Bubbly feeling eludes Stanford again

Watching Calder Cup loss at home proves even tougher 22 years later

Published on June 19, 2014

At least this time, he didn’t have to sell off champagne.    
Just a little over 22 years ago, on a late May night at old Memorial Stadium, Glenn Stanford watched as the St. John’s Maple Leafs lost the seventh and deciding game of the American Hockey League’s 1992 Calder Cup final to the Adirondack Red Wings. In the midst of that disappointment, Stanford — who ran the local operations of the AHL Leafs very much like he does for the St. John’s IceCaps these days — had to deal with a request from the Red Wings, who didn’t have any champagne for their locker-room celebrations. But they knew the home side had stocked some away, and were wondering if the Leafs would be interested in selling that bubbly, seeing as they would be in no mood to pop the corks.

When Stanford re-tells the story, he always throws in the fact he made a profit on the resale, adding a little humour to what otherwise isn’t the happiest of memories. However, he’ll tell you that as hard as that night of May 29, 1992 was for him, he probably benefitted — at least in terms of the immediate emotional toll — from the fact that he was so new to the AHL, it being the first year for the Leafs in St. John’s and his first in pro hockey.

He does not benefit from naiveté today as he contemplates the IceCaps’ loss to the Texas Stars in the 2014 Calder Cup final, which ended with the Stars’ 4-3 overtime win in Game 5 Tuesday night at Mile One Centre.

“The thing is now I actually know how hard it is to get here,” said Stanford mere minutes after Tuesday’s contest. “That first year, you didn’t know any better. You’re naive enough to think you could get back every year.

“But this a tough business. This is a tough league. And getting all the way to the end is hard. Very, very hard.

“I think that’s why this one hurts so much more.”

It’s not that Stanford hasn’t been part of an AHL champion. He was running the Hamilton Bulldogs when they won the Calder Cup in 2007.

“Of course, I am appreciative of the fact I had to chance to win it in Hamilton. It was wonderful, but I think people would understand how even more special it would be to win in it your hometown and to have a win for these fans,” said Stanford.

And here a pause as he collected his emotions, after having reminded himself of the thousands of people who just minutes before — and even as they were still dealing with the soul-sucking agony of Patric Nemeth’s game-winning goal in overtime — stood and cheered and clapped and yelled in appreciation for the IceCaps.

“These are great fans and it was great team and it was a great season and I’m sure we’ll all appreciate that in the long run,” said Stanford.

“And you know what, I think I actually enjoyed the ride a little bit more this year. It’s one of the things I learned from that (championship) year in Hamilton and maybe from the experience here 22 years ago, that you have to enjoy the ride, too, no matter what happens.

“Although, to be honest, I can’t really say I enjoy this feeling right now.”

If throwing himself into his work will provide any relief, then the recovery may be a little quicker. The off-season is often the busiest of times for the front offices of professional hockey teams and with the IceCaps having played through to mid-June, the off-season will be that much shorter for Stanford and his staff — the start of a new AHL season only about 16 weeks away.

There is also the ongoing, collateral work of trying to find a new NHL affiliate for the IceCaps.

The Winnipeg Jets, who own the St. John’s AHL franchise, will move it somewhere west after the 2014-15 season as part of a trend of NHL organizations wanting to keep their development teams closer to the big club, and options for a replacement franchise that could be in place for 2015-16 are limited by time and the circumstances of existing affiliation contracts.

What’s more, the competition is bound to heat up with word that up to a half-dozen eastern-based American Hockey League teams could soon be relocated to California and surrounding states as western NHL clubs look to create a Pacific AHL division.

That could leave a lot of other AHL cities — beside St. John’s — looking for a team to fill the vacuum.

He wouldn’t say it, but knowing that retaining the AHL here is no sure thing probably added to Stanford’s emotions Tuesday night. After all, it’s hard to contemplate another shot at a title when you’re not absolutely certain you’ll have a team.

Still, you can always count on a little humour from Stanford, despite the circumstances. This time, is wasn’t about champagne  — he didn’t have to worry about having any on hand this week because, if the IceCaps were to win the Cup, it wasn’t going to happen at home.

Instead, he went for a little self-deprecating crack at his personal record in Calder Cup final games in St. John’s, which stands at 0-and-7. In 1992, the Leafs lost four times at Memorial Stadium in an odd series that saw the road team win every game. This time, the IceCaps lost three straight at home — all in overtime — to the Stars after splitting the opening two games of the final in Cedar Park, Tex.

“If you look at that, you’ve got to wonder how much home-ice advantage I bring,” he said with a chuckle.