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The 1971-72 Denver Spurs



   The 1971/72 Spurs would be known as the best professional hockey team in Denver until the arrival of the the Nordiques in 1995.
   Perhaps the biggest addition to the Spurs was 5'7" Fran Huck.  Huck came over from the St. Louis Blues to help the team out.  Besides Huck, Gary Veneruzzo, Ron Buchanan and Milan Marcetta (formerly of the Denver Invaders) were scoring threats every night.  Bob McCord, Roger Lefreniere and Ray Larose headed up the blueline.
   The Spurs started on the road winning one and getting shutout by Gulls 3-0.  Upon returning home, Spur fans got to see the new and improved Spurs.


The Picture Lies

Fran Huck Actually Won This Fight Against Kerry Bond


   The Spurs' home opener was a 3-2 victory against the Phoenix Roadrunners.  Phoenix was the only team all year that would challenge the Spurs on a nightly basis.  Evidence of the Spurs dominance over the rest of the league came two nights later as they pasted the Seattle Totems 6-4.  Obviously goalie Jacques Caron, in 1971, the only original Spur still on the team, was battling boredom more than pucks.  He faced only 21 shots.  On the other hand, Totem goalie Jack Norris faced 59 shots.  Norris stopped the same amount of shots in the first period (21) as Caron faced all game.  Norris had 38 saves after two before finally giving way and allowing four goals on 19 shots in the third.
   This was the Spurs method.  If they couldn't beat the goalie, they would blow holes through him with their machine gun offense.
   The Spurs would start the season with an incredible winning streak.  After losing their second game, the Spurs would run off seven straight victories.  One of the victories was a 5-0 shutout by Jacques Caron, who still insisted his best game of the season was a 3-2 victory over the Salt Lake Golden Eagles.  But the wins would prove costly for the Spurs.
   If a minor-pro team starts winning, the parent team (The St. Louis Blues) will start to take notice.  Gone was Spur coach Bill McCreary.  In came coach Jean Guy Talbot.  Talbot came in at the tail end of the winning streak, but his first game coached was his first coaching win (3-2 over Portland).
   Many Spur players also saw duty with the Blues.  Bill Plager, Brian Lavender, Gord Kannegiesser, Jacques Caron and others played little to significantly with the NHL in 71-72.  Denver had to play with a short bench often because replacements for callups didn't arrive on time.
   Nevertheless, the Spurs still continued to beat up on the league.  9-1 over Seattle, 7-1 over Portland 6-0 over Seattle in Seattle.  The December 13, 6-0 victory over Seattle was rookie goalie Bob Johnson's first professional shutout.  Johnson was called in after standout goalie Wayne Rutledge was sent packing after the 70-71 season.
   Goalie Jacques Caron was the most improved player from the previous season.  In 1970-71 he had a goals against average of 3.92.  As of his callup to the Blues in late December of 1971, Caron had lowered it to 2.32.  Caron's first game up for the Blues was a 6-3 victory over Toronto on December 29, 1971.  Rookie goalie Peter McDuffie, who had played in Omaha the previous year and a few games for the Blues in 1971, was sent to Denver to replace Caron.
   Players shuttling back and forth to St. Louis, two rookie goalies and a rookie coach?  Should spell doom and an end to the amazing first half of the season right?  Wrong.  The Spurs would continue winning.  Once again, Fran Huck would help out in the Spurs' endeavor to win the Lester Patrick Cup in 1972.


Huck Makes Front Page of Denver Post

Huck Loses this one Against Kerry Bond. Dec 2, 1971



   Fran Huck went on a scoring streak that eventually tied the old record of 23 straight games with a point.  (The old record was held by Barrie Ross of Winnipeg who set it in the 1958-59 season.)  When Huck's streak ended, he was third in the WHL in scoring with 13 goals and 23 assists.  (Art Jones of Portland would set the record the same season with a 27 game scoring streak.)
   Huck did it all for the Spurs.  He killed penalties, played on the power play, and skated his regular shift.  He also fought, hit and complemented those attributes with graceful skating.  It's obvious that despite his small stature, he played like a giant.
   The Spurs at times were the angry giants of the WHL as well.  One night, January 15, 1972 in Phoenix, coach Jean-Guy Talbot would show his grumpier side, and help cost the Spurs the game.

Read about that Night in Phoenix

Sent by a fan of the Roadrunners who was there.



Bob McCord Lines up Orest Kindrachuk



   The Spurs would slump a little in the middle of the season allowing Phoenix within three points.  The toughest victory it seemed for the Spurs was the 26th. : The 26th victory would set the Spurs record for most wins in a season.  It seems that they didn't want it.  From January 2, 1972 until the Spurs finally got their 26th victory, late game collapses were the norm.  In the effort to win number 26, the Spurs went on a seven game winless streak ( 0-4-3).  They finally got that elusive 26th against a team they dominated all season, the Seattle Totems.  Goalie Peter McDuffie got the victory in the game, his first in front of the home town fans.  The following night they would put the icing on the losing streak and smash the Totems 9-1 behind four goals by Jim Shires.


Veneruzzo Battles for the 26th Victory



   Despite setting team records for victories and handling most of the Western League easily, the Phoenix Roadrunners hung around and proved to be the toughest opponent for the Spurs.  Despite opening up a 14 point lead on the Roadrunners late in the season, it was clear by the games they had that the 'Runners could provide stiff competition on the way to the championship.  Phoenix sent the message on April 8, 1972.  The 4-2 loss in Phoenix was rough.  Fights and stick-swinging duels broke out holding the game up on numerous occasions.  Most importantly, the game evened up the season series between the two teams at 7 wins a piece.  The 'Runners were the only team with a .500 record against the Spurs that season.


Milan Marcetta (background) and Roger Lefreniere Celebrate Goal in a 4-1 Denver Victory Against Phoenix



   The Spurs would finish first, 11 points in front of Phoenix in the Western League.  The Spurs would open up the playoffs on the road against the Gulls because the Ice Capades were occupying the Coliseum ice.  Portland would face Phoenix, and provide a valuable service to the Spurs by knocking the 'Runners out of the playoffs.
   Salt Lake coach Al Rollins didn't help the San Diego cause when he provided the Spurs with a little bulletin board material by saying, "San Diego has a great chance because of the schedule," Rollins said.  "Denver has played well all year, but they got ahead so early they never had much pressure on them either.  "If San Diego could win those first two games and get a quick edge, it would put a lot of pressure on them."
   Gull coach Max McNab quickly tried to diffuse the situation.  "Denver finished where they did on merit.  They won every game they had to win this season," McNab said.
   While the Ice Capades were gracing the Denver ice, fist-swinging hockey was blessing the Gull ice.  Referee Andy Von Hellemond, yes the same guy hurting NHL hockey today by forcing referees to whistle needless penalties, called 21 penalties in the game.  Floyd Thompson and ex-Spur Brian McDonald got into a vicious tussle.  The fight fired up Fran Huck.  Glen Patrick, called up to replace the injured Ray Larose and somebody who would see many fights in his 2 more years with the Spurs, battled for the puck, passed to Bob McCord, who dished it off to Huck, who beat Gull goalie Ken Broderick on a shot from 15 feet just two minutes after the fight.  The second Spur goal came soon after a fight between Patrick and Gull Earl Haiskala.  With all the penalty minutes in the game, coach Talbot praised his penalty killers for their efforts.  The final score was 2-0 with Peter McDuffie getting his second shutout of the season against the Gulls.  (The first was a 0-0 tie against the Gulls.)
   The second game also involved some fisticuffs (Patrick/McDonald and Spur Gord Kennegiesser/Gull George Swarbrick) and resulted in a 4-2 Spur victory, once again with Peter McDuffie in net.  Veneruzzo, LaForge, Buchanan and McCord netted the Spur goals.
   Returning home, the Spurs would quickly pounce on the Gulls.  The Spurs jumped out to a 3-1 first period lead and held on to beat the Gulls 4-3.


Milan Marcetta gets Nailed by a Gull in Game 4


   The Spurs would finish the sweep a night later with a 3-1 victory.  Two goals in the third period put the Gulls away.  Peter McDuffie was in net again.
   Meanwhile, the other series between Portland and Phoenix would go six games with Portland winning it.
   The matchup for the Lester Patrick Cup was set.  Once again the Spurs would dominate the first game.
   During a practice before game one, coach Talbot asked the players make a list of traits and habits of the Portland players.  The Spurs thought, wrote out their answers and suddenly had a keen understanding of the characteristics of the Buckaroo hockey team.
   Game one showed the understanding as the Spurs dominated and won 4-1.  Bob Johnson got the victory in goal for the Spurs.
   The Spurs were pouring on the shots to win.  Game one they had 44 shots on net.  Game two, the Spurs peppered Jim McLeod with 51 shots in a 5-0 victory.  Bob Johnson was the wall in net, stopping all 24 of the Buckaroo shots that came his way.
   The defending Lester Patrick Cup winner Buckaroos would come off the ropes swinging back in Portland during game 3.  Connie "Mad Dog" Madigan was whistled for five penalties, one short of the playoff record and Spurs Jim Shires and Gull Mel Pearson spent five minutes repenting in the "sin bin" after a first period fight.  The Buckaroos won the game 3-2 and sent notice to the Spurs, this would be no cakewalk.
   Unfortunately for Portland, the Spurs must not have read the Portland notice.
   Game 4 was also a tough game.  Jim McLeod served as the "big brick" in net for Portland and held the Spurs at bay until the third period.  To his credit, Spur goalie Bob Johnson only allowed one goal in the first two periods.  Ron Buchanan , Jim Shires and Fran Huck all scored in the third , a 14 shot period, to put the game away and finally beat McLeod.  Bob Johnson shut the door in net and after a 3-1 Denver victory, the team was feeling good as they ventured home to Denver to put the Buckaroos out of their misery.
   The Spurs removed all doubt to the clincher early.  The defense only allowed 12 shots throughout the game, pretty much giving Johnson the night off.  (Johnson set the record in this game for playoff goaltending.  He had a 1.00 gaa and went 4-1 with two shutouts in the playoffs.)  On the contrary, the Spurs were once again bombarding the Buckaroo net with 37 shots.  The game was won by the Spurs 6-0.



McCord Battles Veneruzzo for Possession of the Lester Patrick Cup While Claude LaForge Buries His Head in Champagne

Box Score for Game 5 Championship Clincher


Denver Spurs............1............1..........4---6
Portland Buckaroos..........0...........0...........0---0
First Period--
Denver, Glenwright 1 (Willis, Shires) 17:40.  Penalties- Madigan, Portland 3:21; Buchanan, Denver 12:33; Jones, Portland 15:21; Veneruzzo, Denver 18:35; Madigan, Portland 18:35.
Second Period-- Denver, Huck 8 (Glenwright) 1:43.  Penalties-- Barber, Portland 10:40; Borgeson, Denver, 13:15; Long, Portland 14:24; McCord, Denver 19:15.
Third Period-- Denver, Glenwright 2 (Shires, Marcetta) 2:06; Denver, Willis 2 (Huck) 12:12; Denver, McCord 3 (Thomson, Willis) 15:04; Denver, Huck 9 (Borgeson) 18:07.  Penalties-- Saunders, Portland 4:11; Shires, Denver 6:05; Borgeson, Denver 7:35; Pearson, Portland 9:55; Pearson, Portland 14:42.
   

ODDS AND ENDS IN THE 71/72 SEASON


----Two games were postponed against the Salt Lake Golden Eagles.  One was postponed because the Salt Lake ice melted and couldn't be made in time for the game.  Another was cancelled because the Salt Lake team owner jumped to his death after a meeting discussing the dismal future of the WHL.   The WHL was having problems financially and with the startup of the WHA, was losing players to the new professional league.
-----Fran Huck was named winner of the WHL Leader Cup for his play in the 1971/72 season.
-----Huck and Bob McCord tied for the MVP award voted by Spur players.  Gary Veneruzzo was named best offensive player while McCord was named best defensive player.
------The Blueliner Booster Club named Roger Lafreniere winner of the most popular player award.