By Aaron Bell
Even though they had only played each other once before, by the time the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Hull Olympiques met in the championship game at the 1997 MasterCard Memorial Cup, they already had some dramatic history.
The Olympiques were hosting the Memorial Cup so they had an early berth clinched but went on to win the QMJHL championship over the Chicoutimi Sagueneens.
The Olympiques stormed out of the gate in the tournament with an 8-0 win over the OHL champion Oshawa Generals in their opening game of the tournament. They looked like they were well on their way to another lop-sided win when they led the Hurricanes 6-1 early in the third period. But the Hurricanes had some plans of their own and came all the way back to win the game 7-6 in overtime.
The Olympiques were paced offensively by Christian Dube, who had established himself as one of junior hockey’s most dynamic players and had won the CHL’s player of the year award the previous season.
Dube was sensational in the national championship tournament. He led all scorers with six goals and 13 points and claimed the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as the MVP of the tournament. As soon as the tournament was over, the highly regarded pro prospect joined the New York Rangers for their playoff run.
Claude Julien enjoyed a tremendous rookie season behind the Olympiques’ bench, guiding them to their only championship in franchise history. Five seasons later, he was coaching the Montreal Canadiens and in 2011, he guided the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup.
Many fans were hoping to see the Ottawa 67’s win the OHL championship and earn a berth in the tournament, which was being held right across the Alexandra Bridge from the nation’s capital. But the Oshawa Generals had other plans. The 67’s finished the regular season in first place but Marc Savard’s overtime goal in Game 6 of the series gave the Generals the Robertson Cup as OHL champions.
The Hurricanes dropped a 2-1 decision to the Generals in their final round robin game, which let first place slip away and forced them to play the Generals again in the semi-finals. They outlasted Oshawa 5-4 in overtime to get their rematch with the Olympiques, but seemed to run out of gas by the time they reached the final.
The Olympiques cruised to a 5-1 win to capture the Memorial Cup on home ice. They were the first QMJHL team to win the tournament in 16 years and the first to win on home ice since the Quebec Remparts in 1971.