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September 05, 2014

Mike Vernon And The 1989 Stanley Cup

Mike Vernon had a lengthy and prosperous hockey career. 781 games played. 385 wins. Another 77 wins in 138 playoff contests. Two Stanley Cup championships - one with his hometown Calgary Flames in 1989 and one more with the Detroit Red Wings in 1997. He was even honoured as the playoff MVP in '97, winning the Conn Smythe trophy.

Vernon joined the Red Wings in 1994 after nine seasons with the Flames. The Stanley Cup run was the highlight, as was the bloody feud with Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche.

Old school hockey, eh boys?

I will always remember Mike Vernon as the long time Calgary Flames netminder. He defeated Patrick Roy, then still with the Montreal Canadiens, to win the Stanley Cup in 1989, too.

But for me the name immediately conjures up vivid memories of the another playoff series in 1989. If it was not for the acrobatic goaltending of Mike Vernon, the Calgary Flames may not have survived the incredible first round scare against the upstart Vancouver Canucks.

Terry Crisp, who coached the Flames that year, agrees.

“My mind automatically goes back to that first round against Vancouver — seventh game, overtime,” he said. “I can still picture Stan Smyl with a breakaway in overtime, and Vernon with the glove save."

“We dodged a bullet. You think back to how close we came to not even getting out of the first round, and then you end up winning the Stanley Cup.”

Don't forget the toe save on Petri Skriko.

Or the glove save on Tony Tanti.

It shouldn't have been that hard for the Flames. They had just won their second consecutive President's Trophy as the league's top regular season team, compiling a franchise record best 117 points. The Canucks finished six games below .500, with just 74 points.

But the Flames barely escaped, if not for a crease crashing bounce off of Joel Otto's skate and the goaltending heroics of Mike Vernon.

“If it hadn’t been for Vernie, there’d have been no time for me to get the winning goal,” Otto said. “He just kept saving us. Nobody, but nobody, should be asked the question now whether Mike Vernon can win the big game.”

Nobody did again after the spring of 1989. The Red Wings jumped at the chance to get him in 1994, and he led them to the Stanley Cup final, only to lose to New Jersey.

Vernon and Chris Osgood ended up sharing the net quite a bit after that, but by the spring of 1997 the net was all Vernie's. And, as mentioned earlier, with a MVP performance he led the Wings to the Stanley Cup.

Strangely, the Detroit Red Wings traded Vernon away that summer. The Wings have had a bit of weird history of winning Stanley Cups on the backs of impressive goaltending performances, only to trade them away. Think Harry Lumley in 1950 and Terry Sawchuk in 1955.

Vernon went on to play a couple of seasons with the San Jose Sharks and the better part of a year with the Florida Panthers.

In 2000 Mike Vernon came home. He rejoined the Calgary Flames, by now a shadow of the power they once were under his watch. But the homecoming was nonetheless one of his greatest hockey memories.

I will always remember Mike Vernon as a Calgary Flame. I can picture him right now, stealing that puck away from Stan Smyl.

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