Disappointment was the best description of the Cougars first two years in the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL). In 1972/73 they finished the season with only thirteen wins, five less than the eighteen win total from their 1971/72 inaugural season. The Cougars were not competitive in many games, physically intimated by their opponents and have yet to qualify for the playoffs. Fans were getting impatient, so General Manager Eric Bishop made numerous changes on and off the ice going into the 1973/74 season.
Walter “Ollie” Dorohoy was hired as the new head coach - their fourth coach in three years. Dorohoy was an all-star with the New Westminster Royals of the Western Hockey League in the 1940’s and 1950’s but it was three years since his last coaching job with the New Westminster Royals of the BC Junior Hockey League.
In the October 4, 1973 Daily Colonist, Stan Cooper predicted a vastly improved team that could finish as high as third place, “the team is nearly set and looks to be the strongest aggregation since Cougars joined the WCHL.” Even with all the changes and high expectations, the Cougars could not find any early success. The season got off a to poor start with a humiliating 9-2 loss at home to the Calgary Centennials. Defense was a big concern and the Cougars continued to bring in new players to shore up the blueline. After 20 games, the Cougars showed no improvement as they had the third worst record in the league with only five wins and continued to be blown out of most games allowing an average of 5.75 goals a game. Just before Christmas, Dorohoy was fired during an eastern road trip (although they let him coach until the team returned to Victoria) and GM Eric Bishop resigned. Dorohoy and Bishop were replaced by Pat “Paddy” Ginnell who became head coach, general manager and part owner (purchasing Bishop’s share). This was the most significant move in the Cougars three year franchise history as Ginnell was the winningest junior coach in western Canada, guiding the Flin Flon Bombers to three WCHL championships.
Ginnell was described as a “fiery performer, both in practices and at games. He intends to install this same fire into the players” and stated his intentions right away in an interview with the Daily Colonist on December 22, 1973.
“Victoria has the reputation of being the graveyard for junior hockey players and that’s going to change right away. I want every player on the team to be proud to wear the Cougar uniform”
He also gave an indication of the new physical style he wanted the Cougars to play when he concluded the interview by saying, “I’m going to stress bodychecking in our first practice.”
On the ice, the team was led by Brad Anderson, acquired in an offseason trade from the Regina Pats, with 47 goals and 95 points. The Cougars farm system started developing impact players as rookies Mel Bridgeman and Rick Lapointe came up from the Nanaimo Clippers to provide a spark with their offense and a physical presence. Mark Lomenda scored 28 goals but it was a signficant dropoff of the 52 he scored the previous season with Calgary. One of Ginnell’s first trades was to pick up goalie Jim Foubister from Winnipeg and he quickly established himself as the starting goaltender winning sixteen games. The Cougars slowly improved under Ginnell’s strict disciplinarian style, finishing with their best record in franchise history. Unfortunately it was wasn’t enough as the Cougars finished in fifth place for the third straight season, seven points out of playoff spot.
Five Cougars were selected in the 1974 National Hockey League (NHL) entry draft - Brad Anderson (third round), Mark Lomenda (fifth round), Mike Thompson (fifth round), Jim Foubister (ninth round) and Glen Ing (thirteenth round). None of the Cougars drafted in 1974 ever played in the NHL. Cam Conner attended the Cougars in training camp in 1973, but was traded at the end of preseason to the Flin Flon Bombers. Conner went on to score 91 points with the Bombers and was selected in the first round (fifth overall) by the Montreal Canadiens.