1980-81 Western Hockey League Champions
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Although it has been forty years, the 1980-81 Victoria Cougars still hold the distinction as the most successful team in Western Hockey League (WHL) history. No junior team in Canada has ever matched their regular season record of sixty wins, eleven losses and one tie. 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 play in the National Hockey League (NHL) including Grant Fuhr who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003.
The Cougars went into the 1980-81 season with high expectations as most of the players returned from the previous year when they lost to the Regina Pats in the WHL finals. Head coach Jack Shupe got the team off to a quick start with a 10-1 record, and they remained strong throughout the season even though four of their top players (Brad Palmer, Barry Pederson, Torrie Robertson and Tony Feltrin) spent part of the season in the NHL. They had a 28 game winning streak that extended into the playoffs, from February 6, 1981, through April 17, 1981 - a record that still stands today. The Cougars ended the year with the best record in the WHL with 60 wins, 11 losses and 1 tie. The Cougars’ 60 victories in a season remains a Canadian Hockey League record.
The Cougars led the league in scoring with 462 goals. Eight players on the team scored at least 30 goals (second most in WHL history). The team captain and leading scorer was Barry Pederson. He was third in league scoring with 147 points and was an 1981 All Star. The Cougars also had a solid defense allowing the fewest goals with 217. Second year goaltender Grant Fuhr was the team MVP and selected to the all-star team. Fuhr won 48 games (second most in WHL history) and the Del Wilson trophy as the league's top goaltender.
In the playoffs, they easily won the first two matchups against Spokane and Portland winning each series four games to none. In the Western Hockey League finals, they faced the Calgary Wranglers of the eastern division in a seven game series. It was a legendary battle that featured two future Hall of Fame goaltenders with Victoria's Grant Fuhr against Calgary's Mike Vernon. The series went seven games over eight days with the Cougars coming back from a three game to one deficit to win the series four games to three. The Cougars won game seven 4-2 in front of a sold-out crowd of 5,023 at Memorial Arena. Terry Sydoryk scored the winning goal at 18:02 of the third period to capture the WHL's President's Trophy (later renamed the Ed Chynoweth Cup). This was the only WHL championship that the Cougars ever won.
Immediately after winning the WHL championship, the Cougars flew to Windsor, Ontario, to compete in the 1981 Memorial Cup for the Canadian championship. The Cougars won their first game against Kitchener but lost their next three to finish in third place. Mark Morrison led the team in scoring with six points in four games and was named the Most Sportsmanlike Player of the tournament. The Cornwall Royals would end up winning the Memorial Cup for their second consecutive championship.
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 and twelve Cougars would go to play in the NHL.
The Edmonton Oilers drafted goaltender Grant Fuhr in the first round of 1981 entry draft (9th overall). Fuhr would go on to win five Stanley Cups, a Vezina Trophy, a Jennings Trophy, named an all star 5 times and had his number 31 retired by the Edmonton Oilers. In his first year of eligibility he was inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003, the first black player to be selected.
Head coach Jack Shupe won 188 games in his five seasons in Victoria and is 10th on the all-time WHL career list for coaching victories with 466. Shupe spent 13 seasons as a WHL General Manager and Head Coach with the Medicine Hat Tigers and Victoria Cougars. Shupe’s final year was 1981-82 when he led the Cougars to a record of 43-28-1 before falling in the first round of the playoffs to the Seattle Breakers. Shupe passed away on April 10, 2019, at the age of 89.
Assistant coach Dave Andrews would become go on to a successful career as an executive. Since 1994 he has been the President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Hockey League (AHL). He was selected 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 coached the Victoria Grizzlies of the BC Hockey League for two years leading them to the 2009 Royal Bank Cup.
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 an 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 has made a huge impact on the community of Victoria. He and his family helped to build the Archie Courtnall Centre for emergency psychiatric care at Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria. The Centre is named after his father who suffered from mental illness.
There are few junior teams that have had a bigger impact on the game of hockey than the 1980-81 Victoria Cougars. Their contributions on and off the ice continue to this day.
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.