1980-81 Western Hockey League Champions
2020 marks the 40th anniversary of the 1980-81 Victoria Cougars Western Hockey League (WHL) Championship. With 60 regular-season wins, they still hold the distinction as the most successful team in WHL history. The majority of the team was homegrown as fifteen players were born in British Columbia including ten born on Vancouver Island. Twelve players would go on to the National Hockey League (NHL), including future Hall of Fame goaltender Grant Fuhr.
Going into training camp, the Cougars had high expectations coming off their Western Division Championship in 1979-80. 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) were called up by their NHL clubs for part of the year. From February to April, the Cougars had a 28 game winning streak - a record that still stands today. The Cougars finished the regular season at the top of the WHL with 60 wins, 11 losses and 1 tie. The Cougars are the only team in Canadian junior hockey history to have achieved 60 victories in a season.
Eight players on the team scored at least 30 goals (second-most in WHL history). Captain Barry Pederson was the 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 that featured two future Hall of Fame goaltenders with Victoria's Grant Fuhr against Calgary's Mike Vernon. Seven games were played over eight gruelling days. The Calgary jumped out to a three-game to one lead, but Victoria came back to tie the series 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 winning the WHL championship, the Cougars flew to Windsor, Ontario, to compete in the 1981 Memorial Cup. The three-team tournament featured Victoria, Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League and Cornwall Royals of the 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 selected the tournament's Most Sportsmanlike Player. Cornwall defeated Kitchener in the final to win their second consecutive Memorial Cup championship.
The 1980-81 Cougars had a significant impact on professional hockey. They had thirteen players 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, the Edmonton Oilers retired his number. Fuhr was selected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003 and became the first black player inducted.
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 in the middle of the 1982 playoff series against the Seattle Breakers. Shupe passed away on April 10, 2019, at the age of 89.
Assistant coach Dave Andrews replaced Shupe and guided the Cougars to a 74-47-1 record from 1982-1984. In 1994, he became President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Hockey League, a position he held until his retirement in 2020. He was inducted to 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.
Players on the 1980-81 team have also transitioned into coaching and scouting.
Mark Morrison was a head coach for the Fife Flyers of the Elite Ice Hockey League from (1994-2004) and the Victoria Salmon Kings of the ECHL from (2007-2011). He was an assistant coach for the Winnipeg Jets AHL affiliates for six years (2012-2016). In 2017 Morrison was named assistant coach by the Anaheim Ducks.
Rich Chernomaz coached in Germany for thirteen years, winning the DEL2 championship with Augsburger in 2002 and Frankfurt in 2004. He coached the Hungarian National Team from 2013-2016. In 2018, Chernomaz was the head coach of the Nottingham Panthers of the Elite Ice Hockey League
Grant Fuhr spent four years as a goaltending coach with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Geoff Courtnall Geoff Courtnall coached the Victoria Grizzlies of the BC Hockey League for two years.
From 1998-2000 Bob McGill was a head coach in the ECHL for Baton Rouge and the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League in 2004/05
After an eye injury forced Tony Feltrin into early retirement, he became an NHL scout. He has worked as an amateur and pro scout since 1986 for the Rangers, Islanders and Blues
Two members of the team currently work in broadcasting:
Barry Pederson is a studio analyst on NESN broadcasts for the Boston Bruins.
Bob McGill works for the Leafs Network Nation and is a colour analyst for the Toronto Marlies on their radio broadcasts on AM 640 Toronto.
Geoff Courtnall and his family have had a huge impact by raising awareness and funds for mental health. Patients at risk can walk into the Archie Courtnall Centre at Victoria's Royal Jubilee Hospital and receive mental health care. The Centre 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.