Something had been nagging at me amid all the chatter about the Red Deer Rebels and their run at the WHL record for most victories to start a season.
The Rebels got to 12-0-0 on Friday night with a 4-0 blanking of the visiting Vancouver Giants. It was reported in various places, including right here, that the Rebels had tied a WHL record that had been set by the 1988-89 Swift Current Broncos. (The Rebels will go for No. 13 on Sunday afternoon when they face the 1-11-1 Oil Kings in Edmonton.)
But even as I referenced the Rebels’ streak there was something buzzing in the back of my mind . . .
Then I saw a Saturday morning tweet from Lucas Punkari of the Brandon Sun that had the Estevan Bruins as holders of that record, and it all fell into place. I had written about that very thing less than a year ago.
Yes, the Bruins won 22 straight games to open the 1967-68 season, the second in the existence of what now is the WHL.
The Bruins of general manager Roderick Neil (Scotty) Munro and head coach Ernie (Punch) McLean got to 22-0-0 by going into Swift Current and beating the Broncos, 9-6, on Dec. 10, 1967.
The interesting thing about that game is that Estevan G Gord Kopp suffered a broken nose and a bad facial cut in the pregame warmup. Teams carried only one goaltender in those days, which likely is why Kopp went ahead and started the game. In fact, he played through the second period before having to bow out.
F Jim Harrison, perhaps the Bruins’ best player and one of the league’s top skaters, had scored three goals through two periods, but that didn’t keep him from taking over for Kopp. With Harrison in goal, the Bruins outscored the Broncos, 3-2. Unfortunately, the number of saves he made has been lost to history.
As I wrote almost a year ago, “When is the last time a WHL player — or any junior player for that matter — had a hat trick and played goal in the same game?”
And so it was that the Bruins ran their season-opening record to 22-0-0, with a game against the host Saskatoon Blades next on the schedule.
“You have to concede the Bruins win No. 23 tonight when they take on the Blades in Saskatoon,” wrote Ron Campbell in that day’s Regina Leader-Post as he looked ahead to the Dec. 12 game. The Blades were 6-12-3 at the time.
You guessed it . . . the Blades won, 4-3, bringing the Bruins’ streak to a halt in front of 1,410 fans.
Kopp wasn’t able to answer the bell, so the Bruins started Ed Dyck, a 17-year-old from the junior B North Battleford Beaver-Bruins. Harrison and D Dale Hoganson gave Estevan a 2-0 first-period lead, with F Orest Kindrachuk pulling the Blades to within one before the period ended.
F Ron Fairbrother got Saskatoon into a 2-2 tie with the only goal of the second period, then gave his guys a 3-2 lead at 5:46 of the third. F Greg Polis scored for Estevan at 6:18, only to have F Jim Nicholls score what proved to be the winner, at 10:59.
“Young Dyck, playing in his first junior A game, was remarkably calm and had little chance on the four shots that beat him,” Jack Cook of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix reported.
The Bruins went on to finish the regular season at 45-13-2, good for second place, seven points behind the Flin Flon Bombers (47-8-5). Harrison, the only player in WHL history to score three goals and play goal in the same game, was named the league’s MVP.
Estevan swept a best-of-seven first-round series from the Winnipeg Jets, then took out the Moose Jaw Canucks in five games, winning four and tying another.
The Bruins finished their unbeaten run to the championship by beating the Bombers, 4-0 with a tie. At this point, the Bruins were riding a 23-game unbeaten streak.
Estevan followed that by ousting the Fort William, Ont., Westfort Hurricanes, 4-1, and then sweeping the Penticton Broncos, 4-0, to qualify for the Memorial Cup.
In those days, the Memorial Cup was an East vs. West affair featuring two teams in a best-of-seven series. In this case, it was two teams affiliated with the NHL’s Boston Bruins — Estevan and the Niagara Falls Flyers. They played one game (Game 2) in the Montreal Forum and the other four in Niagara Falls’ Memorial Arena. The Flyers won the series, 4-1.
Interestingly, the Flyers wore Montreal Jr. Canadiens’ uniforms for the first two games and those belonging to the St. Catharines Teepees in the final three. That’s because the Estevan and Niagara Falls kits were identical, other than the logo.
Harrison, meanwhile, wasn’t able to do much in the five games. It seems that he suffered a broken hand in the final minute of Game 1. There was a brawl behind the Estevan net and he got into it with a fan, who turned out to be the father of Niagara Falls D Rick Thompson.
In an essay on the 1968 series, I wrote: “Harrison, who was already in the penalty box, tangled with a fan. The gentleman happened to be Thompson’s father. And, according to one report, Mr. Thompson ‘left the arena battered and bleeding.’ The fan was also reported to be stripped to the waist.”
Munro, for his part, pointed a finger at the fans, saying they “are nothing but animals.”
Ahh, those were the days!
BTW, the Bruins beat the visiting Weyburn Red Wings, 5-1, for their 20th straight victory on Dec. 5, 1967. The next day, The Leader-Post reported: “The Bruins moved one step closer to the all-time junior hockey win streak mark set at 25 by the now-defunct Portage Terriers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League in 1942.”
I saw this in Elliotte Friedman’s latest 32 Thoughts: “Growing complaint among fans who gamble: changes to shots on goal well after initially awarded. You’d be surprised at the number of people who comb these odds much more carefully than I comb my hair. If you’re going to take gambling money, you’ve got to make sure the changes are minimal.”
Yes, fans, this is where we’re at with gambling having become so pervasive.
BTW, Friedman also wrote that he no longer is going to be producing one of these 32 columns per week during the season.
“My initial thought,” he explained, “is to write a little more often (maybe two-to-three times per week), but shorter. You might get 32 Thoughts, but in smaller bunches. Hopefully, you find it a fair trade-off. I’m open to ideas.”
His latest 32 Thoughts is right here.
If there were any doubts about the Winnipeg Ice’s goal this season, they were erased early Saturday evening when it was announced that D Graham Sward was on his way to the Manitoba capital from the Spokane Chiefs.
Yes, the Ice’s management badly wants to have its team in Kamloops in May.
In the exchange, the Ice surrendered D Jaren Brinson, 18, and four WHL draft picks — a first-rounder in 2023, a third in 2025 and second and fourth-rounders in 2026.
Sward, 19, is from Abbotsford, B.C. He has 14 goals and 52 assists in 132 games with the Chiefs. Last season, he put up 10 goals and 33 assists in 57 games. This season, he has four assists in eight games.
Sward was a fifth-round pick by the Nashville Predators in the NHL’s 2022 draft. The Chiefs selected him in the first round of the WHL’s 2018 draft.
Brinson, from Airdrie, Alta., was a second-round pick by the Prince George Cougars in the WHL’s 2019 draft. He had two goals and seven assists in 72 games with the Cougars. This season, in 13 games with the Ice, he has a goal and three assists.
The Ice may have the best top six forward group in the WHL, if not in the entire CHL. Sward allows them to upgrade their back end in a big way.
Winnipeg opened this season with 13 straight road games and went 12-1-0. The Ice finally were able to hold its home-opener on Saturday and it moved to 13-1-0 with a 4-3 victory over the Brandon Wheat Kings. This was the first of 10 straight home games for the Ice.
The Ice, now 3-0-0 against Brandon this season, got goals from F Conor Geekie (9), F Ty Nash (5), F Zach Benson (7) and F Owen Peterson (7). The Ice already has nine players with at least 10 points each, including three with 19, while four have at least seven goals.
The Seattle Thunderbirds fell from the ranks of the unbeaten on Saturday night as they dropped a 4-1 decision to the Cougars in Prince George. The Thunderbirds had opened the season with nine straight victories. . . . F Riley Heidt scored twice for the Cougars (6-6-0), giving them leads of 1-0 and 2-1. . . . F Jared Davidson had Seattle’s goal. He is riding a five-game goal streak. . . . These teams will complete their tripleheader in Kent, Wash., on Tuesday. . . .
The Tri-City Americans skated out of Moose Jaw with a 6-2 victory over the Warriors. The Americans have won four in a row since getting drubbed twice at home — 11-3 by the Medicine Hat Tigers on Oct. 12 and 7-1 by the Kamloops Blazers two nights later. . . . The Warriors had a four-game winning streak come to an end. . . .
The Everett Silvertips beat the Pats, 3-2, in Regina as F Austin Roest broke a 2-2 tie at 18:41 of the third period. . . . Roest has 10 goals, as does teammate Jackson Berezowski, who also scored once. . . . F Connor Bedard of the Pats had a goal and an assist to run his points streak to 13 games. He won’t turn 18 until July 17, but leads the WHL in goals (11), assists (13), points (24) and shots (84). . . . The Pats (6-7-1) have lost four in a row. . . .
D Kyle Masters enjoyed his second straight three-point game with a goal and two assists as the Kamloops Blazers dropped the host Spokane Chiefs, 7-1. . . . The Blazers are 3-0-0 against Spokane this season, having outscored the Chiefs, 16-4. . . . Masters also had a goal and two assists on Friday as the Blazers beat the Chiefs, 5-1, in Kamloops. He went into Friday having played 118 regular-season games, the first 109 with the Red Deer Rebels, without a three-pointer. . . . F Logan Stankoven scored twice, and now has 19 points, including 10 goals, in eight games. He leads the WHL in points-per-game (2.38). Last season, Stankoven finished with 104 points in 59 games; he led the WHL in points-per-game (1.76). . . .
D Carter Sotheran’s first WHL goal, at 17:13 of the third period, snapped a 3-3 tie and the host Portland Winterhawks went on to a 5-3 victory over the Kelowna Rockets. . . . The Winterhawks held a 36-9 edge in shots through two periods with the teams even at 2-2. . . . At game’s end, Portland had outshot the visitors, 47-15. . . . Sotheran, 17, is from Sanford, Man., which has a population of about 900. He has a goal and six assists in 10 games. He was a fifth-round pick in the WHL’s 2020 draft. . . . The Rockets were without D Noah Dorey, who drew a one-game suspension for his slew-footing major in Friday’s contest. . . .
F Mathew Ward’s sixth goal of the season, at 17:51 of the third period, gave the visiting Swift Current Broncos a 5-4 victory over the Prince Albert Raiders. . . . Ward, who played his 100th regular-season game last night, has six goals and nine assists in 12 games this season. . . .
In Lethbridge, the Saskatoon Blades had a seven-game winning streak snapped as they were beaten, 2-1, by the Hurricanes. . . . The victory skein lifted the Blades’ record to 10-3-0. . . . Lethbridge, which got 29 stops from G Harrison Meneghin, led 2-0 after one period. . . .
F Jake Poole struck for three goals — his second hat trick in four games — to lead the Victoria Royals to a 4-3 OT victory over the Tigers in Medicine Hat. . . . Poole’s eighth goal of the season won it at 1:28 of OT. . . . Poole, 20, was acquired from the Kelowna Rockets earlier in the month and has seven goals and four assists in 11 games with the Royals. . . .
In the BCHL, the host Penticton Vees ran their record to 14-0-0 with a 9-3 victory over the Trail Smoke Eaters. The Vees are scheduled to play their next three games at home against the Prince George Spruce Kings (Friday), Wenatchee Wild (Saturday) and Vernon Vipers (Nov. 11).
THINKING OUT LOUD — If you’re like me, you’re wondering why the Seattle Kraken have F Shane Wright on their roster. Wright, 18, was the fourth-overall selection in the NHL’s 2022 draft after two seasons with the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs. He has one assist in five NHL games, but has been scratched five times. The Kraken played at home three times this week — Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday — and Wright, with grandparents visiting for the week, was scratched from each game. Because he’s 18, he has to play in the NHL or be returned to Kingston. Hey, those are the rules. . . . I strongly suggest that it’s time to retire the cliche “teamwork makes the dream work.” Thank you. . . . There are some things in the sporting world that just shouldn’t be allowed. One of those is the Toronto Maple Leafs wearing black uniforms. . . . I’m still trying to understand why Wayne Gretzky is doing gambling commercials. Any ideas? . . . The Edmonton Oilers beat the Calgary Flames, 3-2, last night in the latest edition of the Battle of Alberta. Who knows why but the NHL schedule has these teams meeting only once more this season.
Heartfelt condolences to Stewart Kemp, the longtime president of the Portland Winterhawks Booster Club, on the death of his wife, Cathy Schave Kemp, late Saturday afternoon. . . . If you are so inclined, there is a GoFundMe set up right here that will help with the expenses.
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.