Friday, December 16, 2011

1975-76 Minnesota Fighting Saints Wayne Connelly Jersey

Right winger Wayne Connelly, born on this date in 1939, began his junior hockey career with the Kitchener Canucks of the Ontario Hockey Association, seeing action in 9 games. The Following season the Canucks relocated to Peterboro where they became the Toronto-Peterboro Transport Petes, later simplified to the Peterboro Petes. Connelly spent four seasons with the Petes, with his best season coming in 1958-59 when he scored 36 goals and 90 points. The following season he bettered his goal scoring mark with 48 in 47 games as he was named the recipient of the Red Tilson Award as the OHA's Most Valuable Player.

At the conclusion of the Pete's 1959-60 season, Connelly joined the Montreal Royals for the Eastern Professional Hockey League playoffs. He returned to the Royals for the following season, scoring 28 goals and 49 points in 64 games. He also made his NHL debut with a brief 3 game appearance with the Montreal Canadiens without scoring a point.

He was then traded to the Boston Bruins after starting the season with the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens in the EPHL in 1961-62. He stepped into the Bruins lineup right away, scoring his first NHL points with 8 goals and 12 assists in 61 games. Connelly was unable to stick with the Bruins full-time and split the 1962-63 season between the Bruins (18 games) and the Kingston Frontenacs (34 games).

Connelly Bruins, Connelly Bruins

After 26 games with Boston to begin the 1963-64 season, Connelly was sold to the San Francisco Seals of the Western Hockey League. He performed well for the Seals over the next two and half seasons, scoring 188 points in 175 games, including a 45 goal season in 1965-66.

Connelly was back in the NHL with Boston for the 1966-67 season and had a solid season with 30 points but then life changed for Connelly, as well as many other players having trouble sticking in the NHL, for that was the final season of the Original 6. For the 1967-68 season the NHL expanded to twice it's previous size, creating at least 120 new jobs for players at the top level. Connelly suddenly went from a fringe player with 172 games of experience to being considered a desirable NHL veteran.

He was selected by the Minnesota North Stars in the 1967 NHL Expansion Draft and instantly became a team leader in the locker room and on the ice, leading the club in scoring with 35 goal and 56 points. Following the season Connelly was named The Hockey News West Player of the Year.

Connelly North Stars, Connelly North Stars

During his second season with Minnesota, he was traded to the Detroit Red Wings, the club which with he set an NHL career high with 59 points in 1969-70. During his third season with the Red Wings, Connelly was again moved, this time to the St. Louis Blues as part of a large trade which brought Gary Unger to St. Louis for Red Berenson and Tim Ecclestone.

Connelly's time in St. Louis was brief, as he was only there for the final 28 games of 1970-71 and the first 15 games of the following season before being to the New York Rangers, who then sent him to the Vancouver Canucks the very next day. He had a fine season with Vancouver once the dust had settled, scoring 34 points in 53 games in 1971-72.

Now and NHL regular, but having an unstable career, five different clubs in six seasons, fate smiled on Connelly once more when the hockey world underwent a seismic change with the arrival of the World Hockey Association. 240 more jobs were created, and at a much higher rate of pay, as the WHA sought to buy the best talent available in an effort to compete head to head with the NHL from day one.

Connelly signed a lucrative, guaranteed three year contract with the Minnesota Fighting Saints. Life back in Minnesota agreed with Connelly, as he immediately went out and scored 40 goals and 70 points to lead the team in scoring. Playing with new arrival, the high scoring Mike Walton, who led the WHA in scoring that season, Connelly's totals took another leap upward. He matched his goal output with 42, but his assists took off, rising from 30 to 53 for a 95 point season. He then added another 13 points in 11 playoff games.

Connelly Fighting Saints, Connelly Fighting Saints

Connelly's third season in St. Paul finished with 38 goals and 71 points as well as another 12 in 12 playoff games. The Fighting Saints financial situation was an unsettled one, and when it all came to an end during Connelly's fourth season with the club, through 59 games he stood at 24 goals and 47 points. When the Fighting Saints folded in mid-season, Connelly signed on with the Cleveland Crusaders to finish out the season.

He would play one more season of pro hockey, but first his rights were traded by Cleveland to the New England Whalers during the off season, yet before the schedule could begin, the Calgary Cowboys acquired his rights. After 25 games with the Cowboys, Connelly was again traded for the third time seven months, this time to the Edmonton Oilers to finish out his career.

His final NHL totals were 543 games, 133 goals and 307 points, while his WHA points closed out at 366 games, 167 goals and 329 points, a third of a point per game higher average in the wide open WHA. Combined, Connelly scored exactly 300 professional goals and another 93 in the WHL prior to the NHL expansion. While Connelly benefited from both the expansion of the NHL in the late 1960's and the creation of the WHA in the early 1970's, had he scored 400 goals all in today's expanded NHL, his career reputation would be at a much higher profile than his fractured career history divided among three leagues.

Today's featured jersey is a 1975-76 Minnesota Fighting Saints Wayne Connelly jersey. After starting their first season with a large "S" logo and the occasional appearance of a gold jersey, the team introduced the "little saint" crested set of jerseys midway through their first season.

This style of sweater would remain the only style they would wear for the remaining 2 1/2 seasons of play. It was revived in a manner when the Cleveland Crusaders relocated to St. Paul and adopted the Fighting Saints identity, only in red and yellow instead of the original franchise's blue and yellow. That franchise would last less than one season before also folding midseason.

Minnesota Fighting Saints 75-76 jersey, Minnesota Fighting Saints 75-76 jersey
Minnesota Fighting Saints 75-76 jersey, Minnesota Fighting Saints 75-76 jersey

Today's video selection is Connelly, while with the North Stars, shattering the glass behind the Chicago Black Hawks goal with a powerful slap shot. Note just how much shorter the glass was back then, even behind the goals.

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