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Wednesday, 25 December 2013

The First 20 Years Of Being A Vancouver Canucks Fan

I have loved the game of hockey from about the age of 6 when I was growing up in Montreal. When Bobby Hull joined the Chicago Blackhawks at the age of 18 I became a Blackhawk fan which was a bit of a rarity in Montreal.
Other the playing some street hockey and spending infrequent nights at an outdoor rink playing “shinny” I never was involved in the game as a player on an organized team. I always felt uncomfortable on skates and they hurt my feet. One year in high school I was the equipment manager on the school team.
I first ventured out to Vancouver in 1968 and was excited when they got an NHL team in 1970. I was kind of in and out of Vancouver for the first half of the 1970s but kept track of the Canucks through the newspapers including The Hockey News. I was such a big fan of the game that I would study the stats of minor pro and junior teams. The Hockey News was published by a guy named Ken McKenzie who was the father of current TV hockey commentator Bob McKenzie.
For many years the Canucks did not get a lot of national TV exposure. Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights mostly involved the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Montreal Canadians.
The early optimism of having an NHL team faded somewhat after the first few years the Canucks were in operation. Being a Canucks fan was like being a New York Mets fan when they started playing baseball. Overall the teams the Canucks put on the ice for their first 20 years were inept. They may have been the worst performing franchise in any North American professional sport over that period.
Fans had to look for other parts of the game to cheer them up other than winning. Most long time Canuck fans who have followed the Canucks from the beginning will remember the guys on the team who would drop their gloves and go at it with an opponent. Players like Orland Kurtenbach, Rosaire Paiement, Tiger Williams, Stan Smyl, Curt Fraser, Garth Butcher, Ron Delorme, Craig Coxe, Ronnie Stern, Dave Richter and Harold Snepts. We may have lost the game but at least one of our guys punched one of their guys out.
It wasn’t as if the Canucks didn’t have any decent players in their 1st 20 years. They did. They had goal scorers but had severe problems with team defence year after year. It also seemed that every few years a flash in the pan high scoring junior would turn up like Stu Kulak, Taylor Hall, Moe Lemay, Dan Hodgson, Brian Bradley, Dixon Ward, Jeff Rolichek, Jophn LeBlanc, or Jere Gillis and fans would become dismayed when these guys didn’t turn out to be another Mike Bossy.
I used to hang out in a bar in Vancouver called Annabelle’s back around 1976 and remember seeing NHL players like Rick Martin in the place. One night I saw a couple of players drag a very drunk Bobby Sheehan out of the club. Sheehan could have been a great player if he hadn’t had a drinking problem.
I went to my first Canucks game at the Pacific Coliseum in the late 1970s. I remember being at one game, I think it was around 1981, with our family doctor. The Minnesota North Stars were in town and we had seats in the reds about 3 rows from the ice. We smoked a joint before the game. The score that night was something like 9-8 for the Canucks and it seemed like we were watching a tennis match. I had my first taste of sushi ever after the game. It was a good night.
Pacific Coliseum
Over the years I’ve probably seen the Canucks live about 30 times. Almost all those games were freebies. Either a business supplier took me or someone I knew had some tickets they weren’t using. I remember drinking beer under the stands between the periods at the Coliseum and seeing some locals who thought they were cool with their long coats and cowboy boots. I also remember some wealthier guys with pressed jeans. I was a guest at the private Center Ice Club several times. They had a great “smorgie” and a chef who would cut juicy slices of roast beef for the patrons. You could write down what kind of beverage you wanted and find it waiting for you at your table between periods. It was pretty cool knowing that I didn’t have to pay for any of this.
Ticket stubs

Year after year went by. There was some drama along the way which happens with every hockey team. Trades or new players didn’t seem to change the results at the end of the season. There was that one bright moment when the Canucks went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 82 only to be demolished by the high flying Islanders and then it was back to more of the same.
I saw hockey in a different way when my son started playing the game in the mid-90s. There is hardly anything stinkier than a hockey equipment bag. A guy I knew told me about the importance of parents participating in their son’s sports and volunteering. I took it to heart. In the beginning I thought I had another Wayne Gretsky in the family as my son started scoring a lot of goals. By the 2nd year some other kids were faster and more skilled. Eventually my son became a goalie. He played organized hockey for about 13 years.
It took the Canucks about 30 years to have a consistently good hockey team. It was a very long wait. The following is about the team’s first 20 years and coping with year after year with mostly crappy hockey teams and trying to see the silver lining.
The “Old” Canucks
I was sitting in a rented room in the west end of downtown Vancouver in February of 1968 when I first heard of a hockey team called the Vancouver Canucks while listening to my Lloyds radio. I had just taken a train across Canada from Montreal with the hope of making my way to Australia by working on an ocean freighter. My radio was my window to the goings on in Vancouver and although the Canucks team back then wasn’t part of the NHL there were some player’s names that were familiar. I wouldn’t say I became a rabid Canuck’s fan but hockey has always been my favourite team sport and following the play by play by future NHL Hall of Famer Jim Robson helped pass away some nights when I was a stranger in Vancouver.
The Canucks back then played in league called the WHL (Western Hockey League) and against teams like the San Diego Gulls, the Seattle Totems, the Portland Buckaroos, the San Francisco Seals, the Denver Spurs, the Phoenix Roadrunners and the Salt Lake Golden Eagles. I once saw a Salt Lake Golden Eagles hockey game in Salt Lake City in 1973.

The Salt Palace, Salt Lake City, Utah

40 years ago “the minors” in hockey wasn’t the same as it is today where the vast majority of players are in their early twenties and honing their skills hoping to make it to the NHL. Back then there were a number of players who had long careers in the minors, sometimes 15-20 years and more. The money was never great but a lot of hockey players back then didn’t have too many prospects other than working at physical labour in the off-season. A number of minor league hockey players moved around the US and Canada during their playing careers. Sometimes it was just about living in what they thought was a more attractive city. Still others found a city they liked and spent years in one place.
There were also players in the minors who had had a shot at the NHL. Some of these guys just got a sniff of the NHL and played only a few games in the “show” but there were others who had been stars in the NHL but their foot speed or scoring skills had diminished. A few of these guys got another shot at better money when the World Hockey Association was formed in 1972 as a competitor to the NHL.
Don Cherry spent part of his second to last year in the minors with the old Vancouver Canucks. Former New York Ranger star Andy Bathgate finished his career with Vancouver as did Charlie Hodge who was once the goaltender for the Montreal Canadians. Future star goalie with the Chicago Black Hawks, Tony Esposito, spent his first season as a pro with Vancouver as did future Toronto Maple Leaf defencemen Brad Selwood, Jim McKenny, and Tracy Pratt. Stan Gilbertson would later have a career of over 400 games in the NHL.

Andy Bathgate
Other Canucks players who had had a taste of NHL but were on the decline in their careers included Howie Young, Marc Rheaume, George Gardiner, Bryan Hextall, Bob Barlow, Murray Hall, Phil Maloney, Larry Popein, Ted Taylor, Don Johns, Len Lunde, and Gerry Odrowski. To give you an idea how long a player could last in the minors back then consider one time Vancouver Canuck, Cleland “Keke” Mortson. His minor pro career started in the 1952-53 season with the Newhaven Nutmegs and ended in the 1977-78 season with the Houston Aeros. Over his pro career he played for 18 different teams.
When there was first talk of the NHL expanding from the “original 6” it was thought by many that Vancouver would be a shoo-in to get one the new 6 franchises. Stafford Smythe who owned the Toronto Maple Leafs at the time made sure that didn’t happen. Hartland Molson who owned the Montreal Canadiens also wasn’t fussy about seeing another Canadian team in the NHL. Both men didn’t want to give up fan territory which they considered to be theirs west of Ontario. They also didn’t want to share TV revenue.
These millionaires were also very concerned about a new league forming and becoming direct competitors to the NHL. When expansion came about in 1967, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Minnesota, Los Angeles, and Oakland were awarded franchises. Oakland? Surely Vancouver had more of a hockey history and more potential than Oakland?
In 1967 the Vancouver Canucks were playing at an arena called The Forum on The Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) grounds which had about 5,000 seats. This arena was certainly far too small for an NHL rink but the new 15,000 seat Pacific Coliseum was under construction and would open in January of 1968. If Vancouver had been awarded an NHL franchise in 1967 they could have played at the old Forum for a few months before moving into the Pacific Coliseum in the same way the Montreal Expos started  playing pro baseball at Jarry Park before the Olympic Stadium opened.
 The NHL Canucks
Of the 6 teams that were part of the NHL expansion of 1967 Oakland had the toughest time of it as far as attendance went. There was some talk about moving the Oakland franchise to either Vancouver or Buffalo. Labatt’s Brewery made an offer to move the Oakland Seals team to Vancouver and there was at least one lawsuit about this matter. With expansion there were now 10 American teams in the NHL and they all liked the idea of easy profits from selling new franchises and only giving up fringe players.
Buffalo and Vancouver got their NHL teams and they began playing in the 1970-71 season. The 2 teams would get the 1st and 2nd players in that year’s draft. A coin was tossed or something like that, and Buffalo got 1st choice. They chose future Hall of Famer Gilbert Perrault. With the 2nd pick Vancouver received defenceman Dale Tallon.
Dale Tallon
It wasn’t that difficult to obtain the Vancouver “Canucks” name. With a new NHL team there was no way the city could support both an NHL team and a minor pro team. The old Canucks team ceased existing. So just exactly what is a “Canuck”? There doesn’t seem to be an exact theory. Supposedly it was nick name some Americans used to identify French Canadians a long time ago. A character named Johnny Canuck appeared in political cartoons dating back to the 1860s. Whoever or whatever a Canuck is, Roberto Luongo has a picture of him on his goalie’s mask as does the current team on one of their retro jerseys.

Johnny Canuck
The first owner of the Vancouver Canucks was a guy from Minnesota named Tom Scallen who owned a company called Medicor. You kind of have to do some delving to find out just who Tom Scallen was. He knew of the popularity of the game of hockey in Canada but by most reports knew little about running an NHL team. It has been said that he meddled in the operation of the team almost from the start making it difficult for the people he hired to do that job. He was found guilty of theft and offering a false prospectus through Medicor in 1973 and did jail time in Canada serving 9 months of a 2 year sentence before being deported.
In 1970 Vancouver was not anywhere near what is like today. It was, in a lot of ways, undeveloped and reliant on industries like forestry and mining. Back then, the “old money” folks in the city were not prepared to step up to the plate and invest in a new NHL hockey franchise. Around the time Scallen was sent off to the hoosegow he sold the team to millionaire Frank Griffiths who had made his fortune by owning radio station CKNW, the most listened to radio station in BC at the time.
First Season 1970-1971
There was a dispersal draft for the 2 new teams, the Vancouver Canucks and the Buffalo Sabres. These were pretty well all fringe players. Vancouver took defenseman Gary Doak from the Boston Bruins with their first pick. After keeping Doak for a little over a year the Canucks traded him away and he spent another 9 years in the NHL. It wasn’t the last inept deal the Canucks would be involved in over the next 20 years.
Tough guy Orland Kurtenbach was named the team’s first captain. He could go toe to toe with any player in the league. Another tough guy, Rosaire Paiement, scored 34 times in his first year as a Canuck. Diminutive Andre Boudrias who was about 5’8” had 114 goals in the team’s first 5 years before jumping to the WHA.

Andre Boudrias
Orland Kurtenbach
Wayne Maki had 25 goals that first year. His career ended during his 3rd year with the team when he was diagnosed with brain cancer and he died at the age of 29. Before joining the Canucks Maki had been involved in a stick swinging incident with Boston defenseman Ted Green that left Green with a metal plate in his head. Green apparently had taken the first stick swing.
Future coach and general manager of the Canucks, Pat Quinn, anchored the defense along with Dale Talon who was only 19 at the time. Another defenseman Barry Wilkins scored the Canucks first ever NHL goal. Charlie Hodge and Dunc Wilson shared the goal tending.
Hal Laycoe was the team’s first coach. The team record that year was 24 wins, 46 losses, and 8 ties. Laycoe might also be remembered as the Boston Bruin defenseman who got into fight with Maurice Richard at the Montreal Forum in 1955 that resulted in Richard and Laycoe being suspended. Richard was contending for the league scoring title at the time. With Richard out of the picture the famous Richard Riot occurred after the next Canadiens home game. Laycoe was one of a few players who wore eye glasses while playing pro hockey at the time. Future 5 time Stanley Cup winner as a coach, Al Arbour, was another player back then who wore eye glasses.
With the 3rd pick in the 1971 amateur draft Vancouver picked up high scoring defenceman Jocelyn Guevrement. They also added 25 year old defenceman Dennis Kearns who would spend the next 10 years with the team. 5’5” forward Bobby Lalonde joined the team. The Canucks finished the year with 20 wins, 50 losses, and 8 ties. They weren’t getting better. They were getting worse.

Dennis Kearns
Vic Stasiuk took over as coach. He was once part of the “Uke” line in Boston with Bronco Horvath and Johnny Bucyk. 2nd year player, Bobby Schmautz had his best year in his long career with 38 goals. Schmautz was only 5’9” but was very feisty. In 1974 he was traded to Boston for Mike Walton, Chris Odleifson, and Fred O’Donnell. Schmautz became an important player in Boston’s Stanley Cup successes. 
Vancouver once again had the #3 pick in the amateur draft and chose center Don Lever. He would later become team captain and played over 1000 games in the NHL. The team only slightly improved their record from the year before ending up with 22 wins, 47 losses, and 9 ties.

Don Lever
Bill McCreary was the coach at the start of the season but was let go after compiling a record of 9 W, 25L, and 7 ties. Former minor pro with the old Vancouver Canucks, Phil Maloney, took over and finished the year with 15W, 18L, and 4 ties. It looked like the team was going in the right direction.
Rookie Dennis Ververgaert scored 26 times. 7 players were acquired through trades. Defenceman Bob Dailey joined the team.
Dennis Vervegaert
Gary Smith became the #1 goal tender. His nick name was “Suitcase”. Over the years he played for 14 pro hockey teams. He was one “flakey” goalie.
The Vancouver Blazers
In 1973 the Canucks had some local competition with the Vancouver Blazers who moved from Philadelphia to Vancouver and were part of a new league called the World Hockey Association. The Blazers were owned by Vancouver millionaire Jim Pattison. Danny Lawson had 50 goals in the Blazers first year. The current VP of hockey operations for the NHL Colin Campbell was a defenseman for the Blazers. A few years later he became a player for the NHL Vancouver Canucks. John MacKenzie was a long time NHLer who played 2 seasons for the Blazers. Andy Bathgate was the head coach the first year.
In 1974 Joe Crozier took over the coaching and Andy Bathgate wound up his career playing only 11 games that year.19 year old Pat Price joined the team. He would later play over 700 games in the NHL. The team left town and moved to Calgary where they were called the Cowboys. It had become quite obvious that Vancouver couldn’t support 2 pro hockey teams. After the Blazers moved to Calgary they found themselves after a game in San Diego out at the airport ready to board a plane for the trip home. There was one problem. The plane was out of gas and $1500.00 was needed to refuel it. Coach Crozier passed the hat around but the players didn’t have enough cash. The Cowboy’s play by play man put the fuel costs on his credit card and was later repaid. You might say the WHA had financial problems.

Joe Crozier

Frank Griffith bought the Canucks from Tom Scallen and would remain as owner of the team until his death in 1994. The team selected Ron Sedlbauer, Harold Snepts, and Mike Rogers in the 1974 draft. Mike Rogers jumped to the WHA and never played a game for the Canucks. They could have used him at the time. 10 Canucks players were involved in trades. The team had its first winning season with a record of 38 wins, 32 losses, and 10 ties. This was also the first year the Canucks were in the play-offs. They got bounced by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round winning only 1 game.

Harold Snepts
19 year old forward Rick Blight joined the team and potted 25 goals in his rookie season. Rick Blight was a Canuck for almost 5 seasons. Sadly, after he retired he committed suicide on his farm in Manitoba at the age of 49. The 30 year old Mike Walton joined the team and fans wondered if he had any gas left in the tank. The team had a fairly balanced attack with 5 twenty goal scorers. Harold Snepts joined the team on the blueline and would play the better part of 11 seasons for Vancouver. For the 2nd year in a row the team had a winning record finishing the season with 33 wins, 32 losses, and 15 ties. Once again the Canucks were bounced in the first round of the play-offs.

Rick Blight
Former Canuck captain, Orland Kurtenbach, took over as head coach when the Canucks stumbled out of the gate at the beginning of the year. He replaced the under rated Phil Maloney who had a record of just 10 games under .500 in his tenure as coach of the Canucks. Former Ranger, Minnesota North Star, and Montreal Canadiens player Caesar Maniago became the team’s #1 goalie. Vancouver had 4 pretty good young guns up front on the team with Blight, Lever, Ververgaert, and Sedlbauer. All were Canuck draft picks. Defenceman Bob Manno was the Canucks first pick in the draft in 1976.  Derek Sanderson came over from St. Louis and had 16 points in 16 games played and split at the end of the season. I’m not sure if Sanderson and Mike
Walton ever went out drinking together.
The Canucks really stunk up the Pacific Coliseum this season. The record was 20 W, 43L, and 17 ties. They had a decent enough offense with 5 players with over 20 goals and another 4 with 15 or more goals. It was the back end in goal and on defence that was killing them. They let in 172 more goals than they scored that season. Pit Martin was acquired from Chicago. Glen Hanlon played his 1st 4 games in goal for the team. Hilliard Graves was laying out some nasty low body checks. In the end it was perhaps the Canucks worst year in the NHL. The Canucks 1st pick in the draft that year was Gere Gillis.

Orland Kurtenbach may have been a warrior as a player but he kind of sucked as a coach. Harry Neale was brought into replace him. Neale’s record in his first year was nothing to write home about either. The team finished the season with a record of 25 wins, 42 losses, and 13 ties. Somehow they managed to get into the playoffs but were quickly bumped off by Philadelphia. All was not lost though. That year with their first 3 picks in the draft they chose Bill Derlago, Curt Fraser, and Stan Smyl. They also acquired center Thomas Gradin from Chicago for a future 2nd round draft choice. Fraser, Smyl, and Gradin would play on the same line for a number of years. All 3 players went directly to the NHL without spending any time in the minors.  Stan Smyl would become the face of the Canucks and captain. He spent his whole 13 year career with the team. Both Fraser and Smyl would fight anyone and you knew even with all the losses they weren’t going to roll over easily.
Stan Smyl

Thomas Gradin
Curt Fraser

33 different players suited up for the Canucks during this season. Rick Blight went from three 25 or more goal seasons to 5 goals. On the upside the Canucks drafted 2 very good players, Rick Vaive and Dirk Graham that year. Graham never played for the Canucks and spent a few years in the minors. He later captained the Chicago Blackhawks and had an NHL career of 772 games.

1978 was also the year that the Canucks introduced those god awful yellow jerseys with the big “V”.
Harry Neale could be a very funny guy in interviews. He was very likable but all 5 seasons that he coached the Canucks were losing ones. All told, 13 players came and went through trades in the 79-80 season. Probably the worst trade that year was sending Bill Derlago and Rick Vaive off to Toronto for Tiger Williams and Jerry Butler. There was no doubt that Williams was solid entertainment value and he could pot a few goals but Vaive went on to score 441 goals in the NHL. Derlago had 4 seasons with Toronto where he scored over 30 goals. Jerry Butler? He had less than a total of 20 goals in his 2 seasons and a bit in Vancouver.

Rick Vaive with coach Harry Neale and GM Jake Milford
The Canucks did a lot better that year in their trade for Darcy Rota and Ivan Bodirev. They did have to give up steady producer and team captain Don Lever but they got the better of the deal. Boldirev played over 1000 games in the NHL and had the scoring touch. He averaged 25 goals per year in his 3 seasons in Vancouver. Darcy Rota had eight 20 plus goal seasons in the NHL.

Darcy Rota

Ivan Boldirev
When the smoke cleared at the end of the year the Canucks record was 27W, 37L, and 16 ties. The team was going nowhere fast. There was, however, a new fan favourite, Gary Lupul. At only 5’8” he fought his way onto the Canucks as a free agent. He spent parts of 7 seasons with the team. Mario Lemieux had a fight with Lupul in his first home game in Pittsburgh. There was about an 8 inch height difference between the 2 players. Current Canuck broadcaster, and Canuck goalie at the time, John Garrett, came to Lupul’s rescue and received a game misconduct for his efforts. Lupul had a substance abuse problem and had a tough time of it after retiring. The Canucks gave him a job and brought him back into the family. Sadly Lupul, who had cardiovascular problems, died at the age of 48.

Gary Lupul

The Canucks did pretty well in the 1980 draft. They chose defencemen Doug Lidster and Rick Lantz and forwards Patrik Sundstrom and Marc Crawford. 8 players that year had 20 goals but still the team finished the season under .500. Goal tending and defence were still their biggest problems. They had a fairly decent #1 goalie in Richard Brodeur but his goals against average was 3.51 for the year. Rick Lanz and Kevin McCarthy were decent rushing defencemen but team defence including back checking was severely lacking. The high points of the year were watching Tiger Williams with his 35 goals sliding along the ice while sitting on his hockey stick after scoring a goal. Williams had 343 penalty minutes that season. The guy really liked to scrap. Late in the year the team picked up another rushing defenceman in Doug Halward.

Doug Lidster
Dave "Tiger" Williams
In 1981 Garth Butcher, Moe Lemay and Petri Skriko were drafted by the Canucks. Butcher was a physical defencemen who was a steady blueliner for the team for a number of years. Skriko was taken 157th in the draft and turned out to have a scoring touch. Moe Lemay was perhaps one of Vancouver’s first disappointments in a high scoring junior not panning out.

Petri Skriko
Somehow, despite finishing the season 3 games under .500 the team made it to the playoffs. And oh what a playoffs they were. With 10 games left in the season Head coach Harry Neale was suspended for an altercation with fans in Quebec City. Assistant coach Roger Neilson took over head coaching and the team won 9 of its last 10 games. When the play-offs started it was decided that Roger Neilson would continue as the head coach.
The team won 11 of 13 games and got by Calgary, Los Angeles, and Chicago to make it to the Stanley Cup final and played against the New York Islander dynasty. The city of Vancouver went nuts. Nobody had expected this. Goalie Richard Brodeur stood on his head for the first 3 series. One fan sign in the stands read “He ain’t heavy…he’s R. Brodeur.”

"King" Richard Brodeur
It the series against Chicago coach Neilson felt the team was getting a raw deal from the refs. In protest he put a white towel on the end of a hockey stick and raised it in the air like the team was surrendering. This was the introduction of “towel power”. By the time the next game rolled around in Vancouver team management had purchased thousands of white towels for the fans.

Coach Roger Neilson
The Canucks were the first western team in 56 years to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. In their first game against the Islanders the game went to overtime. Right near the end of the first overtime period Harold Snepts gave the puck away and Islander Mike Bossy put the game away. The Canucks were leading 4-3 after 2 periods in the 2nd game but lost 6-4. The Islanders easily won the next 2 games and the cup.
In some ways it was probably inevitable that the Canucks were not going to beat the powerhouse Islanders but the playoffs sure thrilled Vancouver for a few short weeks that spring over 30 years ago.
1981 was also the year that Ivan Hlinka joined the team. He had 2 pretty decent years before going back to Czechloslovakia. Sadly he died in a car accident in 2004 at the age of 54.
With Roger Neilson now as head coach and the success of the previous year in the playoffs there was understandably high hopes for the 82-83 season. It wasn’t to be. The team finished the season with 30W, 35L, and 15 ties. Curt Fraser was shipped off to Chicago for Toni Tanti. Tanti would become a star in Vancouver. Ivan Boldirev was traded for Mark Kirton which was a very bad move. John Garrett was sent off to Quebec. Tiger Williams goal scoring output dropped to 8 goals. The draft was pretty lean for the Canucks that year and the only notable player they could come up with was French Canadian defenseman Michel Petit.

Toni Tanti
Vancouver fans may have not known it at the time but the team was in decline. Over the next 10 years the team barely squeaked into the playoffs 4 times but were bounced in the first round each time.
What else was new, another year, another losing season. The Canucks had enough players for 2 decent scoring lines but still couldn’t get anywhere. Two Swedes, Patrik Sundstrom and  Thamas Gradin, were very decent playmakers. They were complimented by Darcy Rota, Stan Smyl, Toni Tanti, and Tiger Williams. D was still a big problem for the team and they let in 182 more goals than they scored during the season. A young 18 year old, Cam Neely joined the team that year. He was the 9th overall pick in the the 83 draft. John Garrett and his mustache were reacquired from Quebec. Kevin MacCarthy was sent to Pittsburgh.

Patrik Sundstrom
The Canucks certainly made some really stupid decisions in their first 20 years and one of the worst was hiring Bill Laforge as their head coach. Laforge came from coaching a junior hockey team and had no experience either as a coach or player at the NHL level. Harry Neale, the Canucks GM at the time, chose Laforge over future NHL coach Mike Keenan.
Right from the get go Laforge treated his players like rebellious teenagers. If the team they were on in practice lost a scrimmage the losers were forced to run laps around an outdoor field with all their hockey equipment on except their skates. Picture long time time NHLers  like Doug Halward, Peter McNabb, and Thomas Gradin having to do that. Another thing Laforge introduced to practices was “running the gauntlet” where players would line up a few feet front the boards and throw checks at a lone player who had to make his way passed them and the boards. Supposedly Darcy Rota paid the ultimate price for having to run the gauntlet. He already had had lingering injury problems and they were exacerbated by this stupid idea of toughening the players up. Rota ended up hanging up his skates for good.
After the first 20 games under Laforge that year the team had only won 4 games and he was let go. GM Harry Neale took over the head coach position for the rest of the year. Laforge was lucky that no player took it upon themselves to just punch him out before he left.
In the 84 draft the Canucks selected defenceman J.J. Daigneault with their first pick. He put on his new Canucks jersey while struggling with a crutch he needed because of an injury. It wasn’t exactly an inspiring moment.
Tom Watt was the new head coach in 1986. His assistant was former Canuck defenseman and war horse Jack MacIlhargey. It would be another crappy season for the team. At the end of season their record was 23W, 44L, and 15 ties. On the upside Toni Tanti had 39 goals and Petri Skriko 38. Newcomer Moe Lemay showed some promise and potted 16 goals. Rick Lanz and 15 goals and 38 assists while playing on the blue line.

Fans were getting used to looking for positives amongst a continuing mess. A good fight won by one of the Canucks could take a bit of the chill off of another game lost. A 6’4” tall guy from Chula Vista, California named Craig Coxe took on all comers that year and became a crowd favourite. In 177 games with the team he had all of 10 goals. The Canucks first pick in the draft that year was huge Jim Sandlak. With the 214th pick they selected a Russian named Igor Larianov.

In the summer of 1986 Vancouver made their worst trade ever. Cam Neely and a first round draft choice who turned out to be Glen Wesley were traded to Boston for center Barry Pederson. Pederson had a decent first and second year with the Canucks with 76 points in 79 games and 71 points in 76 games. After that he was pretty well done. Cam Neely became a star in Boston. He would play for Boston for 10 years and had 3 seasons with 50 or more goals. He retired early from hockey due to a bad knee. Neely was inducted into The Hockey Hall of Fame in 2005. Glenn Wesley played 7 seasons for the Bruins and played over 1000 games in the NHL. When Neely was traded he was 20 years old and behind Toni Tanti and Stan Smyl on the depth chart and didn’t get any power play time. His coach at the time in Vancouver, Tom Watt, didn’t like Neely’s defensive capabilities. Thanks for nothing Tom!

Cam Neely
The Canucks shipped off 6 players in the 86-87 season including defencemen Doug Halward and Rick Lanz. They picked up defenceman Jim Benning from Toronto.
After all was said and done it was another losing season with 29W, 43L, and 8 ties. Richard Brodeur’s GAA was 3.59 that year.
Bob McCammon was hired as the new head coach and would lead the team to 4 more losing seasons. Just before the season started, the Vancouver traded Canuck veteran Patrick Sundstrom to New Jersey for Greg Adams and minor league goaltender Kirk McLean. Sundstrom was a decent producer for New Jersey for the next 4 years but Vancouver got the better of the deal. Adams was a consistent goal scorer for a little over 7 years and a big part of the Canuck’s 2nd run at the Stanley cup in the 90s. Kirk McLean became Vancouver’s all time winning goalie up until then and stayed with team for 11 years. During that time he won 34 play-off games.

Kirk McLean
Greg Adams
Gary Valk was the only player drafted by the Canucks in 87 who had any kind of NHL career. The team was often is desperation midway through the year and being desperate is not the best way to make a trade. In 87 the Canucks traded away defenceman Michel Petit for Ranger defenceman Larry Melnyk. Melnyk had 21 points in total in 3 seasons with the Canucks. Petit would play another 10 years and produce 212 points in the NHL after leaving the Canucks. Canuck management had given up on Petit after less than 80 games. Petit was only 23 at the time of the trade.
In 1988 the Canucks picked up outstanding defenceman Paul Reinhardt from the Calgary Flames for a 3rd round draft choice. He was struggling with a bad back but managed to play most of the 2 years he was in Vancouver picking up 57 points both years.
Trevor Linden had been the #2 pick in the draft and joined the Canucks at the age of 18. The #1 pick was Mike Modano. Linden would later become the team captain and in a lot of ways the face of Canucks for the better part of the next 20 years. He is probably the most respected player ever to play for the team.

Trevor Linden
Mel Bridgman played his last 15 games in the NHL with the Canucks that year. Stan Smyl was starting to slow down and Harry Snepts was now 33 years old. 36 different players wore Canucks jerseys during the year. Team scoring had dropped and once again they were letting in too many goals, over 150 more than they scored during the year. They finished the year with a 33W, 39L, 8 ties.
In 1989 the Canucks drafted some obscure player from Russia named Pavel Bure. It was a steal in that most scouts didn't think Bure was eligible for the draft that year. Bure would go on to be the most dynamic player in Canuck history. It took a bit of time to get him out of Russia.

Pavel Bure
25W, 41L, 14 ties. Ouch again! Vancouver had a thing for Pittsburg that year sending 5 players to them including Toni Tanti. They received sniper Dan Quinn and Andrew McBain in return. Quinn was in his 8th year in the NHL and his goal scoring was on the decline.

Russians Igor Larionov and Victor Krutov suited up for the Canucks that year. Krotov turned up at training camp overweight and only potted 11 goals during the season. At the end of the year he left town and went back to Russia for good. Larionov would have a long NHL career.
Brian Bradley who the Canucks had obtained from Calgary scored 19 times during the season. Later in his career he had 42 with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Canucks pretty well stole defenseman Jyrki Lumme from the Montreal Canadiens. Lumme would go on to play defence for the Canucks for the best part of 9 years.
Jyrki Lumme

Head coach Bob McCammon was sacked 2/3 of the way through the season and GM Pat Quinn took over his chores. It was a bit messy in how Quinn turned up as GM and president of the Canucks a few years before. He agreed to take over those positions while still under contract as head coach of the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings filed a suit which they lost but NHL president at the time, John Ziegler, banned Quinn from coaching in the NHL until the 1990-91 season.

Pat Quinn with new Canuck Trevor Linden
Garth Butcher was traded to St. Louis along with Dan Quinn and Petri Skriko was sent to Boston for draft picks. Vancouver picked up Sergio Momesso, Cliff Ronning, Geoff Coutrnall, and Robert Dirk in exchange for Quinn and Butcher. These pick-ups would have big rolls in the Canucks Stanley Cup run a few years later. 18 year old Peter Nedved made his first appearance with the team.

Cliff Ronning
When the smoke cleared at the end of the season it was another dismal year. 28W-43L-9 ties.
So here we are at the end of 2013. The Canucks have a new coach in John Tortorella. The team is in 4th place in the competitive Pacific Division having won 8 out of its last 10 games. There is good chance they won’t finish first in their division like they have for the past number of years. Luongo is playing well in goal as is his back-up Eddie Lack. The Sedin brothers are now 33 years old and seem to slowing down a bit. Kesler has 15 goals and free agent Mike Santorelli has been a pleasant surprise. Chris Tanev has become a competent top 4 defenceman. The jury is still out on whether Zack Kassian can be the power forward management want him to be.
Roberto Luongo

The Sedin brothers

There are some young players that have been drafted in the past year or two that show a lot of promise. It may be getting close to the time when the team will have to add more new guys and send some veterans on their way.
In the 43 years the Canucks have been in operation the team still hasn’t won the Stanley Cup. Not very many sports pundits are suggesting that the Canucks will break that pattern. Who knows what is going to happen? They made it to the 7th game of the finals a few years ago. Stranger things have happened. Personally I think you win the cup these days with big gritty guys and shorter ones with a nasty streak and great goal tending. I don’t think the Canucks have all of that but I wouldn’t mind being surprised.
When you come down to it running a professional sports team is about managing assets. And some luck. Who knows what would have happened if the Canucks had the first pick instead of the of second pick in in 1970 and had taken Gilbert Perrault instead of Dale Tallon? What about all of those seasons when management panicked and gave away young players that went on to have outstanding seasons with other teams?  In the end if you were a fan you still got entertained and a new guy was just around the corner who would electrify the fans for the next 7 years. Pavel Bure.

Some Pics I Took Back In The Early 80's

Canucks playing the Minnesota North Stars

Jim Nill?

#12 Stan Smyl
Mark Kirton taking face-off?
Roger Neilson behind the bench


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