Ric Nattress took two of the three stars in the game for Fredericton.

Game 3: Fredericton wins 6-2

  • Skrudland (2) [Nattress, Rundqvist]
  • Paul Pooley (2) [Murray Eaves, Nattress]

After Sherbrooke took both games in Fredericton, it was Fredericton’s turn to take the game in Sherbrooke with a three-goal outburst in the third period. “The guys thought it would be easy after two road wins. There is only one guy who worked and put in the effort tonight, goalie Greg Moffett. We should have lost 11-2,” said Pierre Creamer. Claude Julien (yes, that Claude Julien) scored one of Fredericton’s two goals.

Game 4: Sherbrooke wins 5 - 4 (2OT )

  • Larose (3) [Nattress, Eaves]
  • Gingras (2) [Dollas, Newberry]
  • Nattress (1) [Skrudland]
  • Therrien (2) [Newberry, Nattress]
  • Lalor (1, GWG) [Newberry, Tom Martin]

If you’re going to point to one game that marked this entire playoff run, it would be this one. Not only did the Canadiens break the streak of the home team losing, but the game is notable for being the playoff debut of Patrick Roy. He was a healthy scratch every game to this point, but played backup on this night as Paul Pageau was with his wife awaiting the arrival of their baby. Sherbrooke starter Moffett blew out a goalie pad halfway through the game after giving up three goals, and Roy was forced into the game. By the time Moffett returned to the bench with a fixed pad, Roy had already convinced Creamer to leave him in.

Therrien’s game-tying goal in the final 90 seconds of the third period completed a comeback from 3-0 midway through the game. Although he only scored two goals all season, he now had two critical goals in four games.

“It’s not because you don’t score that you don’t work. With continued effort it will eventually go in, and tonight it was that collected effort that bore fruit,” said Therrien who earned the game’s first star.

Game 5: Fredericton wins 3 - 1

  • Newberry (1) [Gagne, Gingras]

This game was a trademark Express game; in other words, lots of rough stuff. The referee gave out 146 minutes in penalties, including 94 minutes in an out-of-control second period. Normand Baron led the way for Sherbrooke with three fights and a game misconduct. The whole fracas was triggered by Crawford who hit Murray Eaves with his stick, requiring him to get stitches on his chin.

“To a certain point we’ve been shown some respect, but we could have used a bit more team unity, and if we want to win the next game we need to be more decisive,” said Creamer after the game.

After the violent game both teams took the same charter plane from Fredericton to Montreal. Awkward.

Game 6: Sherbrooke Canadiens wins 4 - 3 in OT

  • Gagne (1) [Newberry, Therrien]
  • Dollas (1) [Larose, Eaves]
  • Lalor (2) [Eaves, Larose]
  • Ted Fauss (1, GWG) [Rundqvist, Dollas]

“After that first period I told the team that they looked so eager to go back to Fredericton for a Game 7 that I already booked the flights and made the hotel reservations,” said Sherbrooke head coach Creamer facetiously. The Express dominated the Canadiens in that frame, holding them to only five shots.

The game’s unlikely hero was Ted Fauss, a depth defenceman, who scored just his second goal of the season. Although he wasn’t getting much ice time, he happened to be in the right place at the right time. “I saw that there were four or five guys in front of the net so I figured a low shot would never get through. It’s the first time I’ve ever lifted the puck, and I scored!”

Roy stopped all 13 shots he faced in a third period barrage by Fredericton to lead the team into the next round of the playoffs.

Sherbrooke won series 4 - 2


Semifinals: Maine Mariners vs. Sherbrooke Canadiens

The next opponent for the Canadiens was the Maine Mariners, the reigning Calder Cup champion and divisional champion from the regular season. The Mariners eliminated the Nova Scotia Oilers in the first round and were a much more experienced team with the third-best defensive record in the league. Despite this, the Canadiens had held their own that season, defeating the Philadelphia Flyers’ affiliate five times in eight meetings.

Game 1: Maine wins 5-2

  • Rundqvist (2) [Teal, Skrudland]
  • Skrudland (3) [Rundqvist]

Despite missing their top defensive pairing (Lalor and Nattress), their prodigal goaltender (Roy), and their top forward from the regular season (Serge Boisvert) to call-ups to Montreal, Sherbrooke held on for dear life in this game. Ultimately, they couldn’t match Maine’s talent, giving up two goals in the third period to drop Game 1 to Maine.

In the first minute of the game, the referee received a puck to the face and had to be taken to hospital, leaving the two linesmen to ref the game themselves. Thankfully, Sherbrooke and Maine both played a clean skill-based game. This allowed 5’5” Maine forward Steve Tsujiura to have his way with the Canadiens’ defence, scoring twice.

With Moffett suffering from a back injury, it was Pageau who made his playoff debut for the Canadiens. He made 30 saves on 35 shots.

“When you give up the last two goals in the third period, I call that a lack of effort,” decried Creamer after the game. “It was still 3-2 in the game when we refused to put the effort into it. Tonight Tsujiura did what he pleased on the ice.”

Game 2: Sherbrooke wins 9-2

  • Larose (4) [Eaves, Gingras]
  • Skrudland (4) [Rundqvist, Teal]
  • Gagne (2, GWG) [Richer, Newberry]
  • Larose (5) [Eaves, Boisvert]
  • Richer (1) [Newberry, Gagne]
  • Teal (1) [Nattress, Rundqvist]
  • Nattress (2) [Rundqvist, Teal]
  • Dollas (2) [Rundqvist, Newberry]
  • Larose (6) [Eaves, Boisvert]

With Montreal freshly eliminated in the first round of the NHL playoffs by Quebec, Sherbrooke saw a sudden influx of top-notch players as Roy, Gingras, Nattress, Boisvert, and 18-year-old Stéphane Richer are assigned to Sherbrooke, and make an immediate impact. Shayne Corson was supposed to join Sherbrooke as well, but decided to not report due to “personal problems.” Turns our that he had been playing in Montreal with a separated shoulder which he didn’t disclose to the medical staff for concern over losing his spot.

Boisvert re-joined his regular-season linemates Larose and Eaves, and helped the former score a hat trick right away. Boisvert wasn’t expected to play due to the rules surrounding his call-up giving him a day to present himself to Sherbrooke. However, rather than spend it with Montreal and their end-of-season party, he called Creamer and asked him if he needed him and if he could join the team early. Creamer said yes, and Boisvert joined the team in Sherbrooke, played, and was a big difference-maker.

Meanwhile, Richer was put on a line with John Newberry, displacing the latter from centre to left wing. They developed good chemistry, as they would remain together until the end of the playoffs.

The crowd of 3,848 cheered their team on relentlessly, and the team responded with nine goals. The first star went to Roy, who made 32 saves for the blowout win.

Game 3: Sherbrooke wins 7-3

  • Eaves (1) [Boisvert, Larose]
  • Rundqvist (3) [Skrudland, Nattress]
  • Gagne (3) [Newberry]
  • Eaves (2, GWG) [Newberry]
  • Eaves (3) [Boisvert, Larose]
  • Larose (7) [Eaves, Boisvert]
  • Newberry (2) [Gagne]

“Before talking about the Calder Cup, I will talk of the fourth game of this series, but if the team keeps playing the way they did over the last two games, I swear that we will soon be talking about the Cup,” said team captain Skrudland.

Roy stood on his head in the first period of this game, stopping 21 shots while his team struggled in front of him. He faced a totla of 45 shots in the game.

In a rarely seen call, Roy was called for an illegal stick, costing the Canadiens a penalty. Equipment manager Pierre Gervais spoke to the press after the game, making sure that Roy was within earshot: “You can write that Pierre Gervais has been telling him for a while now that his sticks were illegal, but he thought that it wouldn’t cause any problems.”

“When they took away my stick I knew I was in trouble,” said Roy with a smile on his face.

The floodgates opened for Sherbrooke in the second, scoring four unanswered goals to take an insurmountable lead over the Mariners. Winnipeg prospect Eaves scored a hat trick in the convincing victory.

Game 4: Sherbrooke wins 7-2

  • Skrudland (5) [Nattress, Rundqvist]
  • Richer (2) [Newberry]
  • Teal (2) [Rundqvist, Dollas]
  • Skrudland (6) [Rundqvist, Fauss]
  • Fauss (2) [Eaves]
  • Dollas (3) [Gingras, Rundqvist]
  • Richer (3) [Paul Pooley, Perry Pooley]

The Mariners were getting stonewalled by Roy once again, and blown out on the scoreboard by the Canadiens, so they resorted to desperation tactics. Roy was retrieving the puck from behind his net when he got absolutely levelled. Meanwhile Richer took a violent chop with a stick to his shoulder. “That’s Junior crap,” said Creamer after the game.

“We found a way to defeat both their goalies, but they are still trying to figure out how to beat just one of ours,” said Skrudland. The Mariners went even as far as to ask the league to investigate whether Shebrooke is using any ineligible players. A league representative informed them everything was in order.

The Mariners could do nothing but watch as Sherbrooke blasted six straight goals to take a commanding 3-1 series lead.

Game 5: Sherbrooke wins 6-5 in 2OT

  • Newberry (3)
  • Martin (1) [Fauss]
  • Gingras (3)
  • Larose (8) [Boisvert, Dollas]
  • Boisvert (1) [Larose, Nattress]
  • Newberry (4, GWG) [Richer]

Boisvert was really good after coming back from Montreal, but he was still missing that one step that made him a potent scorer during the regular season. Fatigue and asthma took a toll on him. But he could not have chosen a better moment to break the ice. While Ken Daneyko was serving a bad penalty late in the third period, Boisvert snuck into the slot, accepted a pass from Newberry, and whipped it top corner.

This late tying goal erased a crushing final minute of the second period during which the Mariners scored three goals in a span of 26 seconds, setting an AHL playoff record.

“I figure they got lucky on the first goal and the second goal, and the third goal went off of Nattress’ sfoot. I went into the locker room and I wasn’t feeling bad at all. I was convinced that if I make the big saves, we will win,” said Roy, who did not lack in confidence after being on the wrong end of the record-setting event.

In the second overtime, Richer did all the work getting into the offensive zone, drawing defenders to him, taking a shot, and creating the opportunity for Newberry to bang in the rebound to complete the comeback, and send the Canadiens to the finals.

Sherbrooke won series 4 - 1


CALDER CUP FINALS: BALTIMORE SKIPJACKS vs. SHERBROOKE CANADIENS

This was going to be a massive test for the Canadiens. Baltimore was clinical on its path to the finals, eliminating the Rochester Americans in five games and sweeping the regular-season champion Binghamton Whalers. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ farm team was determined to not repeat the embarrassment of the previous season when they were the league champions but lost out in the first round. The 1984-85 edition of the Skipjacks registered a professional hockey record of 16 straight victories to close out the season, and had accumulated nearly 2,500 games of NHL experience between all the players. The Canadiens circled somewhere around 500 NHL games, half of which belonged to Gingras.

If the influx of talent from the NHL helped Sherbrooke against Maine, there were perhaps more reinforcements on the way. If this series were to go long, the Canadiens could potentially count on Junior players Sergio Momesso, Claude Lemieux, and Graeme Bonar as soon as the Memorial Cup is over.

Game 1: Sherbrooke wins 4-3

  • Eaves (5) [Boisvert]
  • Nattress (3) [Boisvert]
  • Gingras (4) [Nattress]
  • Newberry (5, GWG) [Eaves]

The first game of the final was a two-part story. In the first act the Canadiens shocked the Skipjacks in Baltimore by exploding to a 4-0 lead after two periods, including two even-strength goals set up by Boisvert, a power play goal by Gingras, and a shorty by Newberry.

The second act — the third period — saw the Canadiens clinging on to their lead by the skin of their teeth as the Skipjacks gradually picked away, bringing the game to within a goal with two minutes left. However, the Canadiens managed to hold on and take the first game of the series.

Roy had to give an assist to backup Moffett for the win, because Roy forgot his gloves in Sherbrooke and had to borrow Moffett’s gear.

This victory gave Sherbrooke its first five-game winning streak of the season. It was only Baltimore’s fifth loss over the span of 33 games.

Game 2: Sherbrooke wins 4-3

  • Rundqvist (4) [Skrudland, Therrien]
  • Pooley (1) [Fauss]
  • Teal (3) [Skrudland, Rundqvist]
  • Skrudland (7) [Teal, Rundqvist]

Prior to Game 2, the Canadiens received a telegram from Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, congratulating the team for its success and wishing them luck in the finals. Perhaps that was the extra spark that was needed as the top line of Skrudland, Teal, and Rundqvist had their way with Baltimore’s top line, and shockingly wrested two wins from the Skipjacks in Baltimore. “We are still far away from a championship win,” said Skrudland, “but it’s great that we won two games here, in a building where we haven’t won a single time in two years.”

The Canadiens managed to score some opportune goals along the way to take a lead into the third. The Skipjacks once again made the comeback attempt bringing it to a one-goal game in the third period, but the Canadiens resisted a tying goal and were halfway to the Cup after two games, heading back to Sherbrooke.

This game saw the second edition of “if you can’t beat him, run him” as Skipjacks player Dean Defazio ran over Roy as he was handling a puck in his crease. The impact was so violent that Roy’s helmet flew off and he hit his unprotected head on the post on the way down, and stayed down. Mike Lalor came to his goalie’s defence and a minor brawl broke out as a second Skipjacks player jumped on Lalor. Roy remained in the game, although initially still dazed. Baltimore scored a minute later to tie the game at one to end the first period.

This was Baltimore’s first two-game losing streak of the season.

Game 3: Baltimore wins 5-3

  • Skrudland (8)
  • Eaves (5) [Boisvert]
  • Gingras (5) [Skrudland, Rundqvist]

Can’t win them all. After winning six straight, the Canadiens fell to Baltimore on the heels of a spectacular first period by Skipjacks backup goaltender Michel Dion, who stopped 15 of 16 shots. The Canadiens dominated Baltimore, but it was the goaltender who made the difference.

In the second period Baltimore opened the floodgates and scored four times, marking the first time that Patrick Roy was pulled from a game, giving up five goals on 25 shots. Pageau came in and went a perfect eight-or-eight to give the Canadiens a fighting chance, but a third-period comeback was not to be. After Gingras made it 5-3 early in the third period, Larose thought he brought the Canadiens within one with three minutes left to play, but referee Dan Marouelli called off the goal saying that the net was displaced before the puck went in. If the goal were allowed then the fans would have probably seen a nail-biter of a finish, but at it stood the Skipjacks had their first win of the series.

Game 4: Sherbrooke 6-1

  • Larose (9) [Eaves, Lalor]
  • Teal (4, GWG) [Lalor, Skrudland]
  • Richer (4) [Newberry]
  • Nattress (4) [Lalor, Newberry]
  • Larose (10) [Eaves, Boisvert]
  • Richer (5) [Gagne, Newberry]

“Tell everyone that this was the last game in Sherbrooke,” were the words of defenceman Ted Fauss after the Canadiens completely dominated Baltimore all game long. Roy allowed only one goal, and it happened on Baltimore’s first shot of the game. That was all the Skipjacks were going to get.

They woke up a bit in the third period, but Roy completely shut them down, stopping all 13 shots he faced, including a remarkable save on Bruce Boudreau.

On offence, Larose and Richer scored a couple of goals each, while Newberry recorded three assists. It was a change in strategy from the previous game that led to the offensive success by the Canadiens. “Last game they would line up four players on their blue line and we had a hard time entering their zone. Today we would dump the puck in, and our forecheck did a tremendous job retrieving the pucks,” said Larose.

The third period was a rough affair. With the game out of reach for Baltimore the game took a physical turn as fights often broke out. Defazio, the same player who ran Roy a few games earlier, bit a linesman and earned himself a game misconduct and a suspension for the rest of the series. Steven Fletcher, the seldom mentioned but highly appreciated fourth-line presence for the Canadiens during the playoffs, squared up against Baltimore’s Marty McSorley and earned himself the moral victory by toppling him over but also drew an instigator penalty and a game misconduct.

“All I wanted to do is maintain control on the ice. I wasn’t looking for anyone in particular, but I wanted to make sure that we were respected,” said Fletcher after the game. The second game misconduct of the playoffs earned Fletcher a one-game suspension.

Game 5: Baltimore wins 6-2

  • Newberry (6) [Gagne, Richer]
  • Rundqvist (5) [Gingras, Nattress]

The Skipjacks were desperate. Just like the Maine Mariners before them, the team went to the AHL to question the eligibility of Roy. They challenged the regulation that required one of the two initial playoff goalies to be injured before a third goalie is eligible. Seeing as Moffett and Pageau alternated as backups for Roy, they made their case. “The only injuries that these goalies seem to have since the playoffs started are bad haircuts,” said Skipjacks head coach Gene Ubriaco. “They say that Moffett has a back injury, but we’ve seen him working out. Can’t be that injured.” Meanwhile, the Canadiens maintained their story that Moffett was indeed injured, and unable to play. The AHL took the Canadiens’ side in making their decision.

The Canadiens started the game as good as they could have hoped, scoring twice in the first five minutes. However, the tide turned when a blast from 60 feet out surprised Roy to bring the Skipjacks back to within one goal. Boudreau tied it up while Therrien was serving a penalty, leaving the teams tied after one.

The second period was all Roy, stopping shot after shot as Baltimore pounded the young netminder trying to break a 2-2 deadlock. Unfortunately, with 25 seconds left in the period one shot did get past Roy, and Baltimore took the lead for good.

The third period was all Baltimore as Sherbrooke only got four shots on net while Baltimore had three goal on 12 shots. It was not Sherbrooke’s night as they had no answer to the potent offence and constricting defence of the Skipjacks. If there was any consolation it was that the Canadiens could now head back to Sherbrooke and try to win the Cup at home.

Of note, Baltimore starting goalie Jon Casey was injured early in the game when Rundqvist’s skate cut him, causing a deep laceration on his thigh. It was uncertain whether he would even be able to play the next game, and Baltimore had a potential problem of not having a third goalie on the roster. “Maybe we can borrow one of the Canadiens’ goalies, since Pageau and Moffett are not injured,” quipped a Skipjack.

Game 6: Sherbrooke wins 3-1

  • Skrudland (9) [Nattress, Teal]
  • Richer (6, GWG)
  • Lalor (3)

Tensions were very high on the Canadiens team, and in the stands where over 5,000 fans jammed le Palais des Sports to sit on the edge of their seats as two nervous scoreless periods came and went.

Early into the third Baltimore finally broke the ice, but the Canadiens did not lose confidence. “When they scored the first goal we knew that we would at least go to overtime, because they scored against our line, and we were determined to get it back. I knew that we were going to score,” said Skrudland, who did in fact score the tying goal later in the game.

And then it happened. At 16:28 of the third period, Richer intercepted an errant neutral-zone cross-ice pass, skated it into the Skipjacks’ end, circled around the top of the zone, deked out a defender by putting the puck between his legs, took a stride toward the outer slot, and blasted a slapshot past Dion to score the Calder Cup-winning goal. “I never could have thought that I would be able to help this team win the Cup, but I felt that the veterans were tired and it was up to me to take over. I’m very grateful that Mr. Creamer gave me the opportunity.” Lalor added an empty-net goal in the final minute to seal it for good.

Sherbrooke won series 4 - 2

It was a remarkable playoff run that captivated the Sherbrooke fanbase, and set up the Canadiens organization for a successful remainder of the decade.

Roy, Richer, Skrudland, Nattress, and Lalor would earn full-time jobs with Montreal the following season, while Boisvert, Gingras, John Kordic, and Randy Bucyk (who didn’t play in these playoffs) earned call-ups during the season, and wound up being a part of the 1986 Stanley Cup run.

The turnover was so large for Sherbrooke that they missed the playoffs the following season, but would have another deep run a year later, competing once again for the Calder Cup in 1986-87. They lost a Game 7 heartbreaker in Sherbrooke to the Rochester Americans.

Untitled

Player Name GP G A Pts
Player Name GP G A Pts
John Newberry 17 6 14 20
Thomas Rundqvist 17 5 14 19
Murray Eaves 15 5 13 18
Ric Nattress 16 4 13 17
Brian Skrudland 17 9 8 17
Claude Larose 17 10 6 16
Jeff Teal 17 4 8 12
Serge Boisvert 10 1 9 10
Stephane Richer 9 6 3 9
Bobby Dollas 17 3 6 9
Gaston Gingras 1 17 5 4 9
Remi Gagne 17 3 6 9
Mike Lalor 17 3 5 8