As the WHL’s 2021-22 regular season winds down, let’s take a look back and wonder what one player’s final season might have been. It’s a season that shouldn’t be forgotten.
It was 1977-78. Bill Derlago of the Brandon Wheat Kings had turned 19 about a month before the season began. This would be his third full season with the Wheat Kings. In 1976-77, he had totalled 96 goals, which was a WHL record at the time, and 82 assists — 178 points — in 72 games.
Fans could only imagine what was to come.
Well, the native of Birtle, Man., didn’t disappoint, putting up 152 points, including 89 goals, in 52 games. That’s 1.17 goals and 2.92 points per game. Those are great numbers. Right?
But they could have been even better.
In early December, Derlago, playing between Brian Propp and Ray Allison, had 80 points, including 48 goals, in 26 games when he suited up with a WCHL all-star team in Regina against a touring side from what was then the Soviet Union. (The team, travelling as the Moscow Selects, won the game, 6-5. The WCHL team featured players from Brandon, the Regina Pats, Flin Flon Bombers and Medicine Hat Tigers.)
Over a 72-game season, Derlago was on pace for 218 points, including 133 goals. Rob Brown of the 1986-87 Kamloops Blazers holds the WHL record for most points in one season. He put up 212 in 63 games that season, an average of 3.37 points per game.
Had Derlago stayed healthy and maintained his pace, he would have averaged 1.85 goals and 3.03 points per game.
But it wasn’t to be.
On his second shift of that game in Regina, Derlago “lined up Boris Verigin . . . and took a run at him,” wrote Dave Senick of the Regina Leader-Post. “The Soviet went down and slipped past Derlago’s check.
“The Wheat King flew over Verigin and couldn’t get up after hitting the ice. The reason was a good one. He was taken to hospital and was diagnosed (with) possible torn knee ligaments.”
As it turned out, he had torn ligaments in his left knee.
“Sure, I’m disappointed and the records mean something to me,” Derlago told Senick. “But I’m not going to get worried. I just want to get back and play. It’s the first time I’ve had a serious injury in three years. I had my adrenaline flowing for this season.”
He did return and was able to finish up that 152-point season, but we were left to wonder what might have been.
BTW, Derlago’s 96 goals from 1976-77 stood up as the WHL single-season record until 1983-84 when Ray Ferraro, who had been acquired by the Wheat Kings from the Portland Winterhawks in the offseason, scored 108 times. That remains the WHL’s single-season record to this date.
The Vancouver Canucks selected Derlago with the fourth overall pick of the NHL’s 1978 draft. He went on to play 555 regular-season NHL games, most of them with the Toronto Maple Leafs for whom he enjoyed 35-, 34-, 40- and 31-goal seasons.
Jake Milford was the Canucks’ general manager at that time. He had been in the Wheat Kings’ front office, either as GM, head coach or both, from 1958-59 through 1963-64. McCallum had played two seasons (1958-60) with the Canucks.
And so it was that the Canucks, under Milford’s guidance, were putting the Canucks through their paces during Derlago’s first NHL training camp. That included running some sprints, something at which Derlago, who had large calves, wasn’t proficient.
When Milford called McCallum to update him on Derlago’s progress, the Canucks’ GM complained about Derlago’s poor performance on the track.
To which McCallum replied: “Jake, are you putting together a track team or a hockey team?”
It should be pointed out that Bill Derlago wasn’t the first WCHL superstar to lose a possible monstrous statistical season to injury. In 1968-69, Reggie Leach, the Riverton Rifle, finished with 46 points, including 36 goals, in 22 games with the Flin Flon Bombers, losing most of the season to a shoulder injury.
Over a 60-game schedule, which is what they played back in the day, that works out to 125 points, including 98 goals. Had Leach scored 98 goals, he would be two ahead of the 96 Derlago scored in 1976-77.
But let’s also think about Flin Flon captain Bobby Clarke, who won the scoring title that season with 137 points in 58 games. The Bombers’ second-leading scorer was Brian Marchinko, with 86 points.
Had Leach been riding shotgun with Clarke for the entire season, who knows how many points the league’s top player might have put up? One season earlier, Clarke won the scoring title with 168 points; Leach was second with 131.
Unfortunately, we’ll never know what might have been for Leach in 1968-69.
Not to overload you with Flin Flon-related chatter, but . . .
If you are having a discussion about the most intimidating hockey arena anywhere you have to have Flin Flon’s Whitney Forum at or near the top of the list. I haven’t been there in years, but I did take in the odd Bombers game back in the days of Gerry Hart, Bobby Clarke, Reggie Leach, Steve Andrascik, Wayne Hawrysh et al. Yes, it was a noisy, scary place. . . . Now there is talk that Hudbay — today, it’s Hudbay Minerals Inc.; in my time it was Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting — “is slated to shut down much of its operations nearby later this year,” Eric Westhaver wrote in the Flin Flon Reminder the other day. . . . What will that mean to the folks of Flin Flon and the Fabulous Forum? Westhaver takes a look right here at the past, the present and the future of a Canadian landmark.
SATURDAY IN THE WHL:
F Justin Sourdif and F Dylan Guenther each had two goals and two assists as the host Edmonton Oil Kings beat the Red Deer Rebels, 6-4. . . . The Oil Kings clinched their fourth straight Central Division pennant and will meet the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the first round of the playoffs. They will open in Edmonton on April 21. Edmonton won the season series, 6-2-0; Lethbridge was 2-5-1. . . . Edmonton snapped a 2-2 tie and took control with three goals in a span of 4:11 early in the second period, the last two coming via the PP after Red Deer F Frantisek Formanek was hit with a kneeing major and game misconduct. . . . Guenther now has 44 goals; Sourdif has 25. . . . Sourdif, who turned 20 on March 24, went into the game with 199 points in 195 career regular-season games. His first goal, at 8:50 of the first period, was his 200th career point. The Oil Kings acquired him from the Vancouver Giants earlier in the season. He has 37 points, including 16 goals, in 25 games with Edmonton. . . . Red Deer got a goal and two assists from each of D Christoffer Sedoff (8), F Ben King and F Arshdeep Bains. King and Bains each went into the game with 199 career regular-season points. . . . King, who leads the WHL with 50 goals in his 19-year-old season, now has 202 points in 204 career games. Bains, who leads the WHL with 105 points in his 20-year-old season, has 202 points in 255 career games. . . . King is the first Red Deer player to get to 50 since F Kyle Wanvig scored 55 in 2000-01. The franchise record (58) belongs to F B.J. Young (1996-97). . . . F Jake Neighbours, the Oil Kings’ captain, had two assists in his return to the lineup. He had last played on Feb. 21. . . . Edmonton (47-14-4) will finish second in the conference, while Red Deer (44-18-4) will be third. The Rebels, though, will have to wait to find out their first-round opponent — either the Saskatoon Blades, Moose Jaw Warriors or Brandon Wheat Kings. . . .
In Winnipeg, F Chase Wheatcroft scored twice and added an assist as the Ice beat the Medicine Hat Tigers, 6-1. . . . He’s got 16 goals. . . . F Cole Muir (11) scored twice and F Jakin Smallwood (24) had a goal and two assists. . . . Winnipeg held a 44-17 edge in shots, including 22-4 in the third period. . . . G Daniel Hauser earned the victory with 16 saves. This season, he is 31-3-1, 1.97, .914. . . . Winnipeg (50-10-5) will finish atop the conference and will face the eight-place team in the first round. Four teams — the Swift Current Broncos, Calgary Hitmen, Regina Pats and Prince Albert Raiders — are within two points of each other in the scrap for the last spot. . . . The Tigers (11-51-4) have lost 10 in a row. . . .
F Nate Danielson scored the only goal of a shootout as the Brandon Wheat Kings got past the visiting Moose Jaw Warriors, 3-2. . . . Moose Jaw led this one 2-0 early in the second period on goals from F Eric Alarie (22) and F Ryder Korczak (23). . . . F Nolan Ritchie (32) got Brandon to within one at 7:22 of the second period and D Vincent Iorio (11) tied it just 2:28 later. . . . Danielson was the fifth shooter in the circus. The Wheat Kings put it away when Korczak couldn’t beat G Ethan Kruger. . . . Brandon (35-25-5) is sixth, three points behind Moose Jaw (36-23-6) and the idle Saskatoon Blades (37-26-4). . . .
The Lethbridge Hurricanes ensured themselves of a seventh-place finish with a 5-1 victory over the visiting Calgary Hitmen. . . . F Jett Jones, who scored twice, broke a 1-1 tie with his first goal at 1:21 of the second period. He added his 20th of the season, shorthanded, at 19:22 of the third. . . . That seventh-place finish means the Hurricanes (31-30-5) will face the Edmonton Oil Kings in the first-round of the playoffs. These two teams have never played each other in the playoffs. . . . The Hitmen (25-32-8) are tied for eighth with Swift Current, one point ahead of Regina and Prince Albert. . . . Calgary and Regina each have three games remaining, Prince Albert has two and Swift Current one. . . .
F Connor Bedard scored twice and added an assist as the host Regina Pats beat the Prince Albert Raiders, 5-3. . . . Bedard gave his guys a 2-1 lead at 6:19 of the second period, then put them ahead 4-2, on the PP, at 6:46 of the third. . . . Bedard now has 92 points, including 49 goals, in 58 games. . . . The Pats also got a shorthanded goal and two assists from F Tanner Howe, who was playing against his hometown team. Howe, who won’t turn 17 until Nov. 28, has 66 points, 26 of them goals, in 61 games. . . . F Evan Herman scored twice for the Raiders, giving him 25. . . . Regina (26-34-5) and Prince Albert (26-25-5) are tied for 10th, two points from a playoff spot.
D Ethan Samson’s third-period PP goal broke a 1-1 tie as the host Prince George Cougars scored a 2-1 victory over the Victoria Royals. . . . F Marcus Almquist (5) gave the Royals a 1-0 lead at 1:27 of the first period. . . . F Jonny Hooker (16) tied it 10:06 later. . . . Samson, who has 15 goals, snapped the tie at 13:29 of the third period. He also drew an assist on Hooker’s goal. . . . G Ty Young stopped 29 shots for the Cougars, including 10 in the third period. . . . Prince George (23-38-5) is tied for sixth with the Spokane Chiefs. The Cougars have two games remaining — in Kamloops on Friday and in Kelowna on Saturday. . . . Victoria (22-38-6) is tied with the Vancouver Giants for eighth. The Royals have two games remaining with Spokane to visit on Friday and Saturday. . . .
In Kamloops, F Jaydon Dureau’s OT goal gave the Portland Winterhawks a 5-4 victory over the Blazers. . . . Andy Kemper, the Winterhawks’ historian, points out that the winning goal “was the 22nd of the season for No. 22 Dureau at 2:22 of OT.” . . . D Marek Alscher (7) had pulled Portland even, at 4-4, at 8:01 of the third period. . . . F Logan Stankoven had two goals, giving him 44, and an assist for Kamloops. His first goal, 57 seconds into the game, was his 100th point of the season. . . . Stankoven’s 102 points has him tied with F Ben King of the Red Deer Rebels for second in the WHL scoring race. They are three points behind Red Deer F Arshdeep Bains. . . . Stankoven leads the WHL in points per game, at 1.79. . . . The Blazers got three assists from F Daylan Kuefler. . . . Kamloops (47-16-3) is second in the conference. With two games to play, it is three points behind the idle Everett Silvertips (45-10-10) and two ahead of Portland (45-16-5), which also has two games remaining. . . .
F Andrew Cristall and F Colton Dach each had five points in leading the Kelowna Rockets to an 8-4 victory over the visiting Vancouver Giants. . . . Cristall had two goals and three assists, with Dach scoring once and adding four helpers. . . . Cristall has 26 goals, which breaks the franchise record for goals by a 16-year-old. F Shane McColgan (2009-10) and F Nick Merkley (2013-14) had shared the record prior to the game. . . . The Rockets also got two goals and two assists from F Mark Liwiski, who has 23 goals, and two goals and an assist from F Adam Kydd. He’s got 17 goals. . . . F Zack Ostapchuk scored three times for Vancouver. His first career hat trick gave him 23 goals this season. . . . D Alex Cotton added his 15th goal and two assists for the visitors. . . . These teams will play again today in Kelowna and then will clash on Friday in Langley, B.C. . . . The Rockets (40-19-6) are fourth, two points behind the Seattle Thunderbirds and the two teams are headed for a first-round playoff clash. Each team has three games remaining, and all that remains to be decided is who will have home-ice advantage. . . . Vancouver (23-27-4) is tied with Victoria for the conference’s last playoff spot. . . .
At Kent, Wash., F Jared Davidson had a goal and three assists to lead the Seattle Thunderbirds past the Spokane Chiefs, 6-2. . . . The start of the game, scheduled for 7:05 p.m. PT, was delayed about two hours because weather conditions through the Snoqualmie Pass slowed the Chiefs’ trek. . . . Spokane, trailing 3-0 late in the second period, got to within a goal at 3-2 before third period was two minutes old but wasn’t able to equalize. . . . Davidson has 82 points, including 36 goals, in 61 games. . . . F Lukas Svejkovsky added two goals for Seattle, giving him 34, with D Kevin Korchinski drawing three assists. . . . Seattle (41-18-6) is fourth, two points ahead of Kelowna. . . . Spokane (23-38-5) is tied for sixth with Prince George, one point ahead of Vancouver and Victoria.
JUNIOR JOTTINGS: There is speculation that the QMJHL is seriously considering exempting 20-year-old goaltenders from the CHL rule that limits teams to three such players. That makes sense to me. I also would do away with the two-spot rule — teams are allowed three 20-year-olds and two imports — that has a 20-year-old import taking up a spot in each category. I have long thought that with teams having invested so much energy, money and time in import players they should have to declare a 20-year-old import as one or the other. . . . The BCHL’s Cranbrook Bucks had their first season come to an end on Saturday when they lost, 3-2 in OT, to the visiting Prince George Spruce Kings, who won the best-of-seven series, 4-2. The announced attendance was 3,002.
Dorothy is preparing to take part in the annual Kidney Walk for a ninth straight year. She has participated in every one since she underwent a kidney transplant at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver on Sept. 23, 2013. . . . The 2022 Kidney Walk will be held on June 5, but thanks to the pandemic it again will be a virtual event. . . . You are able to support her by making a donation right here.
If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:
Living Kidney Donor Program
St. Paul’s Hospital
6A Providence Building
1081 Burrard Street
Vancouver, BC V6Z 1Y6
Toll free: 1-877-922-9822
Vancouver General Hospital Living Donor Program – Kidney
Gordon and Leslie Diamond Health Care Centre
Level 5, 2775 Laurel Street
Vancouver, BC V5Z 1M9
604-875-5182 or 1-855-875-5182
Or, for more information, visit right here.