The 2005-06 Burnaby Express national championship season was one with its share of ups and downs.
First of all, the team relocated from Coquitlam to Burnaby as the home rink of the Express in Coquitlam began a massive renovation project.
The previous season the team had gone through some changes with Rick Lanz taking over behind the bench from the only coach the franchise had known in Sean Crowther. That year the team finished below .500 but built a 3-1 series lead in the first round of the playoffs vs. the Chilliwack Chiefs only to lose the series in seven games.
It was the third straight year the Express had lost to Chilliwack in seven and fourth consecutive series loss to Chilliwack in four seasons of existence for the Express.
There was optimism coming into the 2005-06 season. Forward Geoff Irwin was acquired in an off-season trade from Victoria for defenceman Chad Betts. And there was a young, fresh faced 16-year-old from New Westminster by the name of Kyle Turris. They would be surrounded by a talented core including Paul Crowder, Tyler McNeely, and Keith Seabrook.The early optimism didn’t translate to success on the ice though. A 2-1 start had turned into a six game losing streak and 4-9-0-1 record by the middle of October. That weekend was highlighted by the team losing its two goaltenders in a span of 24 hours. Bryce Luker in Surrey suffered a serious cut to his leg on a collision. Another collision the next night took out Brian Mahoney-Wilson in Chilliwack.
The injuries left call-up Matthew Gordon to tend the fort. And by this time Paul Crowder had gone down long term following shoulder surgery.
Early season trades add sandpaper
The team was in need of a shake-up. The defense was altered with the acquisitions of Jeff Orban from Alberni Valley and skilled blueliner Alan Mazur was sent to Merritt for Dave Simoes. The deals made the backend that much harder to play against. Mark Santorelli was picked up from Salmon Arm to help fill Crowder’s absence.
It was at this point the results on the ice began to improve. A six game winning streak had the team five games above .500 by early December.
Over the Christmas break, a familiar face returned with Mark Soares coming back from Bemidji State. He was the team’s most popular player as voted on by the fans in each of the previous four seasons. And the epitome of “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog” type of player.
As the calendar had turned over to 2006, the team was nipping on the heels of the Chilliwack Chiefs for first place in the Mainland Division. But a pair of losses in a home-and-home series against the Chiefs delivered a blow to those chances.
A rare four games in four nights Island Division road trip in the middle of January tested the mettle of the group. It started with losses in Nanaimo and Alberni Valley, who were neck and neck for the Island Division and overall BCHL regular season crowns.
The trip went down to Victoria where veteran forward Irwin was healthy scratched in his hometown. The game resulted in a controversial 3-on-3 overtime penalty shot loss.
Frustrations of the loss had boiled over, Lanz was ultimately suspended for an on-ice tirade and joined this author in the broadcast booth for a few occasions. The road trip concluded with another frustrating overtime loss in Cowichan Valley.
It was then up to the northern interior of BC where the team scraped five out of six points in Prince George, Quesnel, and Williams Lake.
Chilliwack loss serves as a wake-up call
The 2006 Burnaby Express came to a pivotal moment in their season on a Sunday afternoon at home to Chilliwack. It was still possible for Burnaby to finish in first place, but the Express’ nemesis made the trip to Burnaby and laid an 8-0 whipping on the team.
The loss did not sit well with the humbled group. And the players endured their punishment in practice the next few days.
But it would be the tonic that would eventually snap this talented group to attention and get them to play to the potential that they had.
Following the loss, the team finished with six straight wins to end the regular season. Irwin eventually would finish third overall in BCHL scoring, Turris had 36 goals and 72 points in his rookie season.
The team finished in second place in the Mainland Division after a 34 win season. They would draw the Langley Hornets in the first round.
Luker recovered well from his injury earlier in the season and opened the playoffs with a shutout. By the time the third period of game four was two minutes old, the Express had a 3-0 series lead and 6-1 lead in the game and appeared to be in good shape to advance in a sweep.
Langley fought back and made it 6-5 with just over a minute to play. The Express eventually held on for the 7-5 win and won a playoff series for the first time in team history.
Box score from game four vs. Langley
Up next was the long-time nemesis from Chilliwack, but this time things would be different. Crowder returned from his shoulder injury in game one and was put on a line with McNeely and Irwin. When all was said and done, the Chiefs had no idea what hit them.
Hometown boy McNeely takes over
McNeely played overtime hero in game one. After opening up a 3-0 series lead, the Express had rolled to a 13 game winning streak, which dated back to that Sunday afternoon 8-0 setback.
Chilliwack took game four to avoid a sweep but in game five McNeely scored a hat-trick and the Express exacted a measure of revenge from previous seasons with the series win. McNeely finished the series with 18 points in five games alone. Crowder and Irwin weren’t far behind.
Up next was the Coastal Conference final. The Victoria Salsa stunned the BCHL with series wins over powerhouses Nanaimo and Alberni Valley to advance to round three with Cinderella slippers on their feet.
Victoria took game one but then their clock struck midnight on the Salsa. The Express took the next four games to advance to the Fred Page Cup final for the first time in its five season history.
It was a trip to Penticton to play for a Fred Page Cup championship. This would be a tooth and nail battle for most of the series. The first four games were split. Game five was a 1-1 tie in the third period when Luker made a key save at one end before Seabrook scored his second of the night at the other end for a 2-1 Express lead. They held to come home with a chance to win their first ever Fred Page Cup.
Again, game six was airtight. The teams traded goals in the first period and that would be it until overtime.
A Penticton chance in the slot was turned aside by a desperation glove save by Luker that would have sent the series back to Penticton the next night if it went in.
Moments later Crowder helped rush the puck up the ice, drawing a penalty in the process. He found McNeely in the slot who redirected the pass over Corey Milan and the Burnaby Express were BCHL champions for the first time in team history with the 2-1 win.
Doyle Cup BC-Alberta championship
Fort McMurray, Alberta was the next destination on the journey for the start of the Doyle Cup.
A 6-3 win for the Express opened up the series. Fort Mac bounced back in game two with a 2-0 win. That meant a third game would be played in the northern oil town and it required overtime. Crowder had numerous top-notch chances before finally scoring to give the Express the 2-1 lead in the series as it shifted to Burnaby.
Fort McMurray took game four to even the series at two. It was here that the physicality of the Express ramped up and paid dividends for the skill to find the room it needed for a 4-1 win. The script remained the same in game six and it was all Express with a 6-0 win paced by a Seabrook hat trick and a 31 save shutout by Luker.
Then it was off to suburban Toronto for the Royal Bank Cup.
2006 RBC Cup tournament
The opener of the tournament saw the Express take on the host Streetsville Derbys. By the midway point of the third period, Burnaby had opened a 3-1 lead only to see Streetsville comeback and eventually prevail in overtime. It was the last time the 2005-06 Express would suffer a defeat.
They finished the round-robin with wins over Fort William of the Superior International Junior Hockey League, Yorkton of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, and Joliette of the Quebec Junior Hockey League.
Semifinal Saturday saw the Express draw the Fort William First Nation North Stars. The Express started well, but Carter Hutton had shut the door. By the time the third period rolled around, the North Stars had opened a 2-0 lead.
The Express kept pushing, but Hutton didn’t budge. And moment by moment the clock was winding down to the run of this Express team coming to an end. Then with just under two minutes of play, a crack of hope opened up when Jovan Matic tipped home a Santorelli shot to cut the lead to 2-1. This Express squad fought with all their might to get the goal that would send the game to overtime.
With 11 seconds left, the puck found Turris in the slot and his shot found the top corner and a national championship dream was still alive. But there was still overtime where Luker provided some heroic saves.
A rimmed puck in the North Stars zone found the stick of Seabrook who hit Soares on the tape in the slot where he snapped the overtime winner to send the Express to a national championship meeting with the Yorkton Terriers.
Despite four straight wins at the Royal Bank Cup to get to this point, the Express still wasn’t at its best. Burnaby saved the best for last on Mother’s Day in 2006.
The Express came out flying. By the 12 minute mark of the first period, a 3-0 lead was opened up on pair from Turris and a single from Stephen Cunningham.
The lead became 6-0 during the second period. Turris at this point had completed his hat-trick, and Soares, who was the longest serving member of the team, had scored his final goal in an Express uniform.
A pair of third period goals put the icing on the cake and the Express were national champions for the first time in team history with a 8-2 win.
By the middle of May, the team had made the most of their potential and had the hardware to prove it. Following that 8-0 loss to Chilliwack in February, the team went 31-7, including 25-7 in the playoffs. They never lost two straight during that time.
A number of the key pieces carried over to the 2006-07 season, including Turris who would lead the BCHL with 66 goals and 121 points in 53 games in his draft year. He went third overall to the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft to be the highest ever pick directly from the BCHL. McNeely finished 2006-07 with 104 points.
On the ice, the team won 34 games for a second straight season. Late in the year, the Express posted a ten game winning streak and needed overtime to defeat the Langley Chiefs in round one of the playoffs.
Round two saw injuries pile up against Nanaimo, which had the best record in the BCHL for a fourth straight season. The Express fought like champions to send the series to the dying seconds of the seventh game in Nanaimo before eventually falling to the Clippers, who went on to become the 2007 BCHL champions.
Eddie Gregory has been a producer at TSN 1040 for nearly 18 years and the play-by-play broadcaster for the Coquitlam Express since the 2004-05 season.
He has worked with the Express in various capacities from scorekeeper to DJ since the club’s inception in 2001. Eddie also runs a website covering the Express and the BCHL called Coquitlam Expressions, which he launched in 2007.