Busniuk remains in select AHL company

Mike Busniuk of the Maine Mariners celebrates a goal in the 1978 Calder Cup finals against the New Haven Nighthawks. He is the only player in AHL history to be part of four consecutive AHL championship clubs. Photo credit: Maine Mariners/Portland Public Library

WHILE the history of the American Hockey League remains storied, only one player has skated on four consecutive Calder Cup championship teams in its lengthy history and that honour belongs to Thunder Bay’s Mike Busniuk.

Prior to that, a successful NCAA stint at the University of Denver saw Busniuk play 145 contests for the Pioneers and produce 108 points while serving as team captain and earning team MVP honours as a senior.

Chosen by Montreal in the fifth round, 67th overall, of the 1971 NHL Draft, he began his professional career by winning a pair of AHL titles with the Nova Scotia Voyageurs, the farm club of the Montreal Canadiens.

After that came two more crowns with a newly minted Maine Mariners franchise in 1978 and ’79 as the AHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers.

In Maine, they defeated the New Haven Nighthawks on both occasions becoming the only franchise in AHL history to win the Calder Cup in their first two seasons.

The Mariners boasted two other local connections in goaltender Rick St. Croix and fellow Kenora product Bob McCammon, who coached the club.

Add in another Calder with Maine in 1983-84, Busniuk sits among a record-setting group of five-time AHL winners as a player before he tacked on a sixth crown in 1999-2000 while serving as an assistant coach with the Hartford Wolf Pack.

Boasting a 20-year coaching run as well, the very likable and amusing Busniuk offers some additional feedback on his time in the game with Part II of his Net Shots Q&A.

NET SHOTS: Do any of your Calder Cup titles stand out for you?

MIKE BUSNIUK: Yes, the second one in Maine. We dominated the league and in Game 4 of the finals against New Haven, we were up three games to none. We went out the night before and got drunk. The game started and we were down 3-0 in the first 10 minutes. Their captain skated by our bench and said you guys are brutal. Wrong thing to do! He woke us up and we beat them 9-3 and I got two goals.

NS: Who were some coaches you had over the years that you learned from?

MB: I had three really good coaches. Al MacNeil in Nova Scotia, who was responsible for me going to Philadelphia. Philly was looking for players for their first year in Maine. They called him and he said I have this player Busniuk here. He can’t skate, can’t shoot, but he really works hard. He kept my career going. Also, Bob McCammon gave me a chance to play in Maine and Pat Quinn in Philly, who was way ahead of his time. Good coach and person.

NS: Did you have an arena you really enjoyed playing in?

MB: My favourite place to play was the Denver University rink. It was always full and rowdy. We had a good team and every player was the same. None of us were paid and we played because we loved the game. The year I was recruited, of the seven players they brought in, all of us played in the NHL which was unheard of in those days. Duluth didn’t want me. Lucky me. In my four years at Denver we went to the Final 4 three times.

NS: How about your favourite place to coach and why?

MB: That was Binghamton in the AHL. It was a small market and the fans and ownership were great. I played Monday night hockey with the boys and had some really good friends, who I still keep in touch with. We had Alexei Kovalev (who went on to play 1,316 NHL games) down there and I remember saying to the head coach Al Hill; he will never play in the NHL. Good thing I wasn’t a scout.