This season was typical of early Denver hockey. Financial problems, a competitve team and some real crazy goals and episodes. The 1970/71 season also saw the Spurs begin to emerge as one of the most physical clubs in the Western Hockey League.
Leading the charge into the third season of hockey for the Spurs was the vaunted "Graveyard Group". The "Graveyard Group" was lead by defenseman Larry Mavety. The other defensemen that comprised the new look defense were; Bob McCord, Ray Larose, Jim Graham and Captain Dave Amadio.
The group of defensemen made their presence known in the first game of the season against the San Diego Gulls. With the Gulls coming back from a 2-0 deficit in the third period, the "Graveyard Group" took charge.
Fierce body checking laid claim to two Gulls players; Al Nicholson and Warren Hynes. Both had first assists in the two goals that tied the game. But with them out, the Spurs would manage to get a late goal to tie the game at three. Final score; Denver 3, San Diego 3. The league would stand up and take notice of the new set of blueline bruisers.
Claude Laforge scores First Spur goal of 70/71 Season
The return game against the Gulls was the next night and Wayne Rutledge, backup goalie to Jacques Caron, who was secured after Rocky Farr was picked up by the Buffalo Sabres, was in net. Eager to be the tombstone in the defensive group, Rutledge mixed it up twice in his first start.
Craig Reichmuth was in the penalty box after an earlier fight with Rutledge. As Reichmuth's penalty expired, he left the penalty box and was hit with a pass across two lines. The referee blew the whistle dead, but Reichmuth didn't stop. He continued in on Rutledge and fired a shot. Rutledge calmly made the stop, threw his gloves and dropped Reichmuth in the corner with punches. Reichmuth would get the last laugh though as he scored the winning goal in a 5-4 Gull triumph.
In addition to getting tougher, the Spurs would put aside any jinxes they had against teams in the past. The Seattle Totems, a team that went 9-2-1 against our Spurs, wouldn't have that easy of a time in 1970/71. The Spurs were the first team to put a dent in the Totem's record with a 4-4 tie in Seattle and beat them at the Coliseum in late October 4-1 with Rutledge in net. The Spurs would go 5-4-4 against the Totems and knock them out of the playoffs late in the season.
The Totems were guilty of fright. In that 4-1 loss the Rocky Mountain News stated:
As early as the opening minutes of the second period,
it was apparent the Totems could hear the pitter-patter of little feet
and gave up the puck at the blue line in the face of the onrushing, Denver defenders.
---Harley Key, RMN Sports Writer
San Diego Gull coach Max McNab would also build the image of the Spurs' defense. "The Spurs this year are the closest checking, hardest hitting team we've encountered in four years," McNab said.
Bob McCord "gets" as good as he "gives"
While the "Graveyard Group" was making its presence known, the offense was burying the puck in a fine fashion as well.
Perhaps the goal of the year was scored by Spur rookie Lynn Powis. In a November 5 game against the Salt Lake City Golden Eagles, Powis and Eagle Larry McNabb were fighting for the puck in the Salt Lake zone. Powis managed to hook McNabb's stick and put it into the Denver crowd. While McNabb was busy getting his stick back from a photographer, Powis roared in on the Eagle goalie with the puck and put it in the net. It was Powis's first professional goal.
About this time Bill Dineen was removed as head coach in favor of GM Rudy Pilous. Dineen believed the move may had been a bit premature. He noted that the team was in fourth place at 3-5-5 and had 11 new people on the team. Dineen kept his duties as a player for a few more weeks before being let go all together.
Connie Madigan trips up Lynn Powis of the Spurs
While the Spurs were adding players, changing coaches and ending jinxes, they began to master other teams. The Portland Buckaroos, the best team in the league, were often torched by our Spurs.
Spur goalie, Jacques Caron, led the charge against the Buckaroos. While the Spurs had just five wins against the Buckaroos in their first two years, they started 3-1-1 against them in the 1970/71 season.
As stated before, the character of the team was changing to reflect the rougher times of professional hockey. The team was fined $650 for leaving the bench against Seattle in a December 5 game. In a game December 13 in Salt Lake, Larry Mavety and Roger Lafreniere got a little angry with the Eagle fans sitting behind their bench. The Spurs were getting drubbed 5-1 and it was late in the game. The Eagle fans were giving the Spurs the business. Mavety and Lafreniere had enough and started to try and climb the fence to get to the fans. Butch Deadmarsh of the Eagles, used the distraction from Mavety and Lafreniere to escape from the linesman, who was escorting him to the locker room after a late third period fight with Spur Lyle Bradley, and attack Bradley in the penalty box. The fine obviously didn't deter our Spurs as they left the bench again to even things up with the Eagles physically.
One of the Brawls against Seattle
During all this, the financial solvency of the club was in question. The Spurs went public but the stocks didn't sell very well. The team almost folded before a four game road trip after Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the LA Kings, decided against purchasing the team. However, the final home game before the trip, an 8-1 win against the Eagles, had a crowd of over 8,800, which assured the team financial stability for the road trip.
While the fans were doing their part and showing up to the games, the Spurs were doing their part in winning (two victories against Seattle gave them breathing room in the fourth spot), staying in the fourth playoff spot, and giving up some of their own money to stay in Denver.
The Spurs players played a game without pay to help the financial situation.
From the Denver Post and artist Bob Bowie
The financial situation go so bad that team President Bennett King put a "for sale" ad in the March 4, 1971 edition of the Wall Street Journal:
Western Hockey League Franchise Denver Spurs
For information on this Pro Hockey buy, in the nation's
fastest growing area with a major league potential, contact:
Dan Polsby (303) 292-3280. Approx. $250,000.
The Spurs were saved after the playoffs by the St. Louis Blues who would end up taking over the team at the end of the year.
Although on the ropes financially for much of the year, the team continued to play well enough to hold onto a playoff spot though. Shutouts by Jacques Caron over the Golden Eagles and Wayne Rutledge over Seattle helped the team in their playoff hunt. The shutout by Caron was the first for the Spurs since Rocky Farr did it 96 games ago. Caron would end up with two shutouts (Seattle, Phoenix) during the season and Rutledge would get three. (Phoenix, Seattle, Salt Lake City)
Larry Mavety makes a Diving Poke Check
The Spurs would end up 25-31-16. The record was good enough for fourth place and a playoff berth against second place Phoenix.
The first game of the 7 game playoff series was in Phoenix. Despite taking an early 2-0 lead, the Spurs would give the lead up and lose 5-4 in overtime. Frank Hughes won the game for Phoenix at 10:15 of overtime. The loss was costly for the Spurs.
They lost defenseman Jim Graham. Graham went down to block a shot and took the puck on his temple. He was hospitalized with a concussion in a Phoenix hospital but was in good condition the day after the game.
Game 2 was in Denver. Wayne Rutledge was the heart of the Spurs. Rutledge took a Roadrunner shot by Rollie Wilcox square in the forehead. He dropped. His teammates helped him back to his feet and he stayed in the game. Just moments later, Rutledge stopped two point-blank Phoenix shots to keep the score tied at one. Rookie Doug Smith scored the winning goal at 10:58 gone in the third period.
Game 3 was an almost for the Spurs. The team came back from 2-0 and 4-1 deficits but couldn't quite stay over the hump. The "Graveyard Group" didn't live up to its reputation of burying the opposition and allowed a 5-4 Denver lead to slip away in the third period. Despite a late third period goal by Wilf Martin to force overtime, the Roadrunners got the victory in that OT on a goal by Ted McCaskill at 7:16.
To make things worse, the Spurs would have to travel to Phoenix for games 4 and 5. Those games ended up in 6-3 and 3-1 Spur losses.
It was a good start for the Spurs though and in the following year they would significantly build on the prosperous 1970-71 season.
The 1970-71 Denver Spurs