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Cougar Profiles: Dan Rogers - Two Sport Athlete

This week we profile Dan Rogers - a Vancouver Island sports legend who excelled in both hockey and baseball. He also holds two unique Victoria Cougars franchise records:


· The youngest goaltender to ever appear in the regular-season game

· The only Cougar to play professional baseball.



HOCKEY

Dan (Danny) Rogers grew up in Victoria and developed as a goaltender at Pearkes Arena with Saanich Minor Hockey. In 1972, Rogers was the starting goalie for the Saanich Braves bantam squad at age 14. The 1972/73 Braves went undefeated in 28 games to capture the Pacific Coast and BC bantam hockey championship. (1)


His strong play with Saanich caught the attention of the Victoria Cougars, who invited Rogers to their 1973 training camp. The Cougars were going into their second year, coming off a disappointing 18 win inaugural season. At 15 years old, Rogers was not expected to make the team but turned heads with an impressive showing at camp. A roster spot opened when Ron Bourcier, projected to be their starting goaltender, was kicked off the club for violating team rules. After the final roster cuts, Rogers made the Victoria Cougars opening day lineup as a backup to veteran Sam Clegg. In his Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL) debut on October 21, 1972, Rogers made 21 saves as the Cougars lost 4-3 to the Vancouver Nats. At 15 years old, he is the youngest goaltender in the Victoria Cougars twenty-three-year franchise history.


As the 1972/73 season progressed, Victoria struggled near the bottom of the WCHL standings. In December 1972, the Cougars decided it was time to start building for the future. They traded Sam Clegg to Medicine Hat and announced Rogers as their new starting goalie. Coach Mitch Pechet had high praise for his young netminder:


I’m fully confident Danny can do the job for us and he could well be our starting goalkeeper for the next three seasons.


The season did not get any better for the Cougars. The team went through three coaches, an ownership change and finished with 13 wins and 51 losses. Rogers appeared in 28 games with a 6.16 Goals Against Average. (Read the Victoria Cougars 1972/73 season in review)

For the next two seasons, Rogers tended goal in BC Junior Hockey League (BCJHL) for the Nanaimo Clippers. He only made five appearances for the Cougars during that time. Rogers rejoined Victoria for a couple of games in 1975, earning his only WCHL shutout on February 8th, in a 5-0 victory over the New Westminster Bruins.

The 1974/75 Nanaimo Clippers finished last in the Coastal Division, but Rogers had an outstanding season. For the second straight year, he played in the BCJHL All-Star Game. (2) In the BCJHL playoffs, Rogers shined in net as he led Nanaimo to an upset series win over the first-place Langley Lords.


After the Clippers lost to Bellingham in the semi-finals, Rogers joined the Cougars for their 1975 playoff run as a third goaltender. In the West Division Final against the New Westminster Bruins, the Cougars were trailing three games to one when coach Pat Ginnell made a bold move. He named Rogers the starter for Game 5 at Memorial Arena. The goaltending change sparked Victoria as Rogers backstopped the Cougars to a 6-3 victory. Going into Game 6, Rogers once again got the start between the pipes. Victoria jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the second period, but the Bruins stormed back to win the game 8-6 and the series four games to two. The loss eliminated the first-place Cougars from the playoffs. New Westminster would go on to win the 1974/75 WCHL championship. (Read the 1974/75 Cougars Season in Review)


In 1975/76, he returned to the Cougars, appearing in 20 games as the backup to Murray Bannerman. To start the 1976/77 season, Rogers was traded to Kamloops but released during training camp. After one appearance with Portland, he joined the Regina Pats for the rest of the year. Rogers finished his junior career with the last place Pats appearing in 14 games.



BASEBALL


While Rogers tended goal for the Cougars during the winter, he spent his summers on the baseball diamond.

Rogers had success from a young age as a pitcher and catcher. In 1974, as a member of the Victoria Firefighters, he won the BC senior Babe Ruth (aged 16-18) championship. (3) He also captured the 1974 Greater Victoria batting title with an average of .455. (4) The Firefighters advanced to the BC championship once again in 1975, before losing the final game to Trail-Selkirk. In the tournament, the Cougars goaltender pitched two shutouts, including a one-hitter over Vancouver. (5)


When Rogers junior hockey career ended, he continued playing baseball and putting up huge offensive numbers as a catcher in the Cosmopolitan Senior Amateur League for Farmer Construction.


In June 1980, he was invited to attend training camp of the Victoria Blues. The Blues were a professional baseball team in the Class A Northwest League, playing out of Royal Athletic Park. (6) Coincidentally, future Hall of Fame Goaltender Grant Fuhr, who was going into his second year with the Victoria Cougars, also attended this training camp. (7) Rogers did not make the team, but he impressed manager Jim Gattis and played in their final preseason game.


In July 1980, the Blues had problems with injuries and depth at the catcher position. During one game, Gattis had to fill in behind the plate and struggled with many passed balls. (8)


Blues president Bob Peden thought Rogers, now playing for Nanaimo in the Mid-Island Senior League, could help the team as a backup catcher and utility player. Although he was now a Nanaimo fireman, Peden persuaded Rogers to sign with the Blues on July 18, 1980. For each Victoria home game, Rogers planned to commute from Nanaimo. He would not accompany the team for road games until August when he could get time off from work. (8) Peden also thought a local player could help draw in larger crowds as the Blues roster consisted entirely of Americans.


Unfortunately, this arrangement only lasted a week before Rogers quit the team after just one pinch-hit appearance in five games. His brief time with the Blues left Rogers angry and confused:


"I thought I could help the team, but when I didn’t get to play, I started to think they signed me just to put a few more people in the stands. I don’t like being used. I’ve got a wife and kids up here and I was driving down to Victoria for each game. I wouldn’t have minded if I had a chance to play. My first day, I was one of the first to show up at the park. I shagged flies for two and a half hours until I got a chance to hit in batting practice. I got five rips. That was it. I don’t think (manager Jim) Gattis spoke five words to me the whole time I was there.” (9)


Rogers also suggested there may have been an anti-Canadian bias with Blues players and coaches:


"Just about every American player I’ve talked to thinks Canadians can’t compete in pro ball. The Northwest League does have good hitting and adequate fielding. But the pitching isn’t great. I know I could hit some of these guys." (9)


Although Rogers only appeared in a single game, he is among a small group of WHL alumni to have played professional baseball.

  • Clark Gillies signed with the Houston Astros in 1970 as a sixteen-year-old. He played three summers as a catcher/first baseman in the Appalachian League for the Covington Astros. From 1971-1974, Gillies also played hockey for the Regina Pats. In 1974, he was a first-round draft pick of the New York Islanders and went on to a Hall of Fame Career. (10)

  • Bob Bourne also signed with the Houston Astros and was a teammate of Clark Gillies with Covington for the 1972 Season. From 1971-74, Bourne skated with the Saskatoon Blades and selected by the Kansas City Scouts in the 1974 NHL amateur draft. He appeared in 964 NHL games, most of them with the New York Islanders as a teammate of Gillies.

  • Nyjer Morgan played seven games for the Regina Pats in 1999-2000. At the end of the season, he quit hockey to focus on baseball. He retired in 2014 after a seven-year Major League career.

  • Justin Morneau appeared in one preseason game for the Portland Winterhawks. He never saw game action during the regular season but was Portland's third-string goalie in the playoffs when they won the 1998 Memorial Cup.

  • Larry Walker attended two training camps as a goaltender with the Regina Pats in 1982 and 1983 but never appeared in a game.


After his brief fling with the Blues, Rogers continued playing senior baseball on Vancouver Island while working as a Nanaimo firefighter. In 1988, at the age of 30, Cleve Dheensaw of the Times Colonist called Rogers “the best hitter in the Cosmopolitan Senior Baseball League.” (11)


During the 1980s, Roy Moretti was a teammate of Rogers on various Vancouver Island squads. Moretti grew up in Victoria and played professionally for the Victoria Mussels from 1978-79. He also pitched in the Minors with affiliate teams of Oakland, San Diego and Baltimore. The 1983 Roger Kahn book Good Enough to Dream, describes a season Moretti spent with the Utica Blue Sox. When professional baseball returned to Victoria in 2003, both Rogers and Moretti threw out the ceremonial first pitch before a Victoria Capitals game on May 31, 2003.


Rogers also coaches youth baseball in Nanaimo. In 2001, he managed a Nanaimo Babe Ruth team (16 to 18 years old) to a Pacific Northwest Regional championship and a trip to the World Series.



The Rogers family is heavily involved with baseball. Dan’s son, Brad Rogers, was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in 1999 out of Wellington Senior Secondary. He went on to pitch seven years in the minors. In 2003, Brad played for the Victoria Capitals and appeared in the Canadian Baseball League All-Star Game.

Doug Rogers, Dan’s brother, also played baseball on Vancouver Island. He was a long-time head coach and now assistant with the Mid Island Senior Pirates. Doug’s twin sons, Alex and Brady Rogers played for the Victoria Harbourcats in 2015.


Dan Rogers continues as a coach and umpire in Nanaimo. He recently helped to get lights added to Serauxmen Stadium for the Nanaimo Nightowls. From a goaltender with the Victoria Cougars at age 15 to a lifetime on the diamond, Dan Rogers continues to help grow baseball on Vancouver Island.


- Craig Richardson - CougarsHockeyProject@protonmail.com


Notes:

1. “Saanich Braves win Bantam Hockey Titles” March 20, 1972 (Page 12 of 38). Victoria Times (1971-1980)

2. “Four Clippers Make All-Stars” January 14, 1975 (Page 10 of 28). Victoria Times (1971-1980)

3. “Firefighters Hit Title Note” August 1, 1974 (Page 14 of 38) - Victoria Times (1971-1980)

4. “League Champs Bid For Playoff Crown” July 9, 1974 (Page 10 of 28). Victoria Times (1971-1980)

5. “City Teams Eye Crowns” July 25, 1975 (Page 16 of 56). Victoria Times (1971-1980)

6. The Victoria team in the Northwest League was known as the Victoria Mussels from 1978-1979. To start the 1980 season, new ownership changed the name to the Victoria Blues.

7. “Southpaw’s heat a plus for Blues” June 16, 1980 (Page 16 of 44). Victoria Times (1971-1980)

8. “Blues Sign ex-Cougar” July 19, 1980, (Page 24) The Daily Colonist

9. “Brief fling with Blues Perplexes ex-Cougar” Tom Keyser, July 29, 1980 (Page 8) The Daily Colonist

10. Thanks to Gregg Drinnan for providing this information

11. “Better image is aim as senior baseball starts play Sunday Cleve Dheensaw, April 29, 1988 (Page 19 of 88). Times Colonist (1980-2010) 1988 Apr 29(137):19.

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