Greasy. Slowhy. Murph.
All the old nicknames came flooding back when members of the 1994 Centennial Cup-winning Olds Grizzlys team reunited in Olds for an alumni hockey game in early April to mark the 20th anniversary of the squad winning Canada’s National Junior A Championship.
It’s clear how momentous that championship season was in the lives of these players; they can still recall the most specific details about the final game, the road to the playoffs and even the inside jokes they shared in the locker room.
It took Miro Skovira, now 40, 24 hours to travel from his home in Slovakia to Olds for the April 5 game.
He was one of the heroes of the Centennial Cup final for the Grizzlys, tying the game against the Kelowna Spartans with under a minute left in the third period and giving Olds its chance in overtime to capture the championship.
In his mind, he can still see himself set up to take the historic shot.
“I remember it was one minute left and I go to the net and I see the defenceman shooting the puck to the net and the goalie saved it and the puck goes to me and I just scored upstairs because I see he is down,” Skovira said. “It’s unbelievable feeling that we tied the game 50 seconds before the end.”
He described his goal, and Dave Kirkpatrick’s overtime winner, as “lucky” moments for the team.
But the Grizzlys’ march to the championship after a record-breaking season – Olds went a combined 72-8-2 in the regular season and playoffs, and won its third straight Alberta Junior Hockey League title – had more to do with a “process” of coming together as a cohesive unit under the leadership of coach Chris Stewart, said Jeramie Heistad.
Despite the success the Grizzlys enjoyed throughout that year, it was not a season of “candies and roses.”
“There would be fights at practice,” Heistad said. “It wasn’t all fun and that was part of the success. The people that know Chris, he’s a hard-nosed guy and wouldn’t put up with crap. The beauty of it was, we could be on a 10-game winning streak but he wasn’t happy.”
The moment Heistad remembers as the tipping point of the Centennial Cup came in the Grizzlys’ semifinal against the Weyburn Red Wings.
Olds was down by a pair of goals when captain and Olds native Tyler Graham stood up in the dressing room and demonstrated the leadership qualities he had displayed all season.
“He said, ‘Guys, you know what, we’re down 3-1. Do we want this to be our lineage?’ And obviously everybody didn’t want that to happen because we came back and won that game and ultimately won the Centennial Cup,” Heistad said. “Things like that, they go unsaid. The stories of the room, speeches and stuff like that.”
Joe Murphy, the Grizzlys’ all-star forward, said he remembers the team realizing it could go all the way even earlier than that, when Olds beat Kelowna to win the Doyle Cup.
The squad, he said, had become “a little bit of a runaway train at this point.”
“It’d be hard to stop us,” Murphy recalls thinking.
The Grizzlys definitely had a “swagger” going into the Centennial Cup, he added, but also a “quiet, no panic kind of vibe” that kept the team grounded.
“It was probably confidence about talent, probably because of leadership behind the bench.”
And seeing his old teammates again was a reminder that, while winning the Centennial Cup was a monumental achievement, Murphy’s fondest memory of that season is of the people he won the championship with.
“To come back to something like this and see the guys that you spent so much time with, that’s the stuff that meant a lot to me at the time, means more to me now.”
Graham, who is now 41 and still spends a great deal of time in his hometown, said despite the praise his fellow Grizzlys have given him, he remembers winning the cup as a victory brought about by many talented hockey players and a great head coach.
“Stewart, he kept the guys together and focused and had a good game plan. I think we just followed through and believed in him,” Graham said. “Just a lot of skill as well, lots of depth. We had guys in the stands that should have been playing. You could take any one guy out and fill their spot quite easily.”
Graham, who was named Centennial Cup MVP, said the team’s remarkable victory that season has resonated for him throughout the years that followed, and he’s sure his former teammates feel the same way.
“You think of those times quite often actually through the years,” he said. “Things that you learn, the work ethic that you get, how to deal with different personalities, growing to accomplish something as a team.
“I think you apply it to your everyday life quite a bit and I think back to it quite often.”