Sunday, July 17, 2011

1957-58 Vancouver Canucks Alf Cleary Jersey

July by the Numbers travels to the Pacific Northwest for jersey #17.

As was often the case in the past, when a new franchise arrived in a city it often took the name of a past franchise of the same name. Examples of this can be found especially in baseball and hockey, exemplified by the name "Baltimore Orioles", a name used by five separate clubs dating back to 1882. The most recent example is the return of the Winnipeg Jets name to the NHL.

Often, many casual fans are only aware of the modern incarnation of a team's name, unaware of the long history of the club(s) who pioneered the name previously.

Once such case is that of the Vancouver Canucks of the NHL. The Canucks arrived on the scene in 1970 and have just recently concluded their 40th anniversary season with a run to the Stanley Cup Finals. Prior to the expansion club entering the NHL, there was a previous Vancouver Canucks, which began play back in 1945 in the Pacific Coast Hockey League.

The original Canucks came storming out of the gate, winning the championship in their very first season following a league best 37-27-0 record, led by Andy Clovechok's 56 goals and 103 points in 54 games to lead the league in both categories, while the assist leader was Bernie Bathgate, also of the Canucks.

Two seasons later in 1947-48 the Canucks again came through in the playoffs, capturing their second PCHL title. After four more seasons in the PCHL, the league merged with the Western Canada Senior Hockey League in 1952 and the Canucks became members of the new Western Hockey League for the remainder of their existence.

Their first season in the WHL of 1952-53 ushered in a new era for the Canucks, as future Hockey Hall of Famer Andy Bathgate joined the club and goaltender Emile Francis was named the league MVP.

The very next season future Hockey Hall of Famer Lorne "Gump" Worsley duplicated the feat when he became the WHL's MVP during his first season tending goal for the Canucks as the team finished with the best record in the WHL. Yet another future Hockey Hall of Famer defenseman Allan Stanley also became a Canuck for a period of time in 1953-54.

The parade of stellar goaltending continued in 1954-55 when another future Hockey Hall of Famer Johnny Bower joined the squad. The following season Phil Maloney made it three MVP's in four season when he won the first of his two MVP awards on his way to the league scoring title with 95 points in 70 games, 30 more than any of his teammates.

Phil Maloney
Phil Maloney

The Canucks won their first WHL championship in 1957-58 after a league best 44 wins and 83 points. Two seasons later, the Canucks once again had the league's highest point total with 94 on their way to a second WHL championship and a fourth President's Cup, as the trophy carried over to the WHL from the PCHL. Goalie Hank Bassen was awarded the league's MVP trophy that same year.

The hardware continued to be awarded to Canuck's players as Maloney won his second MVP in 1963 and winger Billy McNeill won back-to-back MVP's in 1965 and 1966.

Another future Hockey Hall of Famer Tony Esposito played for the Canucks in 1967-68 a year before the Canucks won the league title for the fifth time and captured the now renamed Lester Patrick Cup.

1968-69 Vancouver Canucks
1968-69 WHL champion Vancouver Canucks

In 1969-70, Bathgate returned to the Canucks following a long NHL career. Proving he still had good hockey left in him, Bathgate won the eighth Canuck's league MVP award as he led the Canucks to the best record in the league as well as in franchise history, as the team went 47-17-8 for 102 points on their way to their second consecutive, and sixth league championship in the final game in team history.

Vancouver Canucks 1969-70
Andy Bathgate and the Canucks celebrate after the final game in team history

While Vancouver was unexpectedly passed over during the NHL expansion in 1967, and a deal was stopped to move the Oakland Seals to Vancouver in 1968, the city was finally granted an NHL team for the 1970-71 season, bringing to an end to the WHL franchise after 25 years and six championships.

Today's featured jersey is a 1957-58 Vancouver Canucks Alf Cleary jersey. This striking jersey is in the WHL Canucks blue, red and white colors, as opposed to the NHL's Canucks more familiar choice of blue, green and white.

The Canucks looked to the WHL Canucks for inspiration for their current jerseys, including the arched team name at the top of their jerseys and the revival of the "Johnny Canuck" logo, originally used by the WHL Canucks.

Vancouver Canucks 57-58 jersey

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