The Denver Spurs:
The CHL Year and the Last Year
The Spurs were now in the Central Hockey League's Northern division. Along with Salt Lake City and Seattle, the Spurs made the jump from the Western League after it folded following the end of the 73/74 season. The Spurs made many changes before the season began as well.
Obviously gone was Connie Forey, the man who nailed the ref repeatedly after a bad call. However, Bob McCord, Bob Gassoff and coach Jean-Guy Talbot were back to kick off the final season of the Denver Spurs.
Despite the return of Gassoff and newcomer, the infamous tough guy John Wensink, the Spurs were promising less fighting. (A little sidelight: A reporter asked the Saint Louis Blues president if he picked up Bob Gassoff and John Wensink in successive drafts in preparation for World War III. The Blues President said no, for the games against the Philadelphia Flyers.)
"Last year a lot of the guys felt
that they had to establish themselves
because we were so young," Bob Gassoff said.
"This year we don't feel we have to do that."
---October 9, 1974 The Denver Post
So with Gassoff and the rest of the youngsters trading in their horns for halos, the Spurs opened the season against the Fort Worth Texans. After giving up two goals in the final two minutes of the second period, the Spurs could have been excused for being down.
They out played the Texans for the first forty minutes and had nothing to show for it. But the Spurs came out jangling and scored three goals within a four minute span to win the game 3-2. Yves Belanger starred in net for the Spurs.
Yves Makes the Save In a Later Game Against the Eagles.
The Spurs would return to the ice two nights later against reigning CHL Champions the Dallas Blackhawks. The Spurs and Gassoff would return to some of their old ways in this game.
Blackhawk Randy Holt went crazy but Bob Gassoff was there with the straightjacket. Holt, who had already racked up three minors, slashed Spur Howie Heggedal. Gassoff being Gassoff would have none of it and engaged Holt in a spirited bout. Both were sent to the box. After another fight between Denver's Butch Williams and Ian McKegney, Holt decided to try and get at Gassoff again from his perch in the penalty box. Holt was in turn, tossed until the third period, where he immediately racked up another minor bringing his one game PIM total to 25. The Spurs would win the fights, the composure contest and the game 4-1.
By the fifth game, the brawls were breaking out again. Gassoff was ejected for beating up Alf Handrahan, who had earlier brought his elbow up to Larry Giroux, cutting him. Gassoff was given two fighting majors and a game misconduct. Once again though, the Spurs won 7-5 against the Oklahoma City Blazers.
As a matter of fact, the Spurs would go on a tear to start the season, beginning 13-2-3. Despite the rocket-like start, the Golden Eagles wouldn't lag far behind. The early season tussles against the Eagles were mean-spirited and hazardous to the Denver fans.
Referee Peter Moffat called 111 minutes in penalties in the 3-3 hockey game between the Spurs and the Eagles on October 24, 1974 and the Spurs were making a run on stitching thread. But he wasn't the only busy "Lawman" that night. At the end of the first period things got interesting. Gassoff and Wensink got into scraps with Eagles' Seagrist and Simmer. Gassoff was the worse for the wear as he required stitches in his lips and had a cut over the eye. The Spurs picked up an addition major penalty but managed to score a shorthanded goal at the beginning of the second period to tie the score at one. Wensink then was sent off for butt-ending and Ron Serafini was tagged with a charging penalty, which gave the Eagles a two man advantage. Former Spur Glenn Patrick scored on the 5 on 3 to help the Eagles regain the lead 2-1. With only 1:07 left in the second, Bob McAneeley was sent off the ice for high sticking Spur Gary Winchester, the cut to the nose required stitches. On his way to serve his five-minute major penalty, McAneeley threw his stick into the crowd clonking Mark and Paul Engel, then 11 and 8, in the noggin. McAneeley was tossed out of the game into the waiting handcuffs of the Denver Police, who booked him for a misdemeanor.
George Tower and Gordon Buynuk Rough Up Eagle Ted (Not Bob) McAneeley Later in the Season
Early on, not even the flu could stop the Spurs. Yves Belanger starred in net and eight Spurs players suffered through the dreaded '74 flu to beat Tulsa 3-1. However one thing that the Spurs couldn't endure this year was the plucking of its talent. Gassoff, whose play would get better and better throughout his tragically short career (an award for best defenseman is even named after him now) was taken back to St. Louis. In addition to that, rookie George Tower was out after being struck by an inadvertent high stick by Tulsa player Paul Andrea.
But before the arrival of Ray Bourque in 2000, Bob McCord showed that a player can play effectively into his forties. He was needed all year to shore up things on the blue line.
McCord Holds Off Two Players as Watt Makes the Save
McCord was the subject of some early season articles. He had played with the Spurs since the 70/71 season and helped the team to the Lester Patrick Cup in 1972.
McCord played with the legendary, and sometimes sadistic, Eddie Shore in Springfield in the AHL. A November 22 article in the Denver Post said that McCord played for the Bruins, Red Wings and the old North Stars in Minnesota. It was a disagreement with North Stars GM Wren Blair that landed McCord in Phoenix for the 69/70 season. McCord thought about going to the WHA after the 73/74 season, but Spur owner Ike Mullenix managed to get McCord to stay in Denver to play and promote hockey to get the city ready for a possible NHL franchise. Thankfully he stayed. McCord almost never made it to Denver because of Eddie Shore, who once looped a rope over the rafters and then around a goalie's neck to teach the goalie not to go down early to stop shots.
"I learned a lot from Eddie Shore and he helped
me a lot when I played there," he said of his
younger professional days. "But
he ran the show and it often was a tough
situation playing for him. I seriously
thought a few times about quitting, retiring."
---Bob McCord in the November 22, 1974 Denver Post
Bob McCord was also instrumental in the Spurs staying in Denver during turbulent financial times for the team in the 1970/71 season. It was McCord who took the proposal of forgoing a game's salary to the players in order to help the club through those bad financial times. The team said 'yes' and the fans responded. The game without pay was a 9-0 win over the Totems. The next night against Phoenix, the fans showed their appreciation to the team and its efforts to remain in Denver by selling-out the Coliseum, the first time ever it sold out for a Spurs game.
Unfortunately, the Spurs wouldn't show much of an effort the night McCord was to be honored for his 200th Spur game and his 100th Spur point. The Spurs got trounced by the Fort Worth Texans 5-2.
Dan McPherson (6) Epitomizes Spurs Effort for Bob McCord: Face In The Wall November 23, 1974
The Spurs held on to first place in the CHL Northern Division until December 9, 1974. At that time, the Eagles took it over and held it for the rest of the season with the exception of a day here and there. While the stick-throwing game early in the season showed the rowdiness of hockey in those days, a 9-9 game later showed the wide-open style of hockey sometimes displayed in those days.
The 9-9 game against Seattle set a Denver pro hockey record for most goals scored by two teams. Early on, goalie Jim Watt knew what kind of game it was going to be.
"I figured that first shot on goal (by Hall with 16 seconds gone)
was an indicator of what was to come," Watt said. "The game opened
up right then and never closed. I thought the game would close up (defensively)
after the first period but it never did. It was a wide-open affar."
---Jim Watt 1974 Denver Post
As usual, the Spurs had to vacate the Coliseum in December and January for the Stock Show. The Spurs left 23-9-7 and in first place, five points ahead of Salt Lake. They would come back in bad shape.
The Spurs opened up the road trip in Salt Lake and got drilled 6-1. The next night the Spurs would trounce the Tulsa Oilers 9-6 in another wide-open affair. The game was not as close as the score would indicate. The Spurs held a 9-3 advantage with just over nine minutes to play. Three late goals by the Oilers would close up the score.
And that was it for the wins on the ten game road trip. 6-1 and 4-2 losses against Dallas and Seattle left the Spurs 1-3 early on the road trip. The fourth game was a "Shack Attack". Eddie Shack down from the Maple Leafs to play himself in shape, scored a goal and led the Oklahoma City Blazers over the Spurs 5-4. Overall on the road trip, the Spurs would go 1-8-1. They left five points ahead and in first place and came back seven points down in second place. As it had throughout their history as the Spurs, the road trip hurt them badly in the standings.
Role Reversal: Wensink (11) Battles for Puck as Howie Heggedal Battles Pat Boutette (Future Whaler!!) Physically
After coming off the road trip, Denver beat Salt Lake in the first game back at the Coliseum. Then the Spurs really settled down to begin playing mediocre hockey. Maybe it was fatigue sapping the strength from the Spurs, or maybe it was the NHL expansion winds blowing from the East Coast that was hurting the morale of the team.
NHL prospects were fading for owner Ivan Mullenix. The two teams scheduled for relocation to Denver were either the California Seals, who were owned by the NHL at that point, or the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were receiving assistance. Mullenix and Seattle owner Vince Abbey were promised franchises by Clarence Cambpell for the 1975/76 season. Mullenix first made an offer to buy the Seals, but his bid went unanswered by the NHL so he withdrew it. Then, in a twist, the NHL demanded a $1 million dollar letter of credit from both owners on only a week's notice. Needless to say Mullenix was dismayed as he was promised either the Seals or an expansion team for the 75/76 season. It's easy to see why, after being toyed with by the NHL, Mullenix decided for a second option for the next season. But for the fans, there was only one option, the NHL or nothing.
Despite Clarence Campbell's blunders and double-talk, the Spurs still had to play out the season and fight for the championship.
Despite a long stretch of listless play during and immediately after the road trip, the Spurs began to pick it up for the Denver hockey faithful. A torrid streak beginning in early February, helped the Spurs stay in the hunt for first place. Nevertheless, the Eagles clinched the CHL Northern Division title against the Spurs with a 4-2 victory on March 23 at the Coliseum. The Spurs would clinch second on March 29 with a 6-2 victory over Omaha. Bob McCord said that second was never in doubt. In the clinching game he netted two goals and an assist to put his money where his mouth was.
Zimmerman Makes the Save in the Second-Place Clinching Game
The final Spur regular season game was against the Fort Worth Texans. Dave Johnson would get a hat trick for the Spurs and they would win it 7-4. Bob McCord was named Team MVP by the fans for his outstanding play in the 74/75 season. This would be the final victory the Spurs' faithful would see from their team.
Box Score from the Last Spurs' Win
Fort Worth.............2 0 2-4
Denver.................0 3 4-7
First Period--Fort Worth, Marchinko 23 (Teal, Harvey) 12:58; Fort Worth, M. Kennedy 28 (Grenier, Anderson) 14:36. Penalties-Kelly, Denver, 10:06; Ogilvie, Denver, 11:51.
Second Period--Denver, Johnson 26 (Wiseman, Cournoyer) 4:15; Denver, Wiseman 25 (Johnson, Buynak) 8:55; Denver, Ogilvie 20 (Richardson, Heggedal) 19:23. Penalties- Smith, FW, 14:36.
Third Period--Fort Worth, R. Kennedy 24 (Webster, Dempster) 5:42; Denver, Johnson 27 (McCord, Wiseman) 6:38; Denver, Borotsik 13 (Kelly, Ogilvie) 9:02; Fort Worth, Smith 6 (M. Kennedy) 10:36; Denver, Johnson 28 (Cournoyer) 12:42; Denver, Cournoyer 6 (Wiseman, Kelly) 13:07. Penalty-Serafini, Denver, 1:22.
The playoffs were a disappointment. The Spurs lost the first one of a three-game series against Omaha 5-3. Omaha finished third in the Northern Division, six points back of the Spurs.
Game 2 was in Omaha. Gerry Byers scored the winner at 6:42 of the third period for the Knights to end the minor-pro Spurs' history in Denver 4-3.
The next season was a joke for the Spurs and owner Ivan Mullenix. After seven strong years, Mullenix would move the WHA team in the middle of the night ending hockey in Denver until the Rockies came here the next year.
Sorry about the length of this one, I wanted to try and wrap it up thoroughly.
Brian Ogilvie Misses This One But Scores Three Others This Night, February 5, 1975.
Odds and End
First, I've never seen the Spurs play or talked with any of the players, but I'm kind of sad after reading every game summary and almost every other story the papers printed about the
team for seven years, to see them go. I'm a sucker for things like that. My Houston Oilers and Hartford Whalers both moved leaving my heart broken. I can imagine some
12-15 year-olds feeling the same way in Denver at the time after growing up with the Spurs.
Second, Bob McCord was banished from a late-season game for questioning referee's Ron Hoggarth's whistles. McCord, a veteran worhty of a little respect from the referees, asked Hoggarth to start calling the game
a little more fairly and was booted for it. Hoggarth also was guilty of a quick whistle that cost Spur Mike Kelly a goal that would have won the game. Jean-Guy Talbot and McCord were both highly-critical of Hoggarth's
penalty calling, 82 minutes for the game (43 against Denver). Even the CHL supervisor of officials had a chat with Hoggarth after the game to set him straight. It was the first time in his career that McCord was
thrown out of a game for questioning a referee. The game was a tie 2-2.
That's It!!!! LONG LIVE THE DENVER SPURS!!!!!