Thursday, November 1, 2012

1975-76 Minnesota Fighting Saints Dave Keon Jersey

October 31st, Halloween, is sometimes referred to as "All Hallows Eve", making November 1st "All Hallows", with "hallows" being defined as "to consecrate or set apart as being holy". Thus, All Hallows celebrates all those who have been set apart as being holy by being named to sainthood, which leads to another name for All Hallows - "All Saints' Day".

A search of HockeyDB.com reveals twenty teams named "Saints" at various levels of hockey as far back as 1925 with the original incarnation of the St. Paul Saints of the Central Hockey League. The Saints then moved to the American Hockey Association for four seasons, back to the CHL for four, which included winning the league championship in 1935, and once more back to the AHA for seven seasons until World War II brought a temporary halt to the league. When play resumed in 1945, the Saints were now part of the United States Hockey League until 1955 and took home the championship in 1949.

St Paul Saints 48-49
The 1948-49 USHL champion St. Paul Saints

In 1959 the St. Paul Saints name would be revived with a new franchise in the International Hockey League, which would continue play through 1963 until their name was changed to the St. Paul Rangers to reflect their affiliation with the NHL's New York Rangers. This edition of the Saints was quite successful, appearing in the Turner Cup Finals three consecutive seasons, winning championships in both 1960 and 1961 and having their reign ended in 1962.

St Paul Saints 59-60
The 1960 IHL Champion St. Paul Saints

Next on the scene was the St. Catharines Saints in 1940 in the Ontario Hockey Association in Canada. That club lasted only two seasons, but the name was revived in 1982 when a new club joined the American Hockey League in 1982. That club stayed for four seasons prior to a relocation to Newmarket, Ontario where they were now known as the Newmarket Saints until 1991. After another relocation resulted in a name change, followed by yet another in 2005 which currently has them known as the Toronto Marlies.

A little known club in Minnesota called the Hibbing Saints played for one season in the Northern Hockey League. The fourth Saints franchise was the Sherbrooke Saints of the Quebec Senior Hockey League from 1949 to 1954.

The St. Boniface Saints had a long run in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League from 1967 to 2001 before new owners renamed them the Winnipeg Saints where they continue to play in Canadian Tier II Junior "A" hockey.

St._Boniface_Saints_1992-93
The 1992-93 St. Boniface Saints

Also formed in 1967, the Windsor St. Clair Saints played in the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association and dominated with championships in 1968, 1969, 1970, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1977 and 1979. They also won the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association National Championship in 1976.

After an extended break from competition, the St. Clair Saints returned in 2001 and won the OCAA championship in 2002 and 2003. Following the demise of the OCAA, the Saints eventually joined Major League Hockey, playing against Senior AAA level teams from 2006 to 2008 before ceasing operations.

Windsor St. Clair Saints 07/08
The St. Claire Saints pay a hospital visit in 2008

The Laval Saints of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League lasted but one season in 1969-70.

The next club to arrive on the scene with the Saints name did so with a twist. As founding members of the World Hockey Association in 1972 based in St. Paul, Minnesota, the new club elected to call themselves the Minnesota Fighting Saints. They created one of the best logos hockey has ever seen, which has been copied again and again since then. The Fighting Saints also played a firey, uptempo brand of hockey with plenty of fisticuffs and occasional mayhem thrown in to live up to the team name.

Fighting Saints logo

Competing with the NHL's Minnesota North Stars, who were in a down period on the ice at the time, the always competitive Fighting Saints captured the hearts of the Minnesota hockey fans and played to several record setting capacity crowds of over 17,000 at their brand new St. Paul Civic Center on the current site of the Minnesota Wild's Xcel Energy Center.

Minnesota Fighting Saints 3-74
The 1973-74 Minnesota Fighting Saints

The Fighting Saints lasted four seasons in the unstable WHA and never missed the playoffs or had a losing record. After the original blue-clad WHA Fighting Saints folded during the 1975-76 season, the Cleveland Crusaders relocated to St. Paul for 1976-77 and adopted the Fighting Saints name and logo, but changed their primary color to red to differentiate themselves from the original club. This version of the Fighting Saints lasted only 42 games before also calling it quits.

Surprisingly, there haven't been more teams from St. Louis named the Saints, but there was one such club, the St. Louis Saints, which competed in the Continental Hockey League for two years starting in 1974.

The tenth Saints club, a junior hockey team from Ecorse, Michigan named the Paddock Pool Saints was active from 1975 to 1984 in the Great Lakes Junior Hockey League. The St. Albert Saints (1977-2004) were members of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, not to be confused with the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League's Prince Albert Saints, who played in 1980-81.

Despite their short life, the Minnesota Fighting Saints popularity influenced several subsequent teams at various levels, including the Dubuque Fighting Saints (1980-2001) of the United States Hockey League, the Danville Fighting Saints (1986-1989) of the All American Hockey League and the St. Paul Fighting Saints (1992-93) of the American Hockey Association. A new version of the Dubuque Fighting Saints began play in the USHL in 2010.

Going overseas, the Glasgow Saints of Scotland competed in the British Hockey League during the 1990-91 season, but failed to survive beyond that.

The San Angelo Saints who were members of the Central Hockey League from 2002-2005 and the Spruce Grove Saints of the Alberta Junior Hockey League are the relocated St. Albert Saints a franchise which can be traced back to 1963 with several different names.

Spruce Grove Saints 09-10
The 2009-10 Spruce Grove Saints

Finally the the New York Saints of the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League arrived in 2006.

Today's featured jersey is a 1975-76 Minnesota Fighting Saints Dave Keon jerseyAfter Keon came to an agreement to join the Ottawa Nationals of the fledgling WHA in 1972, the deal fell apart and he signed a three year contract to remain in Toronto and led the team in goal scoring in 1972-73, which included his 297th goal as a Maple Leaf, passing George Armstrong and Frank Mahavolich as the franchise's all-time leading goal scorer.

Having fallen out of favor with Maple Leaf's owner Harold Ballard by the end of his contract, Keon jumped to the rival WHA and signed with the Minnesota Fighting Saints. When the Fighting Saints folded, Keon was unable to return to the NHL because the Maple Leafs still held his NHL rights and owner Ballard wanted too steep a level of compensation from any NHL club signing him, effectively locking Keon out of the NHL.

With only the WHA as an option, Keon signed with the Indianapolis Racers for the remainder of the season. He was traded to the new incarnation of the Minnesota Fighting Saints for the following season, only to see that version of the franchise again fold during before the completion of the season. He once more found some stability when he joined the WHA's New England Whalers, where he would play for the remainder of his career, three seasons in the WHA and three more finally back in the NHL following the merger in 1979.

It was during the 1979-80 season that Keon, then 40 years old, was occasionally on a line with both Gordie Howe (age 50) and Bobby Hull (age 41). When both Howe and Hull retired, Keon was the oldest player in the NHL for his final two seasons before retiring after the 1981-82 season at age 42.

Keon's final totals were 396 goals and 590 assists for 986 NHL points and another 102 goals and 189 assists for 291 points in the WHA, the Calder Trophy, two Lady Byng Trophies, a Conn Smythe Trophy, eight NHL All-Star Game appearances and four Stanley Cups as well as being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1986.

If the Fighting Saints jersey appears familiar at first glance, is probably is, as the Fighting Saints minor league affiliate the Johnstown Jets was the inspiration for the Charlestown Chiefs of the famed move "Slap Shot", and the movie Chiefs wore jerseys of the same color and striping template as Johnstown, who mimicked the jerseys of their parent club, the Fighting Saints.

This jersey was actually not the original Fighting Saints jersey, as they began play with jerseys featuring a large "S" logo before a second set of jersey featuring the "Little Saint" logo was put into use.

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

Bonus Jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1984-85 St. Catharines Saints Gary Leeman jersey. Leeman was a ten year member of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the NHL, but did play 7 and then 25 games over two seasons with St. Catharines of the AHL early in his career. Leeman would later go on to win a Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens in 1993 and score 466 points in 667 NHL games.

This jersey clearly reflects the then current style of the Saints parent club, the Toronto Maple Leafs. While copying the parent club's jersey style was the norm back then, many minor league clubs have learned the value of having their own separate identity when it comes to their own income through sales of unique merchandise and jerseys.

St Catharines Saints jersey

Today's video segment is a peek into the crazy world of the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the WHA, when one of the players beat up his own coach!


This second video is a highlight film of the Fighting Saints first season of 1972-73. Notice the gold alternate jerseys with the original "S" logo, none of which are known to have survived, as the logos were removed and they were handed down to a local high school who shared the same colors.

Once the Little Saint logo appeared on their jerseys, they Fighting Saints limited themselves to just home white and road blue jerseys.

Another thing to be aware of are the unique clear boards used in the St. Paul Civic Center, which allowed fans a view of the puck at all times, particularly those fans in the first several rows of seats, which were set back from the boards by a fair distance due to the round layout of the Civic Center.


If you are interested in some rare St. Paul Saints for Minnesota Fighting Saints jerseys, our friends at VintageMinnesotaHockey.com have a series of excellent reproductions of not only the WHA's Minnesota Fighting Saints, more accurate than anything found anywhere else online, but also a series of St. Paul Saints jerseys from the minor league club from the 1930's to the 1960's. Just do a search for "Saints" to view your options.

  
  

P.S. Happy Birthday to Kelly, without whose patience and understanding this blog would not be possible.

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