|Detroit Junior Red Wings|
|League||Ontario Hockey League|
|Home arena||Joe Louis Arena|
|Colors||Red and white|
|1990–92||Detroit Compuware Ambassadors|
|1992–95||Detroit Junior Red Wings|
The Compuware Ambassadors were renamed the Detroit Junior Red Wings in 1992 and played in the same arena as the NHL Detroit Red Wings. The Junior team was the most popular attraction in town during the NHL lockout of 1995, setting attendance records for the Ontario Hockey League and Canadian Hockey League.
After a failed takeover bid by Peter Karmanos to buy the NHL Red Wings from Mike Ilitch, the relationship between the two clubs soured after the season ended. The Jr. Red Wings played for three seasons before severing all ties with the NHL Red Wings and renaming themselves as the Detroit Whalers, in association with the NHL Hartford Whalers, which Karmanos bought in 1994.
Former Windsor Compuware Spitfires coach Tom Webster was hired to coach for the 1992–93 season, with Paul Maurice as his assistant coach. Webster worked previously with Jr. Red Wings President Jim Rutherford and owner Peter Karmanos, when Windsor won the OHL title in 1987–88. Webster was returning from NHL coaching duties with the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings.
Key acquisitions made to build the team during the season were, defenceman Jamie Allison, forward Kevin Brown, and goalie Fred Brathwaite. Jim Rutherford was chosen OHL Executive of the Year in 1992–93 for role as team president and general manager in building the expansion franchise into a winning team.
The Jr. Wings played a run-and-gun style game. They were led in scoring by the Junior Production Line featuring, Pat Peake, Bob Wren and Kevin Brown. The trio combined for 163 goals on the season. Todd Harvey also scored 50 goals playing on the second line.
Detroit finished the season with 81 points, and second place in the Emms division tied with Sault Ste. Marie but had less wins with London finishing 10 points behind Detroit but the others finished with 66 points or below. The Junior Red Wings defeated the Guelph Storm in 5 games in the first round of the playoffs, but lost Pat Peake for the rest of the season when he suffered a broken collarbone.
Detroit defeated the rival London Knights in 5 games in second round to play the division champs Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the division finals. The more experienced Greyhounds team won the series in 5 games. The highlight of the round was the game three win, when with only three seconds left and the opposing net empty, goalie Fred Brathwaite set franchise history when he scored a goal.
Before the start of the season, assistant coach Paul Maurice was promoted to head coach, when Tom Webster was relieved of his duties after a disagreement in team policies. Maurice brought along an old teammate as his new assistant, close friend Peter DeBoer. The two played together with the Windsor Compuware Spitfires in the mid to late 1980s.
Maurice and Deboer led the Junior Red Wings to their first division title after several years of chasing Sault Ste. Marie who finished with 79 points while the others in the division finished with 70 points or below. Detroit posted a franchise-best record of 42-20-4, second overall in the OHL to the North Bay Centennials. Jim Rutherford was chosen OHL Executive of the Year for the second consecutive year in 1993–94. After the trading deadline, the Junior Wings won 16 of 23 games over the last two months of the regular season to win the Emms Division title.
Detroit got a round bye for the first round but went against the Owen Sound Platers and swept them in the second round. Detroit finally eliminated Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the division finals in 6 games during the playoffs. As Emms Division champions, they moved on to meet the North Bay Centennials in the OHL Finals. Despite leading the series 3 games to 2, Detroit came up short as North Bay came back to win the series and the J. Ross Robertson Cup. Although the team fell short of its ultimate goal, it was a breakthrough season nonetheless.
Paul Maurice took over as general manager after Jim Rutherford moved to take over managing the NHL Hartford Whalers. Maurice would continue to serve as the coach in a dual role.
The OHL realigned into three divisions for the 1994–95 season. Detroit would now play in the West Division versus Windsor, London, Sarnia and Sault Ste. Marie. As the season unfolded, the Junior Wings quickly developed into a balanced team that could play the game in many strategic ways. The team finished with a franchise best record of 44-18-4 for 92 points a close call for Windsor who finished with 85 points. It was the best defensive year to date for the team since only Windsor finished above .500, Sarnia finished with 53 points with London finished with 40 points and Sault Ste. Marie finished with 38 points.
Junior hockey in Detroit received a boost when the National Hockey League owners locked out their players until the middle of January. The Jr. Wings set an all-time Canadian Hockey League attendance record when 19,875 packed Joe Louis Arena on February 5, 1995 in a 5-5 tie with Windsor.
NHL scouts regularly attended the OHL games as did Red Wings head coach Scotty Bowman was a regular at the games. Looking to fill gaps in coverage, Red Wing broadcasters Dave Strader and Mickey Redmond broadcast several games for PASS-TV. In addition, The Junior Wings received regular coverage in the Detroit News and Free Press and found a friend in WDIV's Van Earl Wright.
The Junior Wings rolled through the first two rounds of the playoffs, sweeping the London Knights and Peterborough Petes. In the third round versus the Sudbury Wolves, the visiting team won each of the first six games in overtime. Detroit won game seven on May 8, 1995 playing on home ice, scoring an 11-4 victory. The Junior Red Wings defeated the first place Guelph Storm in the league finals to win their first J. Ross Robertson Cup as OHL Champions, and get their first berth in the Memorial Cup Tournament.
Memorial Cup 1995
The Canadian Hockey League championship in 1995 was hosted in Kamloops, British Columbia at the Riverside Coliseum. The Junior Red Wings would face off in the Memorial Cup Tournament against the QMJHL champions Hull Olympiques, the WHL finalists Brandon Wheat Kings, and the Kamloops Blazers as hosts and WHL champions.
The Junior Wings finished the round-robin in second place. They defeated Brandon again 2-1 in the semi-final game to advance to the finals against the defending champion Blazers. During that game vs. Brandon, there was an online report that said that Milan Kostolny scored the winning goal, but in fact after video research, the goal was scored by Matthew Ball, off of Wade Redden's foot Detroit then started the final game vs Kamloops shorthanded, playing without Shayne McCosh (broken wrist) and Bryan Berard, trying to play with a bad charley horse. The Blazers blew the game open in the second period and went on to win 8-2.
Paul Maurice put the Junior Wings season in perspective:
"I have a picture hanging in my office," Maurice said. "It's not a picture of us winning the championship but a picture of the crowd the day we won (May 8, 1995). It was a real special time and I remember that fondly.
"My time with the Ambassadors and Junior Wings was one of the best times of my life, in terms of coaching. I think probably more so because a lot of people really caught on to junior hockey. I know a lot of those faces I see in the pictures and I remember the people being so loyal..."
The Detroit Ambassadors became the Detroit Jr. Wings in 1992 to put them in a state of popularity with the NHL's Red Wings. The owner of the Detroit Red Wings Mike Ilitch and the owner of the Detroit Jr. Red Wings Peter Karmanos had an ongoing feud. Notably, the Jr. Red Wing and Red Wings both shared the Joe Louis Arena. The rivalry between Ilitch and Karmanos boiled over, and the Jr. Red Wings were unceremoniously evicted from the Joe Louis Arena. When Karmanos bought the Hartford Whalers, the team became the Detroit Whalers, but played out of the tiny Oak Park Arena and the Palace of Auburn Hills, the latter of which could have been an appropriate venue for the NHL Whalers. Karmanos then had his own arena for his team constructed, Compuware Arena. In 1997, the Detroit Whalers became the Plymouth Whalers, simply because the team played out of Plymouth, Michigan.
J. Ross Robertson Cup - OHL Champion
- 1992–93 Tom Webster - Won the 1967–68 OHA scoring title with the Niagara Falls Flyers. Also played for the Detroit Red Wings (NHL) and Hartford Whalers (WHA).
- 1993–95 Paul Maurice (2 seasons) - Played for Tom Webster as a member of the Windsor Compuware Spitfires. Later coached the Carolina Hurricanes for seven seasons.
The Detroit Junior Red Wings sent 13 players onto the NHL while only operating for three seasons. Pat Peake was the first MVP for the franchise. His # 14 would be retired by the Whalers organization. Cameron Gruich was chosen 3rd in the 2nd round by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. Todd Harvey was chosen 9th overall by the Dallas Stars in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft in the first round.
- 1992–93 - Pat Peake, Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year, Red Tilson Trophy Most Outstanding Player, William Hanley Trophy Most Sportsmanlike Player
- 1992–93 - Kevin Brown, Jim Mahon Memorial Trophy Top Scoring Right Winger
- 1993–94 - Kevin Brown, Jim Mahon Memorial Trophy Top Scoring Right Winger
- 1994–95 - Bryan Berard, Canadian Hockey League Rookie of the Year; Emms Family Award, OHL Rookie of the Year; Max Kaminsky Trophy, Defenceman of the Year; CHL Top Draft Prospect Award
- 1994–95 - Jason Saal, Hap Emms Memorial Trophy Outstanding Goaltender at Memorial Cup
- Regular season
- 1992–93 - Defeated Guelph Storm 4 games to 1 in first round.
Defeated London Knights 4 games to 1 in quarter-finals.
Lost to S.S.Marie Greyhounds 4 games to 1 in semi-finals.
- 1993–94 - Earned first round bye. 1st place in Emms division.
Defeated Owen Sound Platers 4 games to 0 in division semi-finals.
Defeated S.S.Marie Greyhounds 4 games to 2 in semi-finals.
Lost to North Bay Centennials in finals.
- 1994–95 - Defeated London Knights 4 games to 0 in division quarter-finals.
Defeated Peterborough Petes 4 games to 0 in quarter-finals.
Defeated Sudbury Wolves 4 games to 3 in semi-finals.
Defeated Guelph Storm 4 games to 2 in finals. OHL CHAMPIONS
Finished Memorial Cup round-robin in second place (2 wins, 1 loss).
Defeated Brandon Wheat Kings 2-1 in semi-final game.
Lost to Kamloops Blazers 8-2 in Memorial Cup championship game.
The Junior Red Wings played at Joe Louis Arena concurrently with the NHL Detroit Wings. The Junior Red Wings set OHL attendance records for three consecutive years. The Junior Wings set a Canadian Hockey League attendance record at the time, on February 5, 1995, when 19,875 fans packed Joe Louis Arena to see a 5-5 tie with the local rival Windsor Spitfires.
- Joe Louis Arena The OHL Arena & Travel Guide