Thorndale area native played key role in 1998-99 Chatham Maroons’ Sutherland Cup win
By Pat Payton
There are comebacks, and then there are comebacks!
Dan Murrell was a member of a Chatham Maroons team that they could have dubbed ‘The Cardiac Kids.’ Murrell played a huge role in that hockey team’s Sutherland Cup championship season — now almost 22 years ago. The story that evolved that memorable spring of 1999 is worth repeating.
A little history first. After playing in the St. Marys minor system, Murrell began a three-year stint with the Jr. ‘B’ Lincolns in 1995-96. As a 19-year-old in the 1997-98 season, the Thorndale area native fired 36 goals to lead the Lincs in scoring. The next fall, Murrell was off to the University of Windsor.
The Maroons quickly heard that Murrell was coming down to their neck of the woods, and owner-coach-GM Dave Torrie called that summer. For his final year of Junior, Murrell joined the Maroons and that 1998-99 season proved to be an historic one for the franchise.
During the regular schedule, Chatham (36-12-0-4) finished second in the West Division of the Western League — 15 points behind the first-place Leamington Flyers (44-5-0-3), who lost just five regular-season games that season. There was also an East Division, with St. Thomas Stars (37-11-0-4) placing first.
Rebound from 3-0 series deficit
Maroons eliminated the Petrolia Jets to open the league playoffs. In the semi-finals, they faced the strong Leamington club — a team with future NHLers Steve Ott and Tim Gleason on its roster.
Flyers won the first three games of the best-of-seven series (including the first two in overtime), and held a 3-0 lead in Game 4. But the resilient Chatham team refused to go away.
“We had a bunch of 20-year-olds,” Murrell recalled. “I remember going into Game 4, and the team mentality of us older guys was that we didn’t want to lose the series on home ice. We had a lot of character on that team, guys who just didn’t like to lose. We never got flustered.”
Maroons fought back to win Game 4, and then won 2-1 the next day in Leamington. “Game 4 was on a Saturday night in Chatham, and then we played Game 5 in Leamington on Sunday afternoon,” he said. “It was a very quick turnaround.”
All of a sudden, Maroons trailed just 3-2 in the series and had precariously new life.
After a three-day break, Game 6 was back in Chatham. Maroons fell behind 2-0, but again battled back in the third period to win the contest. Following the game, Flyers’ coach Kevin Hamlin openly berated his team.
“I can remember their coach yelling and screaming down the hallway,” Murrell said. “I don’t think it’s something you want to do when it boils down to a one-game series.”
Hamlin’s tirade obviously didn’t inspire the Flyers in the seventh and deciding game the next night in Leamington.
“I remember warming up for Game 7 and taking a look at their team,” Murrell said. “(Flyers) were just wide-eyed and seemed kind of frozen out there. The pressure was now on them. We were lucky to get there, but things bounced our way in Game 7.
“Quite frankly, when you step back, a team that loses just five games in a 52-game season, you would be hard-pressed to beat a team like that four in a row. Leamington had a great team, but we did it.”
Defeat St. Thomas in league final
The gruelling four-game comeback earned Maroons a berth in the Western final against St. Thomas.
Stars won the series opener, but Chatham answered with four straight victories to claim the Western title. In Game 4 of that series in St. Thomas, Maroons won a 6-5 thriller in overtime. Murrell was one of his team’s goal-scorers that night.
A pattern continued in the Sutherland Cup playoffs when Chatham lost round-robin games to both St. Catharines Falcons and Stratford Cullitons. However, Maroons won the next two games–without their best two defencemen–to punch their ticket to the OHA final against Stratford.
Leading the series 3-2, Maroons were poised to win the All-Ontario title on home ice, but Cullitons won the game to force Game 7 back in Stratford. After the Game 6 loss, Murrell said the Chatham team remained confident and unfazed.
“As an adult, you look back on those experiences and you think there should have been some panic,” he said. “But when you’re a kid, you just play the game. I remember being really disappointed because we could have won the Sutherland Cup at home, and the whole city of Chatham was hoping we would. It just wasn’t meant to be.
“Looking back, it’s the way we went about everything in the playoffs. We just didn’t do anything the easy way,” he added with a laugh.
Win deciding game in Stratford
In front of a full house at the Allman Arena, Maroons won the deciding game 6-3 — finally clinching the Ontario title with an empty-net goal.
This reporter covered Game 7 in Stratford, and the pesky Murrell was the best forward on the ice that night. In his sports career, he always had a knack for coming up big when it counted. To put it another way, and to his credit, Murrell was a pain in the butt for other teams to play against. He was a winner, and he always left everything on the ice.
“A lot of people from St. Marys were at that seventh game, and a lot of my family were there, too, so it was kind of neat to win it in Stratford,” Murrell said. “Stratford had a great team, too.”
During the Sutherland Cup final, the mother of Chatham defenceman Ryan Brown died of cancer. “That was hard for a lot of the guys,” Murrell remembers. “We played through it, and Stratford also sent a card to Ryan. At the time, it was very kind of Stratford to do that. When you’re older, looking back, you appreciate things like that even more.”
After a 52-game regular season, Maroons played 28 playoff games en route to the OHA championship. It all added up to an 80-game season (and that’s not counting exhibition games).
The playoffs were such an emotional and draining stretch for Murrell that he had to take a couple of weeks off to rest and get mentally ready for the fastball season ahead that summer.
Great teams have great players
Great teams have great players, and Murrell recalled just a few of his Chatham teammates. He said team captain Darryl Green, a big defenceman, was a “calming influence” on the Maroons.
“Darryl was a heckuva captain; he’s probably the best captain I’ve ever played with,” Murrell said. “He never let anything bother him, and everyone kind of fed off him.”
Green, who hails from the Embro area, earned an NCAA scholarship and was recently named one of the top 15 Chatham Maroons of all-time.
Murrell remembers Raphael Protopapas firing a couple of big goals in overtime, and Trevor Jacobs also scored a couple of timely playoff goals. And he describes Nick Warriner as being “one of his favourite teammates of all-time.”
“We played 28 playoff games, and the leading goal-scorer on our team had 11 goals,” he noted. “About five guys had 10 goals, so we had a very balanced team. There were a lot of nights when you couldn’t tell the difference between our first line and our third line.”
Murrell says a couple of other big contributors were goaltender Scott Murray and defenceman Dave Halliwill. “Every big game, Scott came up huge for us,” he said of Murray, a St. Clements native who today is goalie coach for the NHL’s Washington Capitals. Halliwill is now a co-owner of the GOJHL’s Leamington Flyers.
Dave Torrie good coach
Murrell credits coach Torrie with playing a key role in that championship season as well.
“I think Dave was another reason we were such a good team,” he said. “He was not only a good coach, but a good person. He loved hockey, and he just treated us like gold.”
Today, Torrie is a pro scout for the LA Kings.
Where does winning the Sutherland Cup with the Maroons rate in his personal sports career, Murrell was asked.
“It’s right up there; it was a pretty neat experience,” he replied. “It’s funny, but my wife (Jenn) likes to make fun of me whenever I get a text from a (Chatham) teammate. She just rolls her eyes because a smile always comes to my face. I stay in touch with quite a few of the boys on a regular basis.”
In 2006, the 1998-99 Maroons hockey club was inducted into the Chatham Sports Hall of Fame. Maroons have won a total of 10 Western Jr. ‘B’ titles, but it’s their only Sutherland Cup championship in the club’s long history in Junior hockey.
–A modern-day Lincolns’ scoring record stat. Dan Murrell is second all-time in shorthanded goals with eight.
–After his Junior career, Murrell played three seasons for the University of Windsor Lancers and averaged almost a point a game. He finished with 67 points in 71 OUA games.
–Today, the St. Marys resident is a principal at a Dorchester public school. He previously taught eight years at a public school in Tavistock.
–Murrell is also a coach in the St. Marys minor hockey system. He is a Lincs’ club director as well.
–Dan and Jenn have two children, Harper, 11, and Halle, 9.