As the 1966 Memorial Cup began, change was on the horizon for junior hockey.
The Edmonton Oil Kings, under manager Bill Hunter and coach Ray Kinasewich, were in their seventh straight Memorial Cup final, having beaten the Estevan Bruins in the Abbott Cup final to win the West’s championship.
However, Edmonton’s run was soon to end because major junior hockey — the Canadian Major Junior Hockey League — was coming to the Prairies.
All games in the 1966 final were scheduled for Maple Leaf Gardens — the last Memorial Cup series to be played there.
This final also would put defenceman Bobby Orr on the national stage at 15 years of age. Orr was in his first season with the Oshawa Generals of manager Wren Blair and coach Bep Guidolin.
Three games into the final, it looked like the Generals were on their way to a title, too.
The Oil Kings won Game 1 on May 4, 7-2, behind two shorthanded goals from Ross Perkins. Edmonton had added three Estevan players and all three figured in the scoring — Jim Harrison had a goal and two assists, Ross Lonsberry a goal, and Ted Hodgson two assists.
Although Orr didn’t score, he dazzled with at least 10 shots on goal.
There was a multi-fight situation six minutes into the third period after Harrison delivered a hard hit on Orr.
“We didn’t see one good check all night,” Guidolin said, “and you can tell them to stop sending bushers after Orr.”
Oshawa tied the series on May 6, with a 7-1 victory before 7,210 fans, then took Game 3, 6-2, in front of 7,365 fans two nights later. Danny O’Shea had five goals in the two games.
Orr, nursing a groin injury apparently suffered in practice the previous week, was used sparingly in Game 2 and only on the power-play in Game 3.
After Game 3, Hunter was all over referee Frank Daigneault of Montreal.
“Daigneault must have signed a contract with Oshawa before the series,” Hunter said.
Edmonton goaltender Don (Smokey) McLeod was at his best in the next three games as the Oil Kings won the Memorial Cup with 5-3, 7-4 and 2-1 victories.
The Oil Kings won Game 4 with three third-period goals. Orr took a regular shift until taking off his gear after two periods.
Craig Cameron led the Oil Kings with three goals in Game 5 on May 14, and two Estevan players — Harrison and Hodgson — had the goals in Game 6. Hodgson broke a 1-1 tie at 6:47 of the third period.
In the end, the hero was McLeod, the goaltender who had been severely criticized by Kinasewich and others in the early going.
“They owe it all to the goalie, who they said choked,” Guidolin said. “What are they saying about him now?”
They were saying they had been misquoted earlier in the series.
1966 Edmonton Oil Kings:
Ron Anderson, Garnet Bailey, Doug Barrie, Brian Bennett, Don Caley, Craig Cameron, Bob Falkenberg, Al Hamilton, Jim Harrison, Brian Hague, Galen Head, Ted Hodgson, Kerry Ketter, Ross Lonsberry, Jim Knox, Don McLeod, Jim Mitchell, Harold Myers, Eugene Peacosh, Ross Perkins, Murray Pierce, Dave Rochefort, Ted Rogers, Jim Schraefel, Red Simpson, Ron Walters, Bill Hunter (manager), Ray Kinasewich (coach).
NHL: Bailey won a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 1972, while Lonsberry won back-to-back with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1974 and 1975.