A LOOK BACK AT THE 1996 CALDER CUP CHAMPIONSHIP ON THIS DAY IN AMERKS HISTORYNews | 6/13/2015 | ROCHESTER AMERICANS
The date was June 13, 1996 and the jovial city of Rochester was in celebration of the Amerks’ sixth Calder Cup championship following their thrilling 2-1 win over the Portland Pirates in dramatic Game 7 fashion in front of a standing room only crowd at the downtown War Memorial.
It was a postseason to remember for the Amerks, who were 11-1 through the first three rounds of the playoffs, including back-to-back sweeps over the Adirondack Red Wings and Cornwall Aces before knocking off the Syracuse Crunch in five games. After overcoming a rather slow start through the first half of the 1995-96 regular season, Rochester, sparked by the dramatically improved goaltending of Steve Shields, came to form midseason and finished the campaign in third place in the American Hockey League’s Central Division. All in all, it was certainly a historic season for the Amerks and one that former captain Dane Jackson will never forget either.
“Game 7…,” recalls Jackson, the Amerks captain that year who summed up the best moment of his professional career in two simple words. “Winning such a tight game and the celebration with guys you go to war with and guys that sacrifice a lot that are truly team guys.”
“I don’t know if a lot of people really remember, but we were not a very good team at Christmastime, “added Jackson, who took his rightful place in the Amerks Hall of Fame two seasons ago. “We had a lot of good players, but we were one of the lowest teams in the league actually at that point. We had some tough meetings as a group and we all got together. To be a part of that team and see when guys put in that much effort and all the blood, sweat and tears and to come out with a championship is something I’ll never forget. It was a great part of my life and really built a lot of who I am today.”
After the Amerks assembled a 2-0 series lead over the Pirates with a pair of home wins, the series shifted back to Portland, where the Pirates responded with a pair of home victories of their own to knot the best-of-seven-game series at two apiece. Rochester regained the series lead after Scott Nichol’s Game 5 overtime winner 4:13 into the extra session proved to be the breaking point, but a 5-1 Portland triumph in Game 6 would again even the series and set the stage for a Game 7, winner-takes-all showdown in Rochester.
Exactly 19 years ago today, with the contest tied at 1-1 early in the third period, Amerks forward Brian Holzinger broke the deadlock as he converted on his own rebound from the left faceoff dot to put the Amerks on top 2-1 in what proved to be the game-winning goal. Portland goaltender Ron Tugnutt immediately left his crease to dispute the goal with referee Blaine Angus ruling that he was interfered with on the play, but Tugnutt was quickly overruled, and as they say, the rest is history. Rochester then played shutdown mode for the remaining 17:26 before a massive celebration took place on the War Memorial ice, where fans and players alike shared in the moment that is still viewed by many as one of the best in franchise history.
“It’s the first time in my life I’ve ever been a champion and it’s just an unbelievable feeling,” recalled Dixon Ward, who scored Rochester’s first goal in the second period en route to being named the MVP in the playoffs. “It was a great game and they played so hard, but our guys were so ready to play. This is something I will remember the rest of my life.”
What is even more impressive about the win was Rochester’s defense, anchored by veteran blueliners Doug Houda, Terry Hollinger and Dean Melanson, held the Pirates to just a single shot in the third period on its way to outshooting Portland 37-14 in the contest. That alone proved to be the difference maker for the Amerks, who finished the Calder Cup Finals with a 3-1 record at home and outscored the Pirates 24-22 throughout the seven-game series as Rochester captured its first Calder Cup on home ice in 31 years since the Joe Crozier-led Amerks of 1965. That Amerks lineup also boasted five future Hall of Famers in the likes of Jackson (Class of 2013), Houda (Class of 2011), Scott Metcalfe (Class of 2006), the late Craig Charron (Class of 2008) and veteran forward Dan Frawley (Class of 2003), who returned from a retirement and went onto play two more years in Rochester before hanging up his skates for good following the 1997-98 season.
“I was really emotional after we won it,” said Metcalfe, the former Amerks enforcer and fan favorite after Game 7. “I’ve never won a championship before and to do it with this great bunch of guys makes it even more special. We had to battle for everything and we had our chances, but we were able to get the job done and that just shows the character of our team. We held them to 14 shots and one in the third period. That says a lot about our team,” said Metcalfe, who ranks first in franchise history with 1,424 career penalty minutes.
During the regular season, Charron, in just his first season with the Amerks, would go on to produce his most offensive season in his career, collecting a team and career-high 43 goals and 95 points in 72 games en route to earning team MVP and Scoring Champion honors. He also contributed 17 points on seven goals and 10 assists in 19 playoff appearances, finishing only second in postseason scoring to Ward, who would be later named the recipient of the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as playoff MVP after leading the Amerks with 35 points (11+24).
The celebration continued through the summer months, but nothing compared to the merriment in the days ahead as crowds gathered and lined the streets for the victory parade through downtown Rochester. The masses packed in at City Hall, where over hundreds of loyal fans witnessed then Mayor Bill Johnson present the Amerks with the key to the city and proclaim June 13 to forever be a day of remembrance and celebration in Rochester sports history.
1995-96 Rochester Americans: Coach John Tortorella, Curtis Brown, Craig Charron, Jason Cirone, Rob Conn, David Cooper, Scott Feasby, Dan Frawley, Terry Hollinger, Brian Holzinger, Doug Houda, Dane Jackson, Steve Junker, Sergei Klimentiev, Jamie Leach, Dean Melanson, Scott Metcalfe, Barrie Moore, Rumun Ndur, Scott Nichol, Wayne Primeau, Vaclav Varada, Dixon Ward (Playoff MVP), Bob Westerby, Shayne Wright, John Blue (G), Steve Shields (G)