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The Denver Invaders



   After a long absence, professional hockey returned to Denver.  The Denver Invaders were the farm club for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  The head coach was Rudy Pilous, who was fired the year before from the head coaching job with the Chicago Blackhawks.  The Invaders played the bulk of their games at the Denver Coliseum, which now hosts a variety of shows including the National Western Stock Show.  The Invaders played their playoff games in 1964 at the Denver University Rink.

The 1963/64 Denver Invader Roster


   Though picked to be at the bottom of the Western Hockey League by hockey experts, coach Rudy Pilous had other plans for the team.  The team showed their never-say-die attitude against the Toronto Maple Leafs in an pre-season exhibition game at the Coliseum.  A late first period Maple Leaf goal by Dave Keon making the score 2-1 held up through the second and most of the third periods.  With about three minutes left, many of the fans were conceding defeat to the Stanley Cup Champions, but Invader Milan Marcetta beat back-up goalie Kjell Svensson to give the Invaders a 2-2 tie with 2:27 remaining..


Marcetta beats Leaf goalie Kjell Svensson



   Despite the upbeat ending of the last exhibition game, the Invaders would slump in the first game.  The Portland Buckaroos pounced on the floundering Invaders and handled them easily 4-1.  After the game, coach Pilous was pleading with Leaf President Stafford Smythe to send him some forwards.  Pilous saw the lack of offense in the first game as a serious problem to be fixed immediately.
Box Score From First Invader Game
First Period Scoring- Portland, Jones (unassisted) 13:36; Denver, Jankowski, (Witiuk, Migay) Penalties- Portland, Donaldson, high-sticking 17:15.
Second Period Scoring- Portland, McVie (Smith, Schmautz) 6:17.Penalties- NONE.
Third Period Scoring- Portland, Hannigan (laufman, Donaldson) 5:25; Portland, Schmautz (Goodwin, Stapleton) 8:56.Penalties- Portland, Stapleton, interference 6:46; Denver, A Hucul,. interference 13:57; Portland, McCarthy, high-sticking 19:24.
Goalies:  Buckaroos Head, Invaders Millar.

   The losing streak wasn't long-lived.  The Invaders, with goaltender Al Millar, Lou Jankowski (leading scorer) and veteran captain Rudy Migay leading the way, would soon find the scoring and the winning touch.
   Defensemen like Marty Howe and Connie Madigan played well in front of goalie Al Millar, whose play all year was stellar.


Marty Howe and Connie Madigan

Later in the season, the fortunes of the team would swing wildly on these three players.
   The first 15 games saw the Invaders hanging around in the pack of the WHL.  However, they would soon break out with extended winning streaks.  The Invaders went from 9-6-1 to 27-10-2, this stretch included an eight-game winning streak.  
   Al Millar was the wall in net.

Al Millar posing for the camera

Al Millar had a solid season on the ice.  At the end of the regular season, Millar was given the Three Star Award in recognition for his play in net.  He won the award by six points over second-place Guyle Fielder.  Millar received $100 for the honor.  
  In a Denver Post article, Millar attributed his rejuvenation as a goalie to the mask he was wearing.  Millar pointed out that he starting wearing a mask before Jacques Plante, but that his coach in Quebec, Joe Crozier, made him take it off because the plexiglass kept fogging up, which reduced Millar's vision.  Millar ended up getting a different mask and after tests were ran to make sure the mask didn't interfere with his field of vision, Millar decided it was in his best interest to wear it.
  Including winning awards, Millar had some disappointments.  He was called up to Toronto because of an injury to Leaf Goalie Johnny Bower.  The Leaf backup, Don Simmons, was stinking it up in net as a replacement so Millar was going to be the savior in a game against the Blackhawks.  But this was not to be.  Millar's plane was grounded due to inclement weather and he never made the trip.  The Leaf backup ended up getting a shutout in the game.
   Millar was also the focal point of a crazy episode against the Seattle Totems.  Totem tough guy Larry "The Rock" Zeidel tried his best to throw Millar off of his game.  Millar, being a superstitious goalie, always wanted to be the last player to leave the ice after periods.  Zeidel decided to test Millar's resolve.  Zeidel wanted to go last at the end of the second period.  Millar stayed his ground as Zeidel began trying to intimidate him by skating figure eights around the Denver goalie.  Soon, Coach Rudy Pilous, realizing this could go on for a while, brought a chair out for Millar so he could wait out the raucous Zeidel.  As Millar sat down, Zeidel kept trying to hook the chair out from underneath the Denver goalie.  Millar would prevail as referee Bill Papp finally ordered Zeidel off the ice first.  Zeidel would end up losing his composure totally in the third period, heaving the penalty box bench on to the ice.  Not only did Zeidel get ejected from the game, his act did little to bother Millar who got the shutout in a 4-0 Invader win.
   The biggest comeback by the Invaders was February 15, 1964.   Down 4-0 going in to the third period against the Seattle Totems, the Invaders would stage the biggest third period comeback in the season.  The comeback began early.  Milan Marcetta beat the Seattle goalie Claude Dufour with just 29 seconds gone in the third.  Gordie Redahl, Steve Witiuk and Gary Jarrett would score within the next five minutes to tie the game at four.  The Totems, desperate to stave off the attack, scored their fifth goal to regain the lead, but it was too little too late.  Goals by Larry Keenan, John Sleaver and Fred Hucul would ice the game for the Invaders.
Box Score for February 15, 1964 WHL game: Invaders at Totems
First Period Scoring- Seattle, Powers (MacFarland, Sinclair) 8:53.Penalties- Shvetz, Denver, 4:05; F Hucul, Denver, 8:42.
Second Period Scoring- Seattle, MacFarland (Fielder, Sinclair) 7:34; Seattle, Cossette (MacFarland, Zeidel) 12:26; Seattle, Barlow (Powers, Fielder) 14:22.Penalties- Shvetz, Denver 5:49; Sinclair, Seattle, 10:12; Howe, Denver, 16:43.
Third Period Scoring- Denver, Marcetta (Migay, Howe) :29; Denver, Redahl (Sleaver) 1:29; Denver, Witiuk (Collins, Keenan) 2:41; Denver, Jarrett (Marcetta) 5:16; Seattle, Powers (Fielder, Zeidel) 8:17; Denver, Keenan (Witiuk) 14:44; Denver, Sleaver (Jankowski 16:00; Denver, F Hucul (unassisted) 19:48.Penalties- Migay, Denver, :47; Bell, Seattle, :47; Marcetta, Denver, 9:14; Sinclair, Seattle, 12:03; Jarrett, Denver, 16:24.
Goalies:  Invaders Millar, Totems Dufour.
   The Invaders ended up clinching the division and the Governor's Cup, awarded to the team with the best regular season record, on February 25, 1964, a full month before the commencement of the playoffs.  The Invaders would end up winning the WHL by 17 points as they ended up with 44-23-3 record (91 points).    The playoff series against the Los Angeles Blades was vicious.  Game one, was ugly.

"Millar, usually as steady as Gibraltar in the playoffs, proved as leakproof as the Maginot Line and though he turned aside 29 enemy shots, was way off form in this money showdown."
--Jim Graham Denver Post Sports Writer

   The Invaders lost the game 7-3.
   A different Invader team would show up for Game 2.  The fists were flying and pucks were going into the net.


Fuzzy Picture of the Blade/Invader Brawl

Thirty-one penalties were called, Denver 14 and LA 17, in the game.   A total of 84 minutes of penalties were called, with former Invader Connie Madigan accounting for 16 of the minutes.  The Invaders must have liked the atmosphere, they won 8-2.  The series shifted to Los Angeles for games 3,4 and 5.    Game 3 was a setback.  The game was a 4-3 loss for the Invaders.  But more importantly, Al Millar was lost for the remainder of the season.  Marcel Paille would fill in for the rest of the way.
   In game four, Paille would stand tall.  He made 33 saves in the 3-2 victory.  High scoring Denver forward Lou Jankowski scored two goals.  The victory was costly though.  Captain Ray Migay and Steve Witiuk were knocked out of the game, Migay with 9 stitches after a vicious cross-check to the face by Howie Young and Witiuk, who pulled his groin after his skate got caught in the net as he was checking Blade Frank Arnett.  Witiuk was done for game 5.
   Game 5 was another brawl with a different outcome.  One Hundered and Six penalty minutes were featured.  Connie Madigan, yes that Connie Madigan, would be the "chief assassin" and the Blades' "lord high executioner".  Besides ending the playoffs for Invader John Sleaver with a wicked two-handed slash to Sleaver's ankle, he absolutely destroyed Marty Howe in a wild brawl in the last three minutes of regulation.
   A fight between Invader Bill Shvetz and Blade Marc Boilleau touched off the brawl.  Madigan went in to the fight to help his teammate and Howe went to help his.  Linesman Guy Lapointe grabbed Howe's arms giving Madigan ample opportunity to unleash the fists on his face.  Howe was helpless and three stitches were required to fix the "gory mess" that was his face.
   Leo LaBine took a pass from Blade teammate Norm Johnson with 14:38 gone in overtime to win it for Los Angeles 5-4.
   With Sleaver, 23 goals, 46 assists and 69 points, out thanks to the Madigan slash, the Invaders came home down 3-2 in the series.  Despite a good effort, including another monstrous first period that left the Blades badly wounded, the Invaders lost 5-3.   Madigan set up the first Blade goal.  The Blades ended up scoring four goals in the third period to overcome a 2-1 deficit to win the game.
   The end of the season was the end of the Denver Invaders.  The team would move to Victoria the following year.



Captain Ray Migay with a goal

Photocopies from the Denver Post


The Denver Invaders