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1974-75 - Victoria Cougars Season in Review

After going through four coaches in three years, Pat Ginnell brought stability. In 1974/75, they were the surprise team in the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL) as they not only made the playoffs for the first time, they finished first overall. Their record of 47 wins and 99 points placed them eleven points ahead of second-place Medicine Hat.

In the previous three years, the Cougars were often intimidated and pushed around, so Ginnell demanded a more physical style. To address this, 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 became the WCHL’s highest-scoring team. Four players achieved 100 point seasons - Mel Bridgman (157), Peter Morris (115), Danny Lucas (113) and Jim Gustafson (102). Bridgman developed into Canada’s top junior prospect, leading the WCHL in scoring with 157 points. 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 semi-finals. Similar to the matchup against Kamloops, the Cougars lost the first two games. This time, the Cougars could not recover and were eliminated by the Bruins in six games. Injuries hit Victoria as they had just four healthy defensemen at one point. Their high-powered offence was shut down by the superb play of Bruins goaltender Gordie Laxton. 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. Seven players were selected in the 1975 Amateur Draft. Mel Bridgman was picked first overall by the Philadelphia Flyers with Rick Lapointe going fifth overall to the Detroit Red Wings. In the second round, Dan Cairns was picked by Kansas City, Kim Clackson and Jim Gustaffson going in the fifth round with Peter Morris and Eric Sanderson chosen in the sixth


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