1980-81 Western Hockey League Champions
2020 marked the 40th anniversary of the 1980-81 Victoria Cougars WHL Championship. With 60 regular-season wins, they still hold the distinction as the most successful team in WHL history. This homegrown team featured fifteen players born in British Columbia, including ten from Vancouver Island. Twelve Cougars would go on to the National Hockey League (NHL), including future Hall of Fame goaltender Grant Fuhr.
1980/81 SEASON SUMMARY
Going into training camp, the Cougars had high expectations coming off their Western Division Championship the previous season. Head coach Jack Shupe got the team off to a roaring start with a 10-1 record. They remained at the top of the standings even though four of their top players (Brad Palmer, Barry Pederson, Torrie Robertson and Tony Feltrin) spent part of the year in the NHL. From February to April, the Cougars had a 28 game winning streak - a record that still stands today. The Cougars finished the regular season first overall with 60 wins, 11 losses and 1 tie (A WHL record that still stands today).
Eight players scored at least 30 goals (second-most in WHL history). Captain Barry Pederson was Victoria’s leading scorer with 147 points and named WHL First Team All-Star. In addition to their high flying offence, the Cougars allowed the fewest goals in the WHL. Second-year goaltender Grant Fuhr was the Team MVP, winning 48 games (second-most in WHL history) with a 2.78 GAA. He was a WHL First Team All-Star and won the Del Wilson Trophy as the League's top goaltender.
In the playoffs, the Cougars easily won their matchups against Spokane and Portland without losing a game. The Western Hockey League finals featured the Cougars in a best of seven-game series with the Calgary Wranglers. It was a legendary showdown featuring two future NHL All-Star goaltenders: Victoria's Grant Fuhr against Calgary's Mike Vernon. The seven-game series took place over eight gruelling days. Calgary jumped out to a three-game to one lead, but Victoria bounced back to tie the series at 3-3 and force a deciding Game 7. In front of a sold-out crowd of 5,023 at Victoria Memorial Arena, Terry Sydoryk broke a 2-2 tie when he scored the winning goal at 18:02 of the third period. The Cougars won the Game 4-2 to capture their first and only WHL President's Trophy (later renamed the Ed Chynoweth Cup).
After defeating Calgary, the Cougars flew to Windsor, Ontario, to compete in the 1981 Memorial Cup. The three-team tournament featured Victoria, Kitchener Rangers (Ontario Hockey League) and Cornwall Royals (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League). The Cougars won their first game against Kitchener but lost their next three to finish in third place. Mark Morrison led Victoria in scoring with six points and was named the tournament's Most Sportsmanlike Player. Cornwall went on to defeat Kitchener for their second consecutive Memorial Cup championship.
The Victoria Cougars are the only team in Canadian Major Junior hockey history to have achieved sixty victories in a season. Their sixty wins and twenty-eight-game winning streak are two records that will likely never be broken.
The 1980-81 Cougars had a significant impact on professional hockey. Thirteen players were selected in the NHL entry draft, including four 1st round picks.
The Edmonton Oilers drafted goaltender Grant Fuhr in the first round of the 1981 entry draft (9th overall). Fuhr would win five Stanley Cups, a Vezina Trophy, a Jennings Trophy and five All-Star appearances. In 2003, Fuhr became the first black player inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Coach Jack Shupe won 188 games in his five seasons with Victoria and is 10th on the all-time WHL career list for coaching victories with 466. One year after winning the WHL Championship, the Cougars fired Shupe during their 1982 playoff series against the Seattle Breakers. Shupe passed away on April 10, 2019, at the age of 89.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW
Assistant coach Dave Andrews replaced Shupe in 1982 and guided the Cougars for two years. In 1994, he became President of the American Hockey League (AHL) and held that position until his retirement in 2020. He entered the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 2005, and in 2010 was a recipient of the Lester Patrick Award for contributions to hockey in the United States.
Mark Morrison is in his first year as head coach of the Manitoba Moose (AHL). He previously coached the Fife Flyers (UK Elite Ice Hockey League: 1994-2004) and the Victoria Salmon Kings (ECHL: 2007-2011). Last year he was an assistant with Anaheim from 2017 to 2021.
Rich Chernomaz is a legendary coach in Germany, winning three DEL2 championships (2002, 2004 and 2019). He also guided the Hungarian National Team from 2013-2016.
Tony Feltrin – St. Louis Blues - Director of Amateur Scouting. An eye injury in 1985 forced Feltrin into early retirement. He became a scout, enjoying long tenures with the New York Rangers (1986-96) and New York Islanders (1996-2007). He joined the Blues in 2009 and helped build their 2019 Stanley Cup championship team.
Barry Pederson – Studio analyst on Boston Bruins broadcasts for NESN
Len Dawes – Assistant Coach with the Peninsula Panthers (Vancouver Island Hockey League)
Geoff Courtnall and his family have had a huge impact by raising awareness and funds for mental health. The Archie Courtnall Centre at Victoria's Royal Jubilee Hospital is named after Geoff's father, who suffered from Mental Illness.
Victoria Cougars 1980-81 Scoring Leaders
Victoria Cougars 1980-81 Goaltender Statistics
1980-81 Victoria Cougars WHL Championship Roster
Grant Fuhr, Len Dawes, Tony Feltrin, Barry Pederson, Torrie Robertson, Stu Kulak, Rich Chernomaz, Rob Jacobson, Greg Barber, Paul Cyr, Grant Rezansoff, Bud McCarthy, Terry Sydoryk, Mark Morrison, Darryl Coldwell, Bob McGill, Geoff Courtnall, John Mokosak, Wade Jenson, Jack Shupe (Coach), Dave Andrews (Assistant Coach) Shaen McRae (Trainer), Brad Palmer was called up by the Minnesota North Stars and missed the playoffs.
1980-81 Victoria Cougars selected in the NHL entry draft
Brad Palmer - Minnesota North Stars, 1st round, 16th overall
Barry Pederson - Boston Bruins, 1st Round, 18th overall
Bob McGill - Toronto Maple Leafs, 2nd Round, 26th overall
Len Dawes - Chicago Black Hawks, 2nd Round, 36th overall
Torrie Robertson - Washington Capitals, 3rd Round, 55th overall
Tony Feltrin, Pittsburgh Penguins, 4th Round, 72nd overall
Grant Fuhr - Edmonton Oilers, 1st Round, 8th overall
Rich Chernomaz - Colorado Rockies, 2nd Round, 26th overall
Mark Morrison - New York Rangers, 3rd Round, 51st overall
Stu Kulak - Vancouver Canucks, 6th Round, 115th overall
John Mokosak - Hartford Whalers, 7th Round, 130th overall
Greg Barber - Toronto Maple Leafs, 9th Round, 174th overall
Paul Cyr - Buffalo Sabres, 1st Round, 9th overall
1980-81 Victoria Cougars who played in the National Hockey League
Barry Pederson, Rich Chernomaz, Torrie Robertson, Paul Cyr, Brad Palmer, Mark Morrison, Stu Kulak, Geoff Courtnall, John Mokosak, Bob McGill, Tony Feltrin and Grant Fuhr.