1978 – New Westminster Bruins
Ernie (Punch) McLean and the defending-champion New Westminster Bruins made a fourth consecutive appearance in the 1978 Memorial Cup tournament.
This one, co-hosted by the OHL cities of Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury, also included the Trois-Rivieres Draveurs and Peterborough Petes.
McLean had been coaching for 20 years. He got into junior hockey by serving as bus driver and trainer in 1962, six years before buying the Bruins, who were then in Estevan.
Michel Bergeron was in his fourth season as the Draveurs’ head coach. Gary Green, 25, was completing his first season as the Petes’ head coach.
The Bruins were a team of grinders led by right-winger Stan Smyl, who would be the MVP in his fourth straight Memorial Cup.
The Draveurs, led by Normand Lefebvre’s two goals, opened the double round-robin on May 6 with a 5-2 victory over the Petes before 3,441 fans in the Soo.
One night later, the Petes whipped the Bruins, 7-2, in Sudbury before 5,006 fans. Mike Meeker and Bill Gardner had two goals each and Tim Trimper had a goal and three assists. However the Petes lost Keith Acton with a separated shoulder.
“Naturally, we wanted to capitalize,” said Green, whose club took a 4-0 first-period lead and totalled four power-play goals. “We never expected to get that kind of a lead.”
New Westminster bounced back to beat the Draveurs, 6-4, in the Soo on May 8 as Smyl struck for three goals and set up two others before 3,575 fans.
Peterborough returned to Sudbury on May 9 and beat the Draveurs, 4-0, behind Ken Ellacott’s 28 saves in front of 5,094 fans.
On May 10, the Petes clinched a spot in the final by beating the Bruins, 4-3, before 3,641 fans in the Soo. Trimper tied it at 19:57 of the third period and Keith Crowder won it 20 seconds into overtime.
The Bruins earned the other final berth, beating the Draveurs, 6-3, on May 11 in front of 5,114 fans in Sudbury. John-Paul Kelly and Scott MacLeod had two goals each for the Bruins.
“It’s always exciting, especially this year when we’re not even supposed to be here,” McLean said. “Nobody gave us a hope in hell.”
The Bruins, beaten twice by Peterborough in the round-robin, won the title before 5,898 fans in Sudbury on May 13, dumping the Petes, 7-4. MacLeod had three goals and an assist, while Smyl put the wraps on his junior career with a goal and four assists.
“It was an aggressive hockey game,” McLean said. “I’d hate to be in a seven-game series. We wouldn’t have too many players left on either side.”
The Bruins were the fourth team to win back-to-back Memorial Cups, after the Oshawa Generals (1939-40), Toronto Marlboros (1955-56) and Montreal Junior Canadiens (1969-70).
1978 New Westminster Bruins:
Ken Berry, Doug Derkson, Jim Dobson, Boris Fistric, Bill Hobbins, Bruce Howes, Randy Irving, John Paul Kelly, Terry Kirkham, Larry Lozinski, Richard Martens, Scott McLeod, Neil Meadmore, Larry Melnyk, John Ogrodnick, Kent Reardon, Florent Robidoux, Rick Slawson, Stan Smyl, Carl Van Harrewyn, Brian Young, Bill Shinske (general manager), Ernie McLean (coach)
NHL: Smyl went on to become a Vancouver Canuck icon. After his player career came to an end, he became an Assistant Coach and helped lead the team all the way to the Stanley Cup finals in 1994.