What if Derlago and Leach hadn’t been injured? . . . WHL has first matchup: Edmonton vs. Lethbridge . . . In Kamloops, No. 22 gets 22nd goal at 2:22 of OT

Potholes


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.

Derlago
The Brandon Wheat Kings had a line for their opponents — Ray Allison (left), Bill Derlago and Brian Propp. (Photo: wheatkings.com)

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 FFBomberslose 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.



Screw


SATURDAY IN THE WHL:

Eastern Conference:

F Justin Sourdif and F Dylan Guenther each had two goals and two assists as the Edmontonhost 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 WinnipegIcebeat 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 Brandongot 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 Lethbridge5-1 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 Reginathe 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.

——

Western Conference:

D Ethan Samson’s third-period PP goal broke a 1-1 tie as the host Prince George PrinceGeorgeCougars 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 Portlandvictory 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 KelownaRockets 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 SeattleThunderbirds 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.


Bananas


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

Tel: 604-806-9027

Toll free: 1-877-922-9822

Fax: 604-806-9873

Email: donornurse@providencehealth.bc.ca

——

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

kidneydonornurse@vch.ca

——

Or, for more information, visit right here.


YMCA

Thunderbirds sign two imports . . . Broncos acquire defenceman . . . Wheat Kings lose assistant to OHL



If you were watching Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final on Monday night, you may have seen intermission host Ron MacLean’s interview with Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner. And you may be aware that MacLean didn’t ask Bettman about the sexual assault investigation in which the Chicago Blackhawks have found themselves. . . . MacLean took a fair amount of heat, albeit on social media, for not asking. On Tuesday, Ken Campbell got MacLean’s side of the story and wrote about it right here. This, folks, is why I am a subscriber to Hockey Unfiltered with Ken Campbell. Check it out.


Aliens


The WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds have signed F Alessandro Segafredo and D SeattleLeon Okonkwo Prada, their two selections in the CHL’s 2021 import draft on June 30. . . . From Italy, Segafredo, who won’t turn 17 until Sept. 15, played in Switzerland last season. He had a team-high 52 points, including 25 goals, in 26 games with the ZSC Lions U17 team in 2020-21. He also had a goal and an assist in one game with ZSC’s U20 team, and 10 goals and an assist with the GCK Lions U20 side. . . . Okonkwo Prada, who turns 18 today (Wednesday), was born in Colchester, Great Britain. He played in Sweden in 2020-21, putting up a goal and six assists in eight games with Rögle BK’s U18 team. . . . Each WHL team is allowed to use two import players. Seattle also holds the rights to F Vladimir Alistrov, a 20-year-old from Belarus, having acquired them from the Edmonton Oil Kings on Jan. 25 for D Simon Kubicek, who is from Czech Republic. . . . Alistrov, who had 19 goals and 16 assists in 57 games with the Oil Kings in 2019-20, spent this season in the KHL with Dinamo Minsk. He had a goal and three assists in 38 games, then signed a one-year contract extension on April 30. . . . The Oil Kings announced last week that Kubicek, who will turn 20 on Dec. 19, is committed to play for them in 2021-22.


The 2022 Memorial Cup championship will be decided in Quebec City or Saint CHLJohn, N.B. The QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts and Saint John Sea Dogs both are putting together bids in the hopes of earning hosting rights. Bids are to be in to the CHL by Aug. 23, with a winner to be announced the week of Sept. 6. . . . The Remparts have played host to the four-team tournament in 2003 and 2015; Saint John never has been the host city. . . . The 2022 tournament is scheduled for June 3-12. . . . Due to the pandemic, the Memorial Cup tournament hasn’t been held since 2019. The 2020 tournament was to have been held in Kelowna, with the 2021 tournament in Oshawa or Sault Ste. Marie. Both events were cancelled due to the pandemic.


Icecream


MLB and team owners must be wallowing in poverty, because now they’re altering some of the most glorious uniforms in all of sports in what is an obvious attempt to sell, sell, sell. . . . That includes the uniforms of the San Francisco Giants, which look the way the best ones are supposed to look — neat and clean. . . . Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote a column that was sharply critical of MLB. He ended that column like this:

“I hope one of our sharp Chronicle editors kills this column before it goes into print, realizing that the unveiling of those new Giants’ uniforms was a fake news flash from the Onion, or a late April Fool’s joke.

“But if it is for real, the Giants will wear those uniforms all weekend, and every Tuesday home game the rest of the season. Willie Mays must be spinning in his hammock.”


This reminds me of a story involving Dunc McCallum, then the coach of the Brandon Wheat Kings, Jake Milford, who was then the general manager of the Vancouver Canucks, and centre Bill Derlago. . . . The Canucks had selected Derlago, who had piled up 437 points in 209 regular-season games with the Wheat Kings, with the fourth pick of the NHL’s 1978 draft. . . . When the Canucks arrived for training camp, players had to do some running, after which Milford, a one-time Wheat Kings’ GM/head coach, called McCallum to express his disappointment in Derlago, who, he said, had huge calves and couldn’t run at all well. . . . To which McCallum replied: “Jake, are you putting together a hockey team or a track team?”


Bike


The Swift Current Broncos acquired D Rylan Thiessen, 20, from the Brandon ScurrentWheat Kings on Monday, giving up a conditional ninth-round pick in the WHL draft. Thiessen, who is from Brandon, had three goals in 25 games with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, who had signed him as an undrafted free agent. He later was dealt to the Wheat Kings, for whom he had one goal and nine assists in 31 games over two seasons. . . . Other 2001-born players on the Broncos’ roster that finished the 2020-21 season: D Cayde Augustine, F Aiden Bulych, F Eric Houk, D Alex Moar, F Cole Nagy and G Isaac Poulter. . . . The Wheat Kings still have four 2001-born defencemen on the roster that completed the 2020-21 season: Braden Schneider, who has signed with the New York Rangers, Jonny Lambos, Chad Nychuk and Neithan Salame, as well as forwards Marcus Kallionkieli, who is from Finland, and Ben McCartney.



Another reminder that the pandemic continues to live with us. . . . The Australian Grand Prix, that had been scheduled for Nov. 18-21 near Melbourne, has been cancelled. According to a news release from the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, it was cancelled “due to restrictions and logistical challenges related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”


The NBA final began on Tuesday night with the host Phoenix Suns beating the Milwaukee Bucks, 118-105. . . . Perhaps the most interesting part of this final will involved the TV ratings. As Jack Finarelli, aka The Sports Curmudgeon points out: “The big TV markets are on the sidelines. Phoenix is the 11th largest TV market per Nielsen and Milwaukee is the 35th largest. . . . The number of ‘TV homes’ in these two markets combined is about half the number in Los Angeles (No. 2 in market size) and about 40 per cent of the number in New York (No. 1 on the list).” . . . Game 2 is to be played on Thursday.


Carnival


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

Tel: 604-806-9027

Toll free: 1-877-922-9822

Fax: 604-806-9873

Email: donornurse@providencehealth.bc.ca

——

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

kidneydonornurse@vch.ca

——

Or, for more information, visit right here.


JUST NOTES: The QMJHL’s Blainville-Boisbriand Armada have signed head coach Bruce Richardson to a three-year extension. Richardson, 44, is preparing for his fourth season as the team’s head coach. . . . The QMJHL’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan have signed head coach Mario Durocher, 58, to a one-year contract. He also is readying for his fourth season as that team’s head coach. . . .

The OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs have lost Paul McFarland, their general manager and head coach, to the NHL’s Seattle Kraken. McFarland, 35, had been in Kingston for one season. He has signed on with the Kraken as an assistant coach. The Kraken also signed Jay Leach, 41, as an assistant under head coach Dave Hakstol. Leach had been the head coach of the AHL’s Providence Bruins for four seasons. . . . If you were wondering, the NHL expansion draft is scheduled for July 21. . . . The OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs have signed Jay McKee, 43, as their head coach. McKee, a former NHL player, was the head coach of the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers for two-plus seasons (2016-19). He was fired on Nov. 25, 2019. Hamilton also signed Andreas Karlsson, 45, and Andrew Campbell, 33, as assistant coaches. Karlsson, from Sweden, is a former NHL player, who spent three seasons (2017-18) as an assistant coach in Kitchener. Campbell, another former NHLer, played with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs in 2018-19. . . .

The OHL’s Oshawa Generals have signed Todd Miller as their head coach. Miller spent 2020-21 as an assistant coach with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings. Miller, 43, was an assistant coach with the OHL’s Barrie Colts for 10 seasons before his one season with Brandon. The Generals had announced on June 17 that they were “parting ways” with head coach Greg Walters, who said the parties weren’t able to come to terms on a contract. He had been there for three years. The Generals also announced on Tuesday the signings of associate coaches Kurtis Foster and Dave Matsos, and assistant coach Mike Hedden. Foster, 39, was the Kingston Frontenacs’ head coach for two seasons (2018-20). Matsos, 47, has been an OHL coach since 2010, most recently having spent three seasons (2017-20) with the Hamilton Bulldogs. Hedden, 36, has ended his playing career after spending 2020-21 with the ECHL’s Rapid City Rush.


Mother

The WHL, Part 3: Bruins’ dynasty ends, franchises on the move and more mayhem . . .

At some point in the late 1990s, while I was the sports editor at the Regina Leader-Post, I put together a brief history of the Western Hockey League. I had pretty much forgotten about it until recently when I was asked if I might post it again. So I am doing just that. . . . As you read each piece, please remember that I wrote them more than 20 years ago and they cover only the league’s first 25 years. It isn’t an all-encompassing history, but hits on some of the highlights and a few lowlights. . . . The stories are pretty much as originally written. . . . Here is Part 3. . . .

——

The mid-1970s belonged to the Ernie McLean-coached New Westminster Bruins. They were the Western Canada Hockey League’s most-dominant team.

If you didn’t believe that, well, they would convince you of it. And they’d do that any way they felt like it.

ErnieMcLean
The legendary Ernie McLean. (Photo: The Coaches Site)

The Bruins ran their string of WCHL titles to four, and won the Memorial Cup the last two seasons, in 1976-77 and 1977-78. But by the time the 1980-81 season ended, the bloom was off the rose in New Westminster. Little did anyone know that it never would return.

Prior to the start of the 1976-77 season, the WCHL instituted a rule calling for an automatic game misconduct to any player who initiated a fight. Ironically, the first player stung was Brandon Wheat Kings starry centre Bill Derlago. He got the heave-ho after starting a scrap with Brian Schnitzler of the Saskatoon Blades in a season-opening 3-0 Brandon victory.

Two coaches felt WCHL president Ed Chynoweth’s wrath on Nov. 2. Ivan Prediger of the Kamloops Chiefs was suspended for 20 games, while Ken Hodge of the Portland Winter Hawks got 10 games. Prediger apparently struck Hodge during an altercation between the benches on Oct. 24.

LorneDavis

There was joy in Regina on Jan. 27 when the Pats scored a 3-2 victory over visiting Portland. It ended a 36- game Regina winless streak that covered 96 days. “I hope the players don’t become satisfied with the win,” said Lorne Davis, who had taken over as GM/head coach from Del Wilson and Bob Turner with the Pats at 2-32-5.

A nine-hour meeting in Calgary resulted in a new playoff format. Under the original format, the Flin Flon Bombers, third in the East, were 20 points ahead of Regina and all but had a playoff spot locked up. Suddenly, there was a new format and the Bombers were fighting for a spot. Oh yes, they were also on a 15-game West Coast road trip.

“In this league, you need two pieces of equipment,” said Flin Flon boss Mickey Keating. “You need a face-guard when you play some of the teams on the ice and a back protector for the committee room. I had inklings that there may be changes in the playoffs but I had confidence there were intelligent hockey men in this league. I was shown different.”

In Portland, the Winter Hawks were beginning to carve out a niche, which resulted in this March 1 comment from GM Brian Shaw: “We’re selling the all-American boy image. Our players are all properly dressed in public. They all have respectable hair lengths. We feel image is important. Our players have become our outstanding selling point, and they have actually played much better because of the great acceptance which now is blossoming in Portland.”

In mid-April, Kamloops majority owner Ephram Steinke admitted the franchise would likely move to Spokane over the summer. The reasons? Steinke blamed almost $500,000 in losses over four years, and the city’s refusal to construct a new arena.

BobStrumm
The often-emotional Bob Strumm. (Photo: Regina Leader-Post)

On May 12, the Calgary Centennials signed Bob Strumm as general manager. One of Strumm’s first moves was to confirm that a move to Billings was being contemplated.

Strumm, who had been Chynoweth’s executive assistant, was, at 29, the WCHL’s youngest GM. He would be one of the league’s most-prominent figures through the mid-1980s.

The Calgary move became official on May 19. Eleven days later, Kamloops moved to Seattle and became the Breakers under new owner John Hamilton.

On July 19, at the annual meeting in Calgary, the transfer of the Winnipeg Monarchs to Calgary was approved. Del Wilson, president and governor of the Pats, was named chairman of the board, replacing Bill Burton.

When Winnipeg moved to Calgary and became the Wranglers, owner Gerry Brisson named Doug Barkley as GM. The coach? It was Brisson. Would the GM be able to fire the owner/coach.

Stay tuned.

The 1977-78 regular season hadn’t even started when McLean was in trouble. It stemmed from an exhibition game against the host Victoria Cougars when midway in the second period he ventured into the stands to tangle with a fan who was taunting him. For his troubles, McLean got a gash on his forehead and, later, a $250 fine. This would serve as an omen.

A fierce rivalry was building between Regina and the Brandon Wheat Kings. After one early-season game, Davis had this to say: “If (Dave) Semenko would have been close enough to the box I would have swung at him . . . he came over by our bench trying to intimidate us.” To which Brandon coach Dunc McCallum responded: “How can a 220-pound man be held back by a stick boy?”

A few days later, Semenko joined the WHA’s Edmonton Oilers. A couple of years later, Davis joined the Oilers as a scout.

BillDerlago
BILL DERLAGO

Derlago, perhaps the best pure offensive talent this league has seen, had a 40-game point streak end on Nov. 9 when he left a game with a thigh injury during his first shift. One month later, he blew out a knee in an exhibition game against the Moscow Selects. Had Derlago not been hurt, who knows what kind of numbers he would have put up? When he was injured, he had 48 goals and 80 points in 26 games. He was on pace for 133 goals, three more than the then-CMJHL record of 130 held by Guy Lafleur.

On Feb. 3, Jack McLeod resigned as coach of the Saskatoon Blades. He stayed on as GM, but put Garry Peters behind the bench. In Calgary, Barkley, the GM, took over as coach from Brisson, the owner.

More bad ink, and lots of it, in early February when McLean was slapped with a 25-game suspension for allegedly hitting an official. He returned for the playoffs.

“Our league has long been accused of protecting either our coaches or, more particularly, owner/coaches, but there is no way one coach or one franchise is bigger than the league,” Chynoweth said. “I can live with the so-called violence on ice, as projected by the media, but when it comes to our officials, qualified or unqualified, I look at things much differently.”

More bad ink in the first round of the playoffs. Yes, it emerged from a round-robin series. This one featured Brandon, Flin Flon and Regina in a double home-and-home series. When it got to the final game, Flin Flon at Regina, the Pats had to beat the Bombers by at least six goals to eliminate Brandon and set up a Regina-Flin Flon division final. Regina won 10-4 and the high-powered Wheat Kings, led by the likes of Derlago, Brian Propp, Laurie Boschman and Ray Allison, were done like so much burnt toast.

“For us to say anything is stupid. You saw what happened,” Flin Flon defenceman Ray Markham said after the game.

Ultimately, Flin Flon, New Westminster and Billings advanced to the WCHL’s round-robin semi-final to eliminate one team and put the other two in the championship final. Out went Flin Flon. New Westminster then swept Billings in the final. It was the Bruins’ fourth straight WCHL title and they would win their second consecutive Memorial Cup.

The Bruins, a power for oh, so long, would rarely be heard from in a positive light again.

On May 22, Flin Flon governor Gord Mitchell revealed that the community-owned team would cease operations. “I hate to see it go,” Mitchell said. “It’s certainly not the fault of the league. The league’s not kicking us out. But there comes a time when something like this seems to be the most reasonable thing to do. We’re a small centre and it got to the point where the league had outgrown us.”

A week later, Chynoweth, who had threatened to resign, announced he would remain as president, thanks to a promise from the governors that an executive assistant would be provided to help with such things as discipline. Wilson, the part-owner of the Pats, filled the bill as vice-president and referee-in-chief. Shaw replaced Wilson as chairman of the board.

On June 1, Gregg Pilling was named GM/coach in Regina, replacing Davis who, in a surprise move, was fired. Davis professed sadness, saying he had worked awfully hard and that all of that work would bear fruit in two years. Which is exactly what happened — two years later the Pats were in the Memorial Cup. But Pilling was gone by that point.

EdChynoweth2

It was during the summer of 1978 when Chynoweth began talking of an education program. On July 4, he announced a program whereby teams would provide a year’s tuition and books at a recognized post-secondary institution for every season a player was in the league.

On Aug. 16, Chynoweth announced an Edmonton group headed by Bill Hunter had purchased the Flin Flon franchise from the league. Hunter would be president and governor, Vic Mah would be first vice-president.

The 1978-79 season began with news of a name change and ended with a new champion for the first time since the spring of ’74.

With three of 12 teams situated in the U.S., the WCHL was no more. Now it was the Western Hockey League.

GreggPilling
GREGG PILLING

The goofiness started on Oct. 22 when Pilling went into the penalty box at the start of the third period of a game in Calgary. He said he would serve a bench minor handed him for delay of game at the end of the second period in what would be an 8-1 loss. Pilling also alternated goaltenders Jeff Lastiwka and Gregg Dumba every shift change after a brawl at 2:52 of the second. Changing goalies ended 30 seconds into the third period when, with the faceoff outside Regina’s blueline, Dumba lined up behind his net. He was given a gross misconduct.

Chynoweth, who fined Pilling $1,000, said: “I thought it was a circus. I wouldn’t blame anybody if they didn’t go back.”

WheatKings7879

This was to be the season of McCallum’s Wheat Kings. That much was evident when Brandon ran its two-season unbeaten streak to a WHL-record 49 games and its single-season streak to 29 games. Brandon finally lost, going down 9-4 in Edmonton on Dec. 13 with the Oil Kings scoring all nine goals with the man advantage.

There was more news from Brandon on Jan. 11 when GM Jack Brockest, one of the WHL’s most likeable people, bought the team.

If any team could match Brandon it was Portland. The Winter Hawks had a 19-game unbeaten streak ended when visiting Brandon won 7-4 to go to 42-3-7.

In mid-March, rumours had the Edmonton franchise, which was averaging about 500 fans a game, moving to Great Falls, Montana, or Red Deer.

Things got ugly on March 22 in New Westminster when an incident involving the Bruins and Portland resulted in McLean’s being suspended indefinitely and seven of his players being charged by police. A game-ending brawl broke out, but this one was different because, while the Bruins left their bench, Hodge managed to keep his players under control.

On March 27, Wilson said McLean would not be allowed to coach during the playoffs, nor would he be allowed to communicate with the bench from the press box as he had done during previous suspensions.

McLean apologized for the brawl at a Vancouver press conference: “I have to take the full load, the full responsibility for what happened . . . when I look at it, maybe the game has gone by me. Maybe my coaching style isn’t what’s needed anymore. I’m an old horse that’s been at it for 25 years and it’s tough to change your thinking. The game is changing — maybe I haven’t changed with it.”

On April 4, GM Bill Shinske and McLean announced the Bruins were for sale, for $350,000.

The Winter Hawks got a small measure of revenge, beating the visiting Bruins 5-3 on April 8 to eliminate them from post-season play.

But this sad episode would drag on through the summer.

Meanwhile, Brandon was finishing with a 58-5-9 record, setting or tying 19 records.

The Oil Kings were sold on April 10, with ownership handed over to a Portland group headed by Bob Cooper and Tom Gauthier, who said they would move the franchise to Great Falls. “I guess sports is not my bowl of rice,” said Mah, an Edmonton restauranteur. It was Mah’s second go-round as an owner in Edmonton, and he wouldn’t give up. He would try and try again and again to get another franchise for the Alberta capital.

On April 20, charges of common assault were filed against seven Bruins — J.P. Kelly, Terry Kirkham, Bruce Howes, Rick Amann, Boris Fistric, Rob Roflik and Bill Hobbins. In August, the seven pleaded guilty. Judge James Shaw — no relation to the Portland general manager — granted conditional discharges to all seven, then banned them from league games at any level until Dec. 1. McLean said Shaw was “trying to be the judge who is going to clean up hockey. I’m worried about the affect on the game because the judge’s ruling makes a hip-check a criminal offence.”

Portland and Brandon ended up in the final, with Brandon winning in six games.

And, on May 28, Chynoweth resigned, effective June 30. This time he would leave, becoming part-owner of the Wranglers. “It’s more than 25 per cent and less than 50,” said majority-owner Jim Morley.

In late May, Pat Ginnell, who had been with the Lethbridge Broncos, moved north to take over the Medicine Hat Tigers. Mike Sauter would replace him in Lethbridge. Dave King left as coach in Billings to become head coach at the University of Saskatchewan.

The Pats were sold on June 8, with Wilson, Bill Patton, Gord Wicijowski, D.K. MacPherson, Wilf Degelman and Bob Babchuk selling to the Pinders — father Dick and sons Herb, Gerry and Tom. The price was believed to be near $300,000. Strumm was named GM, governor and part-owner.

Strumm later signed Bryan Murray as head coach and one of the great turnarounds in WHL history was under way.

But before that got started, Dave Descent was chosen to run the WHL. In his third season with the Canadian Amateur Wrestling Association at the time, Descent had lots of hockey experience at various levels in the OHA. “This job is an opportunity to get back into hockey, which is my chosen sport, and advance my sporting career,” he said.

Regina, which finished 18-47-7 (last in the East, second-worst in the league) in 1978-79, would go 47-24-1 in 1979-80 to win the division.

It was obvious early that the Bruins were going to pay a steep price for the brawl against Portland. They got their first point, after 13 losses, with a 5-5 tie in Great Falls on Oct. 31.

And on Nov. 16 McLean was at it again. And again it involved Portland.

McLean got tangled up with a fan at a game in Portland and was charged with fourth-degree assault. In one of the most ironical situations in WHL history, McLean was in jail until Brian Shaw posted his bail of $525. Charges were later reduced to harassment and it was all cleared up when a civil compromise was signed, ending the criminal case.

In mid-December, Descent’s title was changed from executive director to president. And concern was being shown about Great Falls, which was 2-22-1 and hurtin’ at the gate. The Americans folded on Dec. 13.

On March 2, McLean threw a 30-gallon garbage can onto the ice to protest the work of referee Ken Wheler during a game against visiting Portland.

The next day, Descent announced his resignation. Said Descent: “Speaking honestly, I’ve enjoyed my stay and feel it was a positive experience. But for personal reasons I’ve decided to take a different career path which is something I’m not at liberty to discuss now.”

Shaw said a five-man board would run the league, and that McLean would be suspended for three games for throwing the can. Oh yes, McLean was later named acting chairman of the management committee.

On March 24, McLean said he was leaving the Bruins. “I’ve made up my mind,” he said. “I’ve worn out my welcome. I will not be in New Westminster next year. We built a dynasty here but it’s time to move on.” All this after the Bruins set a WHL record with 61 losses. It was the first time in 18 seasons that McLean had missed playoffs.

On April 17, Vancouver businessman Nelson Skalbania bought out McLean and Shinske for slightly more than $300,000.

A week later, the WHL announced that Winnipeg would have an expansion team for 1980-81 and that the owners were former Pats star Fran Huck, his law partner Gerald Gunn and Winnipeg businessmen Harry Buekert, Arnold DeFehr and Marsdon Fenwick. Buekert would be GM, with Huck as coach.

On April 27, Regina beat visiting Victoria, 5-4, to win the WHL final, 4-1. The 1980 Memorial Cup, which would be won by the Cornwall Royals, opened in Brandon and closed in Regina.

During the Memorial Cup it became apparent the major juniors were terribly concerned with NHL’s practice of drafting 18-year-olds.

Chynoweth said: “I understand the legal problems the NHL has, although I don’t sympathize with it . . . at this rate, the pros will be scouting midgets soon.”

McLeod remembered the 1979 draft: “Back in June one NHL general manager said there was nothing to worry about, that only seven or eight under-ages would be taken. When they took 58, we were a little disturbed. Once they got into it, they just kept going.”

Junior teams were to be paid $50,000 to $65,000 for under-age players who stuck in the NHL.

Some NHL people said they weren’t in favour of the 18-year-old draft, either.

“The general managers unanimously fought to the 11th hour to avoid drafting under-ages,” said Washington GM Max McNab. “We were going to get caught in a lawsuit. But the NHL is like the government in the eyes of the public here. We’re going to get shot at in any decision.”

On May 15, the WHL announced that the dormant Great Falls franchise would relocate to Spokane with Cooper remaining as majority owner.

NelsonSkalbania
NELSON SKALBANIA

On June 26, Skalbania, already the owner of New Westminster and the NHL’s Calgary Flames, bought 50 per cent of the Wranglers. Skalbania explained: “It’s a sympathetic thing. I said when we bought the Flames that we’d support junior hockey in Calgary and I can’t think of a way we’d be supporting it any more than owning the team. I just hope we don’t lose that much money with them.”

Pat Shimbashi, a minority owner in Lethbridge, bought the other 50 per cent of the Wranglers from Jim Morley and Chynoweth, which meant that the latter would return as WHL president.

RozandaSkalbania
ROZANDA SKALBANIA (Photo: archives.newwestcity.ca)

On June 27, Skalbania completed his purchase of the Bruins, buying 100 per cent for $325,000. McLean stayed as GM, while Skalbania’s 20-year-old daughter, Rozanda, was named president.

McLean resigned a couple of weeks later and Tracy Pratt was named GM. “I’d like to forget about the big bad Bruins of the past,” Pratt said, “and I’d like to think of them as the scrappy Bruins in the future. My concern is putting families back in the building. There was a shade too much violence in past years and many people became very bitter about what happened at Queen’s Park Arena.”

The league lost its referee-in-chief on Aug. 8 when Wilson announced he would scout for the Montreal Canadiens, a team with which he had long been associated.

DarylLubiniecki

The 1980-81 season opened quietly enough, but the silence was shattered on Dec. 1 with a shakeup in Saskatoon. McLeod and coach Lorne Frey ended their association with the Blades. Majority owner Nate Brodsky bought McLeod’s share (20 per cent) and named Daryl Lubiniecki GM and coach.

Lubiniecki began shaking things up when, on Jan. 15, he traded one player — centre Rocky Trottier — to Billings for six players — Pat Rabbitt, Dave Brown, Brad Duggan, Dave Chartier, Lyndon Byers and Al Acton.

Fighting was still a concern and on Dec. 17 Chynoweth announced that teams would be fined $2,500 if their players fought before games or between periods. Players who started the fights or were main combatants would get a minimum of five games.

A black cloud continued to follow the Bruins. A labour dispute forced them to play their last 29 games on the road. Their last 13 home games were played in such places as Bellingham, Wash., Kamloops, Trail, Duncan, B.C., and Coleman, Alta. The Bruins set a WHL record by losing 25 in a row and had to give season-ticket holders a refund for the 13 home games that were moved.

There were rumblings out of Swift Current that the locals were interested in a WHL franchise. John Rittinger, president of the SJHL team there, was trying to raise money for the venture. “I can’t give you a figure at this time,” he said on April 1, “but, personally, I feel there has been insufficient support.”

The juniors were beginning to realize they were going to have to live with the 18-year-old draft. Said Chynoweth: “The under-age situation is a problem but also a fact of life. The law of the land says at 18 you can fight for your country, drink and get married. Consequently, they’re also eligible to be drafted and play for NHL teams.”

The WHL had a new referee-in-chief — Richard Doerksen — and he was in the news in the playoffs after Strumm grabbed him in the press box during a game. Strumm was slapped with a two-game suspension and a $1,000 fine.

Victoria, under coach Jack Shupe, would win the WHL championship in 1980-81. Trailing Calgary 3-1, the Cougars bounced back and wrapped it up on May 1, beating the visiting Wranglers, 4-2, in Game 7.

Singing a song that would become popular in NHL circles in years to come, Calgary coach Doug Sauter explained: “(Goaltender Grant) Fuhr was the difference.”

NEXT: Part 4 of 5.

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