Two Different Teams
Same Losing Results
-----(Writer's Note- This section will require lots of reading as I found this particular year to be the most intriguing. The St. Louis Blues were getting tougher, which was the norm in the NHL in the day. As a result, their top farm team, our Denver Spurs, was going to be the cultivating ground for this new kind of hockey talent. (I don't put that in quotes because fighting on skates is a talent.) A legend, Bob Gassoff, a true bad man, Ray Schultz and a host of others such as Glen Patrick and Bernie MacNeil made up the core of heavyweights on the Spurs. A new coach came in and cleaned house in late January and February of 1974. After that, the Spurs continued to lose and were still victimized by their previous rough play. The fact that their second coach was beginning to lose his grip didn't help any either. If you aren't into hockey fights, read no further. If you are interested in that era of hockey, the Spurs offer a great glimpse that I will attempt, as best as my low writing skill allows me, to show.)
The Spurs changed drastically from the 1972/73 season in their sixth campaign in the Western Hockey League. Coach Choyce was gone as Big Bob McCord took over the duties of head man for the Spurs. McCord had his work cut out for him for he inherited the biggest bunch of bad men to ever play in the WHL.
The talk of training camp was one Bob Gassoff.
Gassoff, called the meanest man in camp, was
the Blues' No. 3 draft-choice who last year
played for Medicine Hat in the Western
Canadian League. The 21-year-old 'hitter'
collected an amazing 388 minutes in penalties in 68 games
and normally intimidates everyone in sight. Rocky Mountain News Oct 2, 1973
The Terrible Two
In addition to being the baddest team in the WHL, they now had their own fight song. Here are the words and music to
"Skate On Spurs, Skate On." Perhaps a more appropriate song for Ray Schultz, Bernie MacNeil and Bob Gassoff to take the ice to would have been "Search and Destroy" by Iggy Pop and The Stooges. Nonetheless, this song deserves a place in Spurs History, just hit the link.
The first game of the season set the pattern for all the games until late January of 1974. The Denver Spurs opened up in Salt Lake City in front of 3,007 fans at the Salt Palace. Mike Lampman, who scored 34 goals for the Spurs in the 72/73 season. recorded a hat trick and accounted for five points. As a matter of fact, Lampman, Bob Collyard and Barry Brooks, all on the same forward line, managed 6 goals between them to lead the Spurs. Bob Gassoff got his first professional point on Denver's fourth goal, an assist to Collyard. Even though the score was 8-6 in favor of Denver, the character of the team was forged in the second period. George Pesut, Gerry Gresdal and Ray Schultz were all found guilty of fighting in a wicked second period brawl at the 5:56 mark. After one game, Ray Schultz and George Pesut had 15 PIM.
It would be in the second game that Gassoff got in his first professional fight against Dennis McCord of the Seattle Totems. A 3-1 Totems victory seemed to be the sidelight of the game. Ray Schultz would pick up an additional 12 PIM, running his two-game total to 27.
It was clear that the Spurs were going to use hockey's newly found tool, intimidation, to win games. For Spurs fans, their only glimpse of the team thus far was in the papers. After beating the Buckaroos on the road, the Spurs would go home to showcase their new style of play to the Denver faithful.
Four thousand-six hundred and seventy five fans would see 1973 Spur action at its finest in the home opener. This would be the most violent, bloody and fight-filled game ever on Denver ice. I have no statistics, but I'm sure nothing since has come close.
"The disturbance had almost been quelled,
when Gassoff took on Doug Volmar of Portland
in what turned out to be a hell of a fight as
the two rolled on the ice pummeling each other at will." Rocky Mountain News
Gassoff tied up his opponent (Volmar) and
delivered three good right hands before the pair
tumbled to the ice. Rocky Mountain News Oct 21, 1973
The headlines said it all.
Brawl Erupts at End of Second Period Referee Ron Harris called 70 penalty minutes against the teams in the one fight at the end of the second period.
It all started innocently enough. Spur Barry Brooks and Buckaroo Pokey Trachsel had a little discussion. After talks broke down that could have averted the ensuing war, Brooks and Trachsel went at it. The benches were emptied because the period was over, and a 10 minute brawl ensued. Goalies went at as Yeo jumped into the act, Gassoff vs Volmar, Schultz first with Buck Jim Atamanenko and afterwards with Dennis Giannini. Atamanenko wasn't done so he went after Spur Garry Gresdal while Giannini decided to leave Schultz alone and badger Glen Patrick. The linesmen and referee were helpless to stop the melee. Finally the coaches managed to clear the ice and order was kept for the remainder of the game. Schultz picked up 20 more minutes in penalties lifting his total up above 50 for the year in just four games. Gassoff added 17 more for his record-setting totals.
Despite the fan appeal before 4,675 faithful, the young Spurs dropped a 3-1 decision to ruin an otherwise eventful evening. Rocky Mountain News October 20, 1973.
The Denver Spurs were scaring everybody. In an effort to get even tougher, the St. Louis Blues picked up the notorious Connie "Mad Dog" Madigan. (Anybody who has read this site knows who "Mad Dog" is.) The Blues assigned Madigan to Denver to which he replied; "I'll go anyplace but Denver." It seems that Madigan wanted nothing to do with the new Spurs, a team that he victimized over the years with his rough play.
The Spurs continued on entertaining the fans with their style of play, but doing little to notch victories.
Nevertheless, coach McCord didn't seem agreeable to a change in the Spurs style of play.
"It helps to have players the size of
Schultz (6-0 196)," McCord said. "It
would be different if everyone was his size but we
have some smaller players. They need
the confidence that there's someone there to body check and help out."
---Oct 19, 1973 Denver Post
That's how the games went for a while. The words "Rough Tilt", "Rowdy Spurs" and "Fight-filled" were often used as adjectives for the Spurs games.
Gassoff Takes on John Barber
But alas, all good things must come to an end. The Spurs were hovering around .500 and at the bottom of the fiercely competitive WHL with 23 games played and an 11-12-0 record when the trades began to take away their punch. Ray Schultz was the first to go. He was traded, no surprise here, to the Philadelphia organization. Bernie MacNeil was next to hit the road as he packed his bags and went to San Diego. While everybody from the goalies to the scoring forwards fought, the protective duties were pretty much left up to Bob Gassoff.
Players such as Gassoff aren't invited into the NHL anymore, but back then they were a valuable commodity. Gassoff showed what kind of player he was during a game against Phoenix at the Denver Coliseum.
Roadrunner John Barber was called for a boarding penalty after he ran Gassoff into the boards. While Gassoff lay prone on the ice, Barber began firing shots at his head. Bernie MacNeil skated in to help out Gassoff, who probably didn't need it or want it. Gassoff managed to get up and began firing punches himself. For his troubles, he received a five minute major and a 10 minute misconduct. There is no keeping a good enforcer down and Gassoff was a good enforcer.
Not only did Gassoff contribute over 300 PIM in just 45 games with the Spurs, he chipped in on the scoreboard as well.
Gassoff Scores First Professional Goal
The records the Spurs broke in the WHL speak for themselves. Gassoff was just two PIM short of breaking the league record of 303. Remember though, he did it in just 45 games. The Spurs broke the record for major penalties in just 30 games. The previous record was held by the Seattle Totems (62) but it took them all season, 72 games, to rack them up. The Spurs ended up with over 1400 PIM for the season, about 400 more than the previous year.
Despite the viciousness and brutality exhibited by the Spurs, they were also, ironically enough, the ambassadors of good will.
On December 26, 1973 the Spurs took on the Czechoslovakian Army hockey team. For the most part, the Spurs were on their best behavior. While penalties cost them the game, all were only minors. The Czech team won it 3-1. The Czechs converted two power play goals, one a 5-3.
On January 15, 1974, Vic Stasiuk was named head coach of the Spurs, replacing Bob McCord, who would don the Spurs sweater and take his familiar position back on the blueline. Stasiuk vowed to clean up the Spurs, who were mired in a seven game losing streak and stood at 14-27-0.
Immediately out was Bernie MacNeil (8 goals, 14 assists and 151 PIM in 33 games). Gassoff was soon on his way to St. Louis were he immediately collected a game misconduct in his first game when he tangled with then Pittsburgh Penguin Steve Durbano. Glen Patrick hung around to keep things honest, but it was clear that the Spurs were turning the corner to a cleaner, gentler team.
Or were they?
Coach Vic Stasiuk seemed to be a loose cannon. He chastised the papers, the refs and just about everybody else during his tenure as head coach.
Stasiuk really seemed to have his priorities out of whack. During one game against Salt Lake, Stasiuk lost it. He definitely seemed to have reason this time though.
Salt Lake City had just scored an overtime goal in a 4-3 win against Denver. Immediately after the goal was scored, the linesmen and the Spurs had referee Malcolm Ashford backed up against the boards. Why? During play, Yeo had made the save and Ashford blew the whistle signaling a faceoff. The puck squirted free and was put in the net by Eagle Paul Shakes. Ashford then said it was a goal.
"And outside the circle (of Spurs players and linesmen)
there was a wild man dressed in a blue sportscoat seemingly intent
on tearing Ashford limb from limb.
The wild man was Denver Coach Vic Stasiuk.
The goal stood and this would be the signal that all was about to go real bad for the Spurs. The playoffs were out of the question, they were just playing for pride at that point. The Spurs even had that take a beating from time to time.
In Seattle, on February 20, just three days after Ashford caused the Spurs to lose against Salt Lake, the Spurs would get revenge on him.
Ashford called Forey for tripping. Forey, being a good hockey conversationalist, let the ref know what he thought of the call. Forey's "Hockey English" must have been hard on Ashford's ears because he tacked on a additional 10-minute misconduct. Once again, failing in verbal discourse, the Spurs would try to succeed by fisticuffs. Forey threw his gloves, took a few steps out of the penalty box, pushed Ashford up against the boards, and unloaded with the fists. Ashford was a bloody mess who needed assistance from the ice and a trip to the hospital. Forey had pummelled Ashford and managed to break the referee's nose. Forey was given a $10,000 fine that had to be paid before being reinstated. The earliest he could be reinstated was after the 1974/75 year, a year-and-a-half suspension.
As far as the team play was concerned, Stasiuk was brutally honest. "I just don't know what happened," Stasiuk said in the Denver Post. Stasiuk then wished, out loud, that he could fine the players $100 for indifference.
Nevertheless, it was the referees that bore the brunt of Stasiuk's tirades. After one late season game against Phoenix, Stasiuk charged up to the press box at the Coliseum to scream at WHL head of officials Dutch Van Dellen. The fans had it as well. The Denver fans showered the ice after a terrible call by the officals. In a scene reminiscent of Tom Barrasso hiding in his net during the deluge of rubber rats after a Florida goal in the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals, Phoenix goalie Gary Simmons decided to sit out the fans anger inside his net.
Simmons Sitting Out the Denver Fan Wrath
After being critical of his own players for indifference and having open hostility to the referees (Stasiuk even said that Forey's fine and punishment for breaking WHL referee Malcolm Asford's nose "seemed quite severe knowing the circumstances."), Stasiuk went after the Denver paper the Denver Post. A Post article had a headline that read, "Hapless Spurs at Home Tonight". Stasiuk immediately castigated the Post for calling the Spurs hapless. "We haven't played a hapless game all year," Stasiuk said in the Post. "Anyone who knows anything about it knows that our trouble this year has been immaturity." That and "indifference", right Vic?
Mercifully, the Spurs season ended with a 9-8 victory over the Seattle Totems in Seattle. The Spurs would end up 28-50-0 in the 1973/74 season. That would be the end of the Western Hockey League. Financial troubles and the loss of players to the WHA led to the league's demise. But the Spurs weren't done. They had one minor-professional hockey season left to play in the Central Hockey League in the following year.
Gassoff Clears the Traffic in front of Bill Yeo