Scarlet fever has hit Calgary, and the town has never felt better. How else to explain the little old ladies wearing red cardboard Lanny McDonald mustaches? Or otherwise-respectable young men, their bodies painted Flames red, banging away on garbage pail covers? People wear red in the Olympic Saddledome and all along Eleventh Avenue, the entertainment strip popularly known as Electric Avenue. Yes, the Flames have breathed life back into Calgary, a city with an economy based on oil and ranching, where things have been anything but rosy of late. And a redhead and his two sometime linemates, veterans all, have led the way.
McDonald, the 33-year-old forward with the big red 'stache; John Tonelli, 29; and Doug Risebrough, 32, are proving there is a place for senior citizens in the NHL. In hockey terms they are at an age when a nice whirlpool should be the highlight of the day. But each of them scored a goal in Calgary's 5-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens in the opener of the Stanley Cup finals last Friday. And in a 3-2 overtime loss that tied the series on Sunday, Tonelli scored one of the Flames' goals and the hirsute McDonald assisted on the other.
"Hey, I trim it," says McDonald, stroking his shaggy trademark mustache. "I think the last time was my final year in Toronto . It only looks more out of control now because of the playoff beard I've been growing." Never before has McDonald had so much time to let the stubble mature. In his 12-year career—he has played for Toronto, Colorado and, since 1981, Calgary—he had never made it to the Stanley Cup's final round.
"Darryl [former Maple Leaf teammate Darryl Sittler] called me and reminded me that a lot of guys have great careers but never have this chance," McDonald says. "So it's something I very much appreciate. I want this very badly."
While McDonald and the Flames make their Run for One, former Islander Tonelli and former Canadien Risebrough are waging personal Drives for Five. "I've never been hungrier," says Tonelli, who had played on four Cup championship teams with the Islanders. He was deeply wounded when he was traded to the Flames on March 11. "I have something to prove—to myself and to some other people," he says.
Risebrough has proved to be a resilient and capable leader since being sent to Calgary in 1982, after eight years and four Stanley Cups with the Canadiens. When asked if he was bitter toward his former club for trading him for a third-round draft choice and a switch of second-rounders, the Flames' co-captain said, "Not at all. It was time for me to move on to another organization." He scored a career-high 23 goals for Calgary in 1983-84 before injuries limited him the last two seasons.
Before Game 1 in Calgary, much was made of the similarities between the two teams: Both have rookie goalies; both have depth; both have size; both recruit heavily from U.S. colleges; and both have excellent special teams. And over the past two regular seasons their point totals have been virtually identical, 183-181, with Calgary holding the edge. The determining factor in the opener was expected to be fatigue; the Canadiens had six days off after dispatching the New York Rangers 4-1 in their semifinal series, while the Flames, extended to seven games by St. Louis, had to play a league-record 17 games to reach the finals. "That might negate our home-ice advantage," said Calgary coach Bob Johnson after the win over the Blues last Wednesday that gave the Flames their first Campbell Conference title. "Montreal is going to know more about us than we'll know about them."
Instead, Calgary gave Montreal a lesson in hockey.
After Montreal's Mats Naslund scored the first goal of the evening, Tonelli tied the game with a play that could have come from the Islanders' archives. With the hard-shooting Al MacInnis letting one loose from the right point, Tonelli ripped free from Montreal defenseman Rick Green and charged to the front of the crease, where he stuffed in the rebound. "John's a bearded Rototiller," says McDonald. "One of those machines that sends everything flying."
Calgary's Jim Peplinski got a disputed go-ahead goal late in the first period (the Canadiens claimed his stick was above his shoulder when he deflected a Paul Baxter shot) that sent goalie Patrick Roy into gyrations of his own. Roy whacked linesman Ron Finn on the shinguards with his stick, then pushed linesman Ray Scapinello when he stepped in. Finn, who along with referee Kerry Fraser immediately ruled the goal good, signaled a 10-minute misconduct.
Rule 67, Category II: Any player who deliberately applies physical force to an official in any manner...shall be automatically suspended for not less than 10 games. So why wasn't Roy sent home? "That rule never entered the officials' minds," commented NHL supervisor of officials Scotty Morrison. "I asked Ron how hard Roy had hit him with the stick, and he said it was just an immediate reaction and only warranted one 10-minute misconduct."
The Canadiens couldn't get back into the game. After Dan Quinn scored a shorthanded goal for Calgary, McDonald beat Roy with a wrist shot at 3:33 of the third period. Then, with the score 4-2 and 25 seconds left, Risebrough finished things off with an empty-netter.
In Game 2, Tonelli got the opening goal and McDonald an assist on Paul Reinhart's second-period score as Calgary built a 2-0 lead. But the Canadiens' tight checking eventually began to tell on the Flames, and with the Calgary veterans momentarily silenced, Montreal came back to tie the game in the third period and then tied the series as Brian Skrudland blasted the puck past Calgary goalie Mike Vernon only nine seconds into overtime.
The trio of Risebrough, Tonelli and McDonald, worth 95 goals in 335 career playoff games, had been the Flames' most consistent line in their seven-game upset of Edmonton. They weren't quite as visible against St. Louis, but the Blues don't let anybody look good. Against Montreal the veterans were broken up to lend stability to all four Flames' lines. "Those three guys are the key to their team," says Canadien defenseman Craig Ludwig. "We have to shut them down because they give their team life."
After his late-season trade, Tonelli, for one, wasn't sure if there was a real hockey life left for him. "I thought I was going to be one of those guys who gets traded year after year. I didn't want that," Tonelli says. He was further irked by newspaper stories that quoted former Islander teammates as saying he had become moody and "a bad influence" after he demanded that his contract be renegotiated and sat out training camp until the Islanders gave him a new one.
Still, Tonelli admits he had gone stale in New York, and that the trade to Calgary was "a new challenge." He and his mates have met it handsomely, as their presence in the finals can attest.