'An unbelievable feeling': Calgary Canucks OT hero Jason Abramoff recalls 1995 Centennial Cup triumph

Article content

Jason Abramoff remembers it like it was yesterday.

The biggest goal of his hockey life gave the Calgary Canucks the 1995 Centennial Cup championship. 

Article content

With his head down …

From the point in overtime …

On his 21st birthday.

“I was just lucky enough to have that shot,” said Abramoff, recalling his enormous role in the Canucks’ 5-4 OT triumph over the host Gloucester Rangers in Ontario for the Alberta Junior Hockey League team’s only Canadian Junior Hockey League title. 

Advertisement 2

Article content

“Honestly, it was a pass from Mitch Ferguson, and I took one-timer from the point,” continued Abramoff, now 50. “I didn’t even see it go in. My head was down. My only hope was get it on net and don’t have it blocked. That’s all I thought. I remember seeing the replay, and it actually looked like I knew what I was doing. 

“But it was an unbelievable feeling. I kind of went numb for a bit. When I heard people cheer, I don’t even know how to explain it. It was just like time stopped. I was numb. I didn’t know what to think, say, do …”

The current-day Canucks hope to feel that way come Sunday at the 2024 Centennial Cup in Oakville, Ont.

After a second-place finish in Pool A action, the AJHL champions head into the playoff round with plans to pull out three straight victories for a second national title.

That starts with the Canucks (2-1-1-0) challenging the Manitoba Junior Hockey League-winning Winkler Flyers (2-0-0-2) on Friday at Sixteen Mile Sports Complex (5:30 p.m., HockeyCanada.ca).

And, hopefully, it ends with glory — just as Abramoff and the 1995 Canucks enjoyed — after Sunday’s finale (1 p.m., TSN).

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

“The Centennial Cup goal was obviously a once-in-a-lifetime situation,” said Abramoff, who is celebrating the current run while still enjoying deep connections with the Canucks, including having been an assistant coach under legendary head man Don Phelps for a few seasons. “It’s one of the those things where you don’t plan on it happening, but you grow up thinking about it happening — as a kid, scoring the winning goal in overtime whether you’re playing street hockey or pond hockey.

“Fortunately enough, I was one of the lucky guys to live out that dream.”

Canucks took down defending national champs in AJHL final

Indeed, it was quite the ride in 1995.

“I still remember we were in training camp at Village Square where we had quite a few guys returning. We had some good young kids coming up and a couple of veterans were talking about how the year was going to go and were excited about this and that, and it might have been Dion Wandler who said, ‘What are we talking about the regular season for? We’re going to the Centennial Cup this year.’ We all kind of chuckled at it.” 

The Canucks went on to have a successful regular season, finishing second in the AJHL with a 36-20-0 record. 

Advertisement 4

Article content

In the playoffs, they took care of the Bonnyville Pontiacs 4-1 in a rough first-round series and then went the distance before prevailing 4-3 over the Fort McMurray Oil Barons, a talented team boosted by a few players who joined from the Western Hockey League.

“At that point,” Abramoff said, “we thought, ‘You know what? We might have a chance.’”

So it was off to the AJHL final to challenge — and upend — the defending-champion Olds Grizzlys 4-1.

“We were pretty amped up to play them,” Abramoff continued. “Maybe they underestimated us a little bit, but we beat them in five games. And we thought, ‘Wow, we just knocked off the defending national champions — one of the best teams in the country — pretty handily.’ We were flying high — we were full of confidence going to Chilliwack for the B.C.-Alberta final.”

Against the host Chilliwack Chiefs in the Doyle Cup, the Canucks surprised the BCHL champs in Game 1.

“But we got blown out in Game 2, and it was a bit of an eye-opener for us,” recalled Abramoff. “We were a little cocky coming off the AJHL final and beating the Chiefs the first game.”

Advertisement 5

Article content

Three games later, the Canucks faced elimination, down 3-1 in the series.

“Eoin Colquhoun scored in overtime of Game 5 and gave us our jam back, and we went on to win the next two and went onto the Centennial Cup,” Abramoff continued. “Even back then, that B.C. league was always arguably one of the strongest leagues in Canada. So we knew we had our hands full. And Chilliwack had a lot of high-end talent on that team. But we stuck with it.

“And that was kind of the mantra of our team all year. We didn’t have superstars. We had good players, but we didn’t have that one guy that would go through everybody or we didn’t have that one amazing defenceman. We were a true team. 

“We played for each other. We loved each other. We went to battle for each other and with each other. One of the things that I was always excited and proud about is that after playing on a Sunday night, we’d go out for a bite — eat or whatever. It wouldn’t be a clique of guys or two or three guys. It would be everybody. We were close. We were tight. And that’s what made it so special.”

Nationals started with win by forfeit

What made it even more special was what came next at the Centennial Cup.

Advertisement 6

Article content

At Gloucester, which is now part of Ottawa, the Canucks got blown out in Game 1 by Quebec’s Joliette Nationals — only to learn the LHJAAAQ champions had played with what the CJHL deemed was at least one illegal player. 

So the Calgary club was awarded the forfeit win.

“It was pretty sombre in the room after getting blown out by Quebec,” Abramoff said. “So that news gave us a little juice in our sails. We ended up going 3-1 (losing only to the MJHL’s Winnipeg South Blues) in the round robin.”

Their reward was the USHL-champ Thunder Bay Flyers in the semifinal, from which the Canucks advanced on Scott Wagner’s late goal. 

And it was on to the final to play the host Rangers.

“We’re in the final, and you know, I think there’s a lot of nerves there to begin with,” Abramoff said. “And we thought we played OK, but we were down — we just couldn’t find the back of the net and down 4-2 with about five minutes left.”

But Kyle Edwards scored — on an Abramoff assist — and Trevor Murray tallied to tie it in the last minute, sending the Canucks bench into a frenzy. 

And it took a while, nearly the entire 10-minute overtime period, but Abramoff’s chance to shine came, and he buried his point shot at the 9:13 mark.

Advertisement 7

Article content

The time of the goal made the moment even more memorable, since Abramoff wore jersey No. 9 and the final — his birthday, remember — was played on May 13.

“It was fate that it maybe it was my turn to have my 15 minutes of fame or whatever they say,” added Abramoff, now a regional manager at Flair Airlines and scout for the AJHL’s Okotoks Oilers. “But hockey-wise, it the pinnacle of my career. There’s no doubt about it. I knew I wasn’t going to the NHL. 

“I was interviewed afterwards and said, ‘This will be the closest I get to the Stanley Cup, because the Centennial Cup looks much similar to the Stanley Cup.’ It was the highlight of my hockey career without a doubt.”

[email protected]


Article content