Saturday, March 9, 2013

1974-75 Minnesota Fighting Saints Gary Gambucci Jersey

At the Let's Play Hockey Expo at the RiverCentre in St. Paul, Minnesota, a very special event is taking place today, as 18 members of the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the World Hockey Association are expected to appear for a reunion and autograph signing at the U. S. Hockey Hall of Fame booth from noon to 2 PM.

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This list of players is an exciting one, with several of the players not only being former Fighting Saints, but also legends of Minnesota High School Hockey, University of Minnesota Golden Gopher greats, former United States Olympians and even some having played for the Minnesota North Stars as well.

Scheduled to appear are Mike Antonovich, Henry Boucha, tough guys Bill Butters and Jack Carlson, Lefty Curran, Gary Gambucci, goaltender and current TV commentator John Garrett, team captain Ted Hampson, George Konik, Jack McCartan, Mike McMahon, Pat Westrum as well as former owner Wayne Belisle, equipment manager George Konik and head coach and general manager Glen Sonmor who tells some of the best hockey stories you've ever heard. While many of those names may not be very familiar to those outside of the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, one name will stand out, that of Hockey Hall of Famer and former Toronto Maple Leafs and Hartford Whalers player Dave Keon.

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Dave Keon

The Fighting Saints were original members of the WHA in 1972-73 and played their games at the newly constructed St. Paul Civic Center, which was located next door to the RiverCentre, which is now the location of the XCel Energy Center, home of the NHL's Minnesota Wild and the ongoing Minnesota State High School Hockey Championships, which concluded today with title games in Class A and Class AA, as we reported yesterday.

The Fighting Saints played through the 1975-76 season before folding halfway through the schedule, wearing blue and yellow jerseys. For the following season the Cleveland Crusaders relocated to St. Paul as the new Fighting Saints and gave it a go for half of the 1976-77 campaign, now wearing red and yellow, before they too folded before the season was completed.

Despite their too brief run, the Fighting Saints left behind a litany of great hockey memories, such as boasting the league's leading scorer Mike Walton, George Morrison's hat trick scored in 43 seconds, their lengthy streak of never being shut out and setting state attendance records of over 17,000 fans, besting the cross-town North Stars of the rival NHL.

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Mike Walton

On the other side of the ledger are the crazy stories  that surrounded the team, such as the legendary playoff battle with Gordie Howe's Houston Aeros which saw the manic Goldy Goldthorpe turned loose on the ice, team tough guy Gord Gallant punching out coach Harry Neale after breaking curfew one night, having all three Carlson brothers and Dave Hanson (of Slap Shot move fame) on the team at the same time.

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The Carlson Brothers

Other stories include Walton leaving the arena in disgust in full uniform, skates and all, and driving to a local bar to drown his sorrows following elimination from the playoffs, Belisle arriving at the airport with a paper bag full of cash to convince the players to get on a plane for a road trip as the team was in the death throws of their first battle with financial difficulties.

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Gord Gallant battling with Ted Taylor of the Aeros

In addition to the Fighting Saints reunion, there will be many other noteworthy appearances at the Expo, including four time Stanley Cup champion Claude Lemieux, 1980 Miracle on Ice team members Bill Baker and Mike Ramsey as well as any number of former NHLers with ties to Minnesota, highlighted by Phil Housley and Reed Larson. There will also be players from the University of Minnesota, the North Stars and the Wild, such as Hobey Baker winner Robb Stauber, NHL 40 goal scorer Scott Bjugstad and Andrew Brunette.

The expo runs today from 10 AM until 6 PM and is followed immediately by the Class AA championship game to close out the high school tournament. Admission to the expo is free to all.

In recognition of the Fighting Saints reunion, today's featured jersey is a 1974-75 Minnesota Fighting Saints Gary Gambucci jersey. Gambucci attended the University of Minnesota from 1965-66 until 1987-68 and then played for the United States National Team in the World Championships in 1969, 1970 (scoring 18 points in 7 games to lead the US to promotion out of the B Pool and back up to the A Pool) and 1971, where he scored 7 goals and 10 points in 10 games.

The following season Gambucci spent the majority of his time with the Cleveland Barons of the AHL but he also made his NHL debut with 9 games with the Minnesota North Stars. After spending the entire 1972-73 season with the Barons, scoring just over a point per game with 76 in 75 games, Gambucci played 43 games with the North Stars and 21 with the Portland Buckaroos of the WHL in 1973-74.

He then signed with the Fighting Saints in 1974-75 and was with the team for the next season and a half until they folded midway through the 1975-76 season. Gambucci then concluded his career with his fourth World Championships for the United States in 1976.

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Today's video is a look back at the Minnesota Fighting Saints and some of their legendary antics.

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