The Cougars' inaugural year in 1971-72 saw a mid-season coaching change and a revolving door of new players. Thirty-nine different players dressed for Victoria during their first season. Although the club only managed 18 wins, most games were close as they lost 19 one-goal decisions. As the Cougars prepared for the 1972-73 season, the personnel changes continued with nobody from last season’s opening game roster still with the club. 1972-73 was a rough year for the organization with player revolts, a coaching change, new owners, and many, many losses.
Problems started in training camp when coach Mitch Pechet missed the first week recovering from pneumonia. On his return, five players were caught violating team curfew. As a result, starting goalkeeper Ron Bourcier and forward Bob Murdoch were suspended and eventually kicked off the team. “This wasn't the first time training camp rules had been broken." Pechet stated, "We decided that these players (Bourcier and Murdoch) were not suited for our organization.” On their way out, Bourcier and Murdoch blasted management. The pair complained about poor accommodations and favouritism to players from the rookie camp in Edmonton. “These guys from Edmonton had positions before this camp opened,” said Bourcier. These allegations were denied vehemently by both Pechet and General Manager Eric Bishop.
Since Bourcier was the Cougar’s only experienced goaltender, the Cougars acquired Sam Clegg from Saskatoon a few days before the season opener. Pechet named Clegg as the starter, with 15-year-old Danny Rogers earning the backup spot.
On opening night, the Cougars put aside the training camp drama to defeat the New Westminster Bruins for the first time in franchise history. Frank Hyndman scored twice, Don Williams had two assists, and Sam Clegg made 35 saves in a 4-2 victory. The win broke a ten-game losing streak to the Bruins.
As the season progressed, captain Dale Cook emerged as the club’s top offensive threat. Terry Ewasiuk, a pickup from the Alberta Junior Hockey League, provided a spark and anchored the first line with Cook. Another early standout was fast skating rookie Dave Faulkner. In his hometown of Winnipeg, he notched three points in Victoria's 5-2 triumph over the Jets.
After 20 games, the Cougars had six wins and were just two points ahead of last-place Vancouver. On December 2nd, Brad Richardson scored three goals, and Dale Cook had five assists in a shocking 9-2 beat down of New Westminster. Richardson went on a wild scoring streak, picking up eleven points in four games after being put on the top line with Cook.
One of the seasons’ strangest events occurred on December 14th. Victoria came away with the victory in a game they actually lost. New Westminster defeated Victoria 5-4, but the Bruins refused to wear their helmets. After the game, the WCHL awarded Victoria the points. They ruled New Westminster must forfeit the victory because they blatantly violated the league's helmet mandate. (Read more about this game in Gregg Drinnon's Blog)
Looking to build for the future, the Cougars traded Sam Clegg to Medicine Hat in December. With the move, Danny Rogers became the new starting goalie. “I’m fully confident Danny can do the job for us,” Pechet said, “and he could well be our starting goalkeeper for the next three seasons.” Perry Mulhall was called up from the Nanaimo Clippers to serve as Rogers' backup. Clegg would go on to win the Memorial Cup that year with Medicine Hat.
In their last game before Christmas, New Westminster drilled Victoria 6-1 in front of only 1,104 fans at Memorial Arena. The Bruins dominated the contest even though they arrived just ten minutes before the game because of travel delays. At the Christmas break, the Cougars were in fifth place of the West Division with 17 points and a record of 8-21-1. Victoria had a four-point lead ahead of the sixth-place Vancouver Nats. The Cougars and the Nats both joined the WCHL as expansion teams in 1971/72.
For the second consecutive year, the Cougars made a mid-season coaching change. On Boxing day, Mitch Pechet announced his resignation as head coach. “Before the first game, I set a figure of between 25 and 30 points for Cougars by the Christmas Break.” Pechet said, “I haven’t been able to meet that target, and I feel a change in coaches may just be what is needed.” General Manager Eric Bishop and chief scout Bob Briscoe took over coaching duties for the remainder of the season. Briscoe would lead the day-to-day practices while Bishop guided the team during games.
The new coaching tandem debuted with an 8-4 victory over Vancouver. Dale Cook scored three times for a team-leading 28 in 31 games, and rookie Mel Bridgman picked up his first WCHL goal. The win gave the Cougars a six-point lead over the last place Nats.
On January 16th, Frank Hyndman’s hat trick helped snap the Cougar’s five-game losing streak in a 6-5 win over Vancouver. The Cougars had no time to celebrate as they flew to Winnipeg the next night and suffered their most embarrassing loss of the year. Ex Cougar Reg Malinowski scored three times as the Jets humiliated Victoria 16-0. The next day in Winnipeg, they watched the WHA Jets practice and afterwards received a pep talk from Bobby Hull. Unfortunately, Hull's speech did not inspire the Cougars as they lost all seven games on their Prairie road trip.
Both Dan Rogers and Perry Mulhal provided solid goaltending, but the Cougars gave up way too many scoring chances. In a 6-2 loss to Saskatoon, Rogers was outstanding between the pipes with the Blades out-shooting Victoria 41 to 17.
Although the Cougars continually struggled, Dale Cook carried the team with his high-powered offence and provided strong leadership. “Getting Cook for Reg Malinowski has to be the best deal I ever made.” Said GM Eric Bishop, “and I think I made a few deals since I have been in Victoria.” (1) In January, Cook earned a selection to the WCHL All-Star game in Medicine Hat. Cook and the West Division All-Stars defeated the Eastern All-Stars 6-1.
At a press conference on February 1st, the Cougars announced the sale of the club. The new owners were current General Manager Eric Bishop, dentists Gary Tippling and Bill Evans, Lorne Williams, and Paul Lapointe, owner of Lapointe’s Sporting Goods. Lapointe is the father of Cougars defenseman Rick Lapointe. The selling price was said to be more than $100,000. The previous ownership group was based in Calgary and included former Cougars coach Mitch Pechet.
In the same week of the ownership change, Carl Cureatz, Don Williams, and Dave Faulkner (second on the Cougars in scoring) left the team. “I felt the organization had made me lose interest in the game through bad management,” Williams revealed in an interview with the Victoria Times. He also pointed out a lack of coaching, excessive fines and not enough food to eat. General Manager Eric Bishop angrily responded, “The accusations are ridiculous. The boy quit the hockey club on his own. It’s unreal that you would bring such a thing up. It’s nonsensical.” (2)
Morale was at an all-time low for the Cougars. On February 11th, they responded with one of their best games of the year. Terry Ewasiuk picked up a hat trick as the Cougars came back from a three-goal deficit to tie Brandon 6-6. Dale Cook had four assists to raise his point total to 76, breaking the Cougar's single-season record of 75 previously held by Gary Donaldson.
With fourteen games remaining, Victoria was eliminated from the playoffs. Other than staying ahead of last-place Vancouver, the Cougars had little to play for during the last month. On February 17th, Cook scored his 40th, Ron Poole chipped in with two goals, and Rick Williams provided solid defence as the Cougars beat the Nats, 4-3 to snap a 17 game winless streak. Most of the Cougars' victories in 1972/73 were against Vancouver.
On February 28th, the Cougars and the New Westminster Bruins played to a 3-3 tie that featured a bloody brawl occurring less than three minutes into the game. Ernie Fedoruk of the Victoria Times describes the fight between Kim Clackson of the Cougars and the Bruins Ray Mercredi:
Clackson hammered the 19-year old Mercredi unmercifully, pausing only in the final few minutes out of sheer exhaustion. Blood from the combatants, mainly from Mercredi, left a three-foot square of red that had to be scraped off the ice before play was allowed to resume. Clackson suffered a cut finger which he accused Mercredi of “gnawing” and a badly bruised hand. (3)
Afterwards, Clackson earned the Star-of-the-Game Award even though he played just one shift, receiving a game misconduct after his fight with Mercredi. New Westminster coach Ernie Mclean was not impressed with the selection of Clackson as the first star. “I can’t see any honor in getting one of the most exciting players in the league knocked out of the game.” fumed McLean.
During a March road trip to Alberta, Bob Briscoe replaced GM Eric Bishop behind the bench. Briscoe got his first win in the second last game of the season with a 6-4 victory over Regina, ending an eleven-game winless streak. The Cougars finished the year with a 7-3 loss to Edmonton to complete the 1972/73 campaign with a 13-51-4 record.
At the year-end awards ceremony, Dale Cook was the unanimous choice as the Cougars' most valuable player. Rick Williams earned Rookie of the Year, Most Popular and Best Defenceman. Frank Hyndman voted most inspirational, Ron Poole picked as the most improved, and Cal Kitching won the sportsmanship award. Kim Clackson only managed two points in 64 games but led the team with 235 penalty minutes.
Coming off his 95 point MVP season, the Philadelphia Flyers selected Dale Cook in the 4th round of the 1973 NHL Amateur draft. Terry Ewasiuk, second on the team with 54 points, went to Pittsburgh in the 7th round.
The disappointing year saw the Cougars regress with only thirteen wins - five less than their first season. The coaching change at Christmas made no difference, with the team getting worse as the year went on. After twenty games, the Cougars had six victories but only managed seven more wins the rest of the season. Vancouver was the only team in the league with a worse record than Victoria. The Nats set a WCHL record for the fewest points in a season with 23.
Player morale was also an issue throughout the season. Several players quit the club and blamed General Manager Eric Bishop on their way out. The new ownership group vowed to turn things around and 1973/74 would be the start of a new beginning. (Read the 1973/74 Victoria Cougars season in Review)
(1) “Cook Out to Double His Pleasure” Ernie Fedoruk
December 19, 1972 (Page 12). Victoria Times (1971-1980) 1972 Dec 19 xx
(2) “Ex-Cougar Blames Management for Loss of Interest” Jim Crerar.
February 7, 1973 (Page 14 of 52). Victoria Times (1971-1980) 1973 Feb 07(202):14.
(3) “A Violent Night at Arena” Ernie Fedoruk
March 1, 1973 (Page 11 of 38). Victoria Times (1971-1980) 1973 Mar 01(221):11.