Saturday, February 12, 2011
Since the demise of the Brooklyn Americans in 1942, the NHL consisted of just six member teams, commonly referred to as "The Original Six". Finally, following the success of the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants in Major League Baseball on the west coast, the idea of expanding the NHL was first brought up in 1963, partly due to fears that the Western Hockey League was intending to operate as a major league in the near future and also in hopes of making the league more attractive to American television networks with coast-to-coast appeal.
The original discussions promoted San Francisco and Vancouver as acceptable locations with Los Angeles and St. Louis also as potential candidates in March of 1965.
In February of 1966, applications were received from groups from Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Baltimore, Buffalo and Vancouver.
In the end, franchises were awarded to Oakland (across the bay from San Francisco), Los Angeles, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and... St. Louis.
The decision to exclude Vancouver caught many by surprise, especially those involved in the construction of the brand new Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, and angered not only the locals, but all of Canada, since the six chosen cities were all in the United States. Various reasons emerged to explain the surprise inclusion of St. Louis, despite the fact there was no formal proposal from a group representing St. Louis!
Reportedly, Toronto and Montreal did not want to share Canadian TV revenues with a third club and support for expansion from Chicago was contingent on the creation of a team in St. Louis, which would result in the sale of the run-down St. Louis Arena, which just conveniently happened to be owned by the Chicago Black Hawks ownership group at the time.
Less than a year later the Oakland Seals franchise was having financial difficulties and an apparent deal was struck to move the club to Vancouver. The NHL however, did not want to see one of their brand new franchises moved so quickly and killed the deal. In exchange for avoiding a lawsuit, the NHL promised Vancouver a team in the next expansion, which occurred in 1970, when Buffalo and Vancouver were granted entry into the NHL, at a cost of $6 million, three times the cost in 1967.
Life for the Vancouver Canucks in the NHL the first few seasons was predictably rough, as the other six expansion franchises who began play in 1967-68 had a three year head start on the Canucks, not to mention the established powerhouses of the Original 6. Even tougher for the Canucks, they were placed in the "East" Division with the Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings and their expansion cousins the Buffalo Sabres, while the West Division was comprised of the "Second 6" and the Chicago Black Hawks.
The Top 10 scoring leaders that season were all from Original 6 teams and nine of those resided in the East Division with the Canucks. That first season the Canucks were 0-4 against the Montreal Canadiens before managing a pair of late season ties on their way to a 24-26-8 record and a 6th place finish in the East, ahead of only the Red Wings by a single point.
1971-72 was a bit less successful than their debut season, as they dropped to last place in the East with a 20-50-8 record. Although they had four more wins than the Sabres, they fell behind them in the standings due to just 8 ties versus Buffalo's league leading 19. Montreal again dominated the series between the two clubs, including three overpowering shutouts by scores of 6-0, 7-0 and 5-0 on their way to sweeping the Canucks 5 games to none.
Vancouver showed little improvement with a 22-47-9 record, but were spared the basement due to the arrival of the expansion New York Islanders in 1972-73. Montreal again swept the board against Vancouver, taking all six meetings including wins of 9-1, 3-0 and 7-3.
For 1974-75, the Canucks were paroled from the mighty East Division and placed in the brand new Smythe Division with the Chicago Black Hawks, Minnesota North Stars, St. Louis Blues and expansion Kansas City Scouts. The resulting change in the Canucks schedule, as well as the team gaining experience and confidence from playing together for several seasons now, saw them leap up to a 38-32-10 record on their way to not only a Division championship, but their first playoff appearance. Still the specter of the Canadiens loomed, as they defeated the Canucks in all four regular season appearances and eliminated them from the playoffs.
The losing streak continued in 1975-76 with a 6-4 loss on November 29th, a 2-2 tie on December 20th. Another 2-2 tie on January 27th extended the Canucks streak of futility against Montreal to 30 games (0-25-5) prior to their meeting on this date in 1976 in Montreal.
Defenseman Mike Robitaille opened the scoring for the Canucks with an unassisted goal at 6:34 against the Canadiens Ken Dryden. Ron Sedlbauer added to the Canucks lead a minute later with his 12th goal of the season at 7:32. The Canucks leading scorer that season, Dennis Ververgaert, scored on the power play at 15:15 with both Mario Tremblay and Bob Gainey in the penalty box for Montreal. Sedlbauer shocked the fans at the forum with his second goal of the period at 18:09 to put the visitors up by a score of 4-0 after just 20 minutes while dominating play with a 16-8 lead in shots on goal.
Ververgaert extended the Canucks lead at 2:46 of the second before the Canadiens began their comeback. Jim Roberts scored to get Montreal on the board at 8:55 and Peter Mahovlich cut the lead to 5-2 at 17:07 of the second period.
Bobby Lalonde counted Mahovlich's goal just 1:36 into the third period to restore the Canucks four goal lead. Vancouver held Montreal off the board for the first half of the period, but the Canadiens showed signs of life with a pair of goals less than 30 seconds apart at the midway point of the period with scores from Mahovlich and Doug Risebrough at 10:26 and 10:55 to make the score 6-4 with plenty of time remaining for the defending Stanley Cup champions to come back.
Goaltender Ken Lockett held off the Canadiens for the remainder of the game as the Canucks played a disciplined game and stayed out of the penalty box the rest of the way to secure their first regular season win over the Canadiens in franchise history, and accomplish it on the road in the always tough Montreal Forum.
Today's featured jersey is a 1975-76 Vancouver Canucks Dennis Ververgaert jersey as worn during the Canucks first ever win against the Montreal Canadiens after five winless seasons and 30 tries. Ververgaert contributed to the Canucks win with a pair of goals that night.
The Canucks original jerseys had a pair of wide green stripes on the waist and arms, as well as a white "V" over the green stripes on the sleeves. This style lasted for only two seasons before a change to a single green stripe which was trimmed in white. No names were worn on the back until 1977.
Ververgaert was drafted third overall in 1973 by the Canucks and made the jump from junior hockey straight to the NHL. As a rookie he scored 26 goals. Two seasons later he had a career season, netting 37 goals and totaling 71 points. He had two more 20-goal seasons in his six seasons as a Canuck. He as traded to the Philadelphia Flyers halfway through the 1978-79 season. After a year and a half with the Flyers, Ververgaert's final NHL season was spent with the Washington Capitals. In all, he scored 176 goals and 392 points in eight NHL seasons and was the Canucks second leading goal scorer during their first decade.
Our video section today has home movies of the Canucks taken in 1976, featuring some overly dramatic music which tries to make the footage of warmups seems rather important, but still a nice look at the Canuck jerseys of the day.
Here, the rookie Ververgart slugs it out with Wayne Cashman of the Bruins, showing no intimidation as he establishes himself in the NHL.