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Fresh Off of The Championship

Mastery of League Ends, But Competitiveness Doesn't



   The Spurs were going to have to try and repeat without some of their strongest players.  Gary Venerruzo (41 goals, 45 assists in 71/72) and Ron Buchanan (38 goals 42 assists), second and third on the team in scoring were now in the WHA.  Fran Huck, the team's leading point getter, was up in St. Louis in the NHL.  Bob McCord would see extensive duty in St. Louis as well with Mike Lampman and Roger Lafreniere both doing stints with the parent club of over 10 games.  Record-setting goaltender Bob Johnson played 12 games with St. Louis as well.  Coach Jean-Guy Talbot had seven rookies on his 19-member squad to start the year.
   The beginning of the season was three games of firsts.
   The Spurs began the season against Fort Worth.  Fort Worth?  Fort Worth, Omaha, Dallas and Tulsa were in the Central Hockey League, which agreed to play interleague games with the WHL.  The games would count in the standings.  Gord Brooks and Ralph Stewart scored two goals a piece in the third period to defeat our Spurs 4-3.  This kind of third period seemed to mark Denver.
   The next game was against the Tulsa Oilers.
   A simple question poised to Jack Borotsik by Coach Talbot led to Borotsik recording his first hat trick of his career.  After a shift, Talbot asked Borotsik if he was tired.  Borotsik said "no".  So he was back on the ice just in time to record his third goal of the game with only 29 seconds left in the third.  The Spurs won the game 6-2.
   The third game was back home against the Gulls.  Bob Johnson, the amazing goalie who played in the final series against Portland in 72, had never beat the Gulls in his career.  The defense helped out by allowing only 16 shots for the game and Johnson cruised to his first shutout of the season and a 3-0 Spurs win.


Johnson Acrobatically Makes the Save


   The Spurs lost three straight early in the season.  In the third loss, a 10-5 pasting by the Golden Eagles, Mike Lampman scored the hat trick.  Mike had missed the team plane from Denver and had to pay his own air fare to the game.  Guess he had something to prove to his coach and his teammates and he did his part but had little help from the rest of the Spurs.
   But the Spurs would end the losing streak at three when they returned home to face the Buckaroos.  The Buckaroos hadn't won in Denver since November 28, 1970 (13 games) and things wouldn't change that night either.  Buckaroo Mad Dog Madigan got 36 minutes of penalties in two periods, one short of the league record Mad Dog set in 1964.  Goalie Bob Johnson got the shutout in a 6-0 blanking.  It was Johnson's third career shutout over the Buckaroos.


'Hey Mad Dog Get Your Hands Off of Norm Dennis!'


   On November 9, 1972, Jean-Guy Talbot was sent up to the struggling St. Louis Blues to try and cure their losing woes.  Milan Marcetta was named interim coach.  This was Marcetta's second coaching stint with the Spurs.  His first was the year before when he coached one game.  So his second coaching tenure began with a 3-1 victory over the Portland Buckaroos.  On November 12, Fort Worth coach John Choyce was brought in to lead the Spurs.  Marcetta, 3-1-1 as headcoach, was pressed back into service as center iceman.
   The Spurs carried on in the season hovering in fourth or fifth place in the Western Hockey League.  Late game collapses, something this franchise endured before, were hurting the team in the rankings.  The Buckaroos scored four goals in the third period of a December 18 matchup to take the win 5-3.  It was netminder's Jim Watt's first start in net.
   The biggest let down of the season was later though.  A 5-0 lead evaporated as the Gulls scored four in the third to salvage a tie against goalie Chris Worthy and the Spurs.  "I'm shellshocked," coach Choyce said in the Denver Post.  "I still can't believe it."


Worthy Laying Down on the Job


   The Spurs were believers that no lead was safe and that would prove vital in the very next game.
   The Spurs returned home humbled and showed it early against the Totems.  At the start of the third period, the Spurs were down 5-1.  Worthy had been getting hammered in net and Watt was called on to replace him in the second period.  Watt immediately let one goal in then shut the door on the rest of the shots.  He could have spared one more, but he didn't.  The Spurs roared back in the third period scoring six unanswered goals by Borgeson (2), Borotsik, Lampman, Roberts and Smith.  Borgeson's go ahead goal was scored just 19 seconds after Dave Roberts tied the game on a shot from the corner.
   It seemed for a while that Chris Worthy was being replaced every game by Jim Watt. (Johnson was playing in St. Louis at the time)  Watt replaced Worthy in the comeback game and he came in to help the Spurs salvage a 6-6 tie with Phoenix.  Tulsa had a 2-1 lead against the Spurs going into the first intermission of a February 6 game.  Choyce made the decision to take Worthy out and put Watt in.  Watt only allowed one goal and the Spurs got the win 8-3.


Milan Marcetta Asks a Totem to "Stay"
Then Helps Him Obey the Order


   Another four goal rally by the Spurs on January 3, 1973 would upend the Totems again.  The line of Jack Borotsik-Murray Keogan-Don Borgeson was absolutely going nuts for the Spurs.  Not only was the victory a welcome sign, it also offered a hint of optimism for the Spurs yearly exodus from the Coliseum for the Stock Show.
   That's the problem with optimism some times though, it makes failure tougher to handle.  The Spurs ended up 3-6-1 on the trip.
   Coach Choyce spent many of the post-game moments peering blankly at the scoresheet.  After an 8-4 drubbing by the Buckaroos, Choyce was looking at the stats of the game.  He knew the Spurs played poorly but the score sheet just wasn't right.  Somebody had put the carbon paper in backwards so he had to use a mirror to to read the sheet so he could see just how badly the team had played.
   The Spurs, despite poor and sometimes erratic play, managed to stay in third and fourth place the whole time.  Portland and Seattle were having atrocious years and not offering much competition for that fourth seed.
   One thing that wasn't erratic, was the upswing of rough play.  The Spurs set a team record for penalty minutes.  The rough play exploded into cheap play during one mid-season game against the Buckaroos.
"They're vicious, I'll tell you that."
Coach Choyce Feb 17, 1973

   One thing that was beginning to fade from hockey was the stick-swinging duels.  But those anachronisms of the past refused to go away that night.  Cliff Schmautz nailed Kevin O'Shea along the boards and began poking at the Spur player.  O'Shea got upset and squared up with Schmautz, who obliged and squared away, both had their sticks up.  While players were scrambling to get away, Shmautz and O'Shea were wildling swinging their sticks at one another.O'Shea suffered a cut under the eye, which would take eight stitches to close.  O'Shea grew tired of the stick duel though and threw his twig and tackled Schmautz.  With the lumber planted on the ice, O'Shea started pounding on Schmautz as both were on the ice.  The linesman, now safe from flying sticks, jumped in.  O'Shea refused to stop punching and repeatedly tried to get at the Portland winger.  Both were finally ejected and given $100 fines.
   The loss of O'Shea could have hurt the Spurs chances.  He had eight goals and five assists in the five games up to that one.  However, the Spurs hung on to win it 3-2.
   Even Coach Choyce would get into the thick of things in the Spurs "efforts" to set a team penalty minute record.
   In a game in Salt Lake, with the Spurs roaring back from a 5-0 first period deficit, Choyce would lose his temper.  After a delay of game penalty, Choyce went crazy.  He began berating the officials, who then tacked on another bench minor.  Feeling he had yet to prove his point, Choyce began unloading the team's gear onto the ice.  Resulting, you guess it, in another penalty.
   Stress was getting to Choyce late in the season as nothing was settled by the Spurs.  The Totems and Buckaroos were still 9 points back with 61 played.  Every point was needed.  Unfortunately, when every point is vital, the team needs every player.


Worthy Closes off Short Side


   During one late season game, an injured Spur dressed just so the team could have the amount of players needed to play the game.  Although the Spurs played, the injured Spur stayed on the bench.  Another game against the Roadrunners saw the Spurs dress two players under the limit.  To make matters worse, Don Borgeson, the high-scoring forward, jumped the bench to enter a fracas between oft-penalized Spur Glen Patrick and Roadrunner John Gofton.  Earlier that shift, Patrick was penalized for holding.  Upon seeing the penalty, Roadrunner Andre Hinse jumped the bench for the extra attacker, which was precisely the moment the fight started.  Borgeson saw Hinse jump into the fray, and decided to leave the bench to even up the score, forgetting about the holding penalty on Patrick.  Borgeson was automatically ejected.  Although now down three players, the Spurs salvaged a 3-3 tie by scoring two goals in the final six minutes.  The tie by Phoenix was bitter as they could have, with a win, earned a first place tie with the Salt Lake Eagles.
   By March 24, the Totems had moved to within five points of the fourth-place Spurs.  To make matters worse, the team was mired in a losing streak, including a 7-3 pasting by the fifth-place Totems.  They also gave up two late goals to the Gulls and had to settle for a tie after the Seattle game.
The Denver Spurs lack three ingredients
necessary for any team to make this year's Lester
Patrick Cup playoffs--an adequate defense, a
competent offense and 'bodies'. : But
it is because of the latter ingredient that the Spurs
are missing the first two.
Terry Anderson Denver Post

   A March 29 4-2 loss against Omaha was another "too few bodies" game.  In addition to starting two players short of the league minimum, the Spurs lost two more players to ejections, leading scorer Mike Lampman and Chuck Hamilton.  The playoff race is a bad time to start running low on gas, and the Spurs were running dangerously low because of the personnel problems.
   Then the Spurs got hammered again by Seattle 9-3.  The Totems were now just two points back for that fourth position.
   Mired in a seven game winless streak, the Spurs would face the Totems again.  The Totems were on an eight-game unbeaten streak and now in fourth place by a point.  Everything looked like it was going the wrong way for our Spurs.
   But thanks to incredible goal tending by Bob Johnson, the Spurs managed to stop the losing tide all together.  Johnson, who came back from the Blues in February, stopped 38 out of 41 shots to steal it 5-3.


Everybody Helped Out Johnson in
The 5-3 Victory over the Totems


   The Spurs seemed to have hit the filling station and they were now flying.  A must win against Portland to maintain their slim one-point advantage over the fifth place Totems resulted in an 8-3 victory.
   This was the first time in the history of the Spurs that the season went down to the final game.  Portland was at Seattle and Denver was at Phoenix.  A Denver victory would assure the Spurs a spot in the playoffs.


Dale Yutsyk Celebrates Goal in
8-3 Drubbing of Portland


   Spur forward Joe Norris decided to get his first career hat trick in the final regular season game.  The game was at 2-1 in favor of the Spurs going into the third period.  Joe Norris scored his second of the night just 45 seconds into the third.  Put Phoenix fought back scoring one about nine minutes later.  Borgeson would score the winner just under two minutes later and Norris would ice it with about 3 and-a-half remaining.
   The Spurs were going to the playoffs.  Unfortunately they would have to take on second-place Salt Lake, a team that had the Spurs number throughout the year.
   The Spurs gave up a 3-1 lead in game one to lose it 5-3.  Game 2 would take overtime.
   Borotsik got a perfect pass from Don Borgeson and beat the Salt Lake goalie to the top corner with just over seven minutes gone in overtime to win it.  "I just tried to direct the puck over to the corner," Borotsik said, "and I caught him (Tucker SLC Goalie) going the other way."
  Despite all odds, the Spurs were coming home tied 1-1 in the series.
   The third game was close, but no cigar for the Spurs.  Led by a second period penalty tally by Eagle Howie Menard against Bob Johnson, the Eagles took a 2-1 series lead with a 3-1 victory.
   The Spurs had no chance in the fourth game as they were blitzed at home 8-4.  Things were bleak and the Spurs had to make another trip over the mountains to play the fifth game in Salt Lake.
   Once again, old habits haunted the Spurs.  Up 3-1 going into the third period, the Spurs quickly went out 4-1 with just 37 seconds gone in the third on a goal by Norm Dennis.  But the Eagles would come flying back to score four unanswered in the third, the final one with just over 2 minutes to play, to take the game 5-4 and the series 4-1.


Worthy Makes One of 25 Saves
In the Final Playoff Game


   That was it.  The makeup of the team and the style of play would change radically the next year to reflect the changes taking place in the NHL.