1974-75 - Victoria Cougars Season in Review

After going through four coaches in three years, Paddy Ginnell brought stability to the Cougars and guided them to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. They were the surprise team in the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL) as they not only made the playoffs, they finished the regular season in first place with 47 wins and 99 points, eleven points ahead of second-place Medicine Hat.

In the previous three years, the Cougars were often intimidated and pushed around so Ginnell, in his first full season as coach/GM, demanded a more physical style of play. To add toughness, Ginnell reacquired Kim Clackson from Flin Flon and named him team captain. The hard-hitting defenceman provided strong leadership with 33 points and 359 penalty minutes.

Coinciding with the increase in overall toughness, the Cougars were the WCHL’s highest-scoring team. Four players had 100 point seasons - Mel Bridgman (157), Peter Morris (115), Danny Lucas (113) and Jim Gustafson (102). In his second year with the Cougars, Bridgman developed into Canada’s top junior prospect, leading the WCHL in scoring with 66 goals in 66 games. They also received big contributions from their sixteen old rookies - Lucas, Gordie Roberts (64 points) and Curt Fraser (49 points). Victoria born Rick Lapointe scored 70 points and was named the WCHL Top Defenceman. Veteran Bob Leslie, acquired from the Regina Pats in the off-season, picked up thirty wins as the Cougars starting goaltender.

In the postseason, the Cougars lost the first two games of their opening-round playoff matchup against the fourth place Kamloops Chiefs. In Game 3 of the series, Ginnell made a change in goal replacing Bob Leslie with Gerry Simpson, who only played two games in the regular season. This move sparked the Cougars as they went on to four straight victories to win the series with Leslie returning to the crease in Game 4.

After winning their first playoffs series in franchise history, the Cougars faced the New Westminster Bruins in the WCHL semi-finals. Similar to the matchup against Kamloops, the Cougars lost the first two games but could not recover this time and were eliminated by the Bruins in six games. Injuries hit the Cougars (they had just four healthy defencemen at one point) and their high powered offence was shut down for the majority of the series by Bruins goaltender Gordie Laxton, who set a record in the regular season by playing in every game. Hal Phillipoff of the Bruins made his presence with his play-making and an ugly incident with Mel Bridgman.

Near the end of Game 5, with the Cougars holding a 6-3 lead, Phillipoff sucker-punched Bridgman from behind, breaking his jaw and knocking out two teeth. Bridgman actually came back to play the next game, wearing a protective helmet (see picture), scoring two goals. Although Bridgman returned for Game 6, they were without their best defenceman Rick Lapointe with a broken wrist. The Cougars started the game strong jumping out to a 4-1 lead in the second period but the Bruins came back, led by Phillipoff with four assists, to win 8-6 and eliminate the Cougars from the playoffs four games to two.

The success of the Cougars caught the attention of the National Hockey League as seven players were selected at the 1975 entry draft. Mel Bridgman was picked first overall by the Philadelphia Flyers (the only time in Cougars franchise history) and Rick LaPointe selected a few picks later, fifth overall by the Detroit Red Wings. In the second round, Dan Cairns was picked by Kansas City, Kim Clackson and Jim Gustaffson were selected in the fifth round with Peter Morris and Eric Sanderson chosen in the sixth round.


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