Seattle Breakers

In 1977 the Kamloops Chiefs of the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL) moved to Seattle and were renamed the Seattle Breakers.  The WCHL was a Junior A hockey league featuring players between the ages of 14 and 20 years old.  The league would be renamed the Western Hockey League for the start of the 1978-79 season, and remains intact today as one of the three junior leagues which make up the CHL – Canadian Hockey League. 

The championship of the CHL is determined at a round robin tournament at the end of each season.  The three league champions, along with the team from the host city, play for the coveted Memorial Cup.

The leagues of the CHL are one of the main proving grounds for future NHLers, and NHL teams draft many of their prospects every year from the leagues.  These players will later go on to populate the various minor leagues throughout North America, and a lucky few get their chance at the big time in the NHL.

1977-78 – The new Seattle Breakers played in the Seattle Center Ice Arena, now know to most local fans as the "Mercer Street Arena".  It has a seating capacity of about 4,100, which was more than enough for the new team which had trouble drawing fans throughout it’s history.  Les Calder was the coach for the inaugural season.

The Breakers had a good year, finishing 32-28-12.  However, they were in the tough Western Division and that record left them in fourth (and last) place at season’s end.  It’s a shame, because that record would have given the team a second place finish in either the East or Central Divisions.  As a result of the last place finish, the Breakers did not make it to the playoffs.

There was some excitement in Seattle, as the Breakers played an exhibition game against the Moscow Selects, an all-star team of Russians which was touring North America.  The overmatched Breakers lost a competitive game by a final score of 5-3.

Seattle was led offensively by the league’s fourth leading scorer, Errol Rausse, who tallied 62 goals and 92 assists during the 72 game season.  Another important player in the Breakers success was Ryan Walter (left) who finished the season with 125 points (54 goals and 71 assists) in only 62 games.  Walter would be drafted in the first round of the 1978 NHL Entry Draft, selected second overall by the Washington Capitals.  He would go on to a 15 year NHL career with Washington and Montreal, never having played a game in the minors.

Seattle was well represented on the All-Star team, with Walter being named to the First Team.  He was joined by Errol Rausse and Dwayne Lowdermilk on the Second Team.  Walter’s season was also good enough to garner him the WCHL’s Most Valuable Player award.

1978-79 – Unfortunately Seattle would suffer another fourth place finish in the West Division, with a 21-40-11 record.  For the second straight season the Breakers would finish out of the playoffs. 

Errol Rausse would again lead the team in scoring, with 65 goals and 47 assists.  He was also named the league’s Most Sportsmanlike Player.  Another highlight was the play of defenseman Tim Hunter who scored 49 points while racking up 300 penalty minutes.  Hunter would later go on to a long and distinguished NHL career.  Both Rausse (2nd round, 24th overall) and Hunter (3rd round, 54th overall) would be selected in the 1979 NHL Draft.  No members of the team were named to the all-star team.

1979-80 – The league contracted to two divisions, West (four teams) and East (8 teams).  The Breakers started the season all right with a 19-21-1 record as of January 18.  Then the bottom completely fell out and the team went 0-17-1 over their next 18 games (including 14 straight losses).  Amazingly at the end of this slide, they would win 10 of the final 13 games of the season to finish third in the West, posting a 29-41-2 record under new coach Monte Miron.  The Breakers continued to struggle at the gate, drawing around 1,000 fans per game.

The Breakers would face the Russians in an exhibition for the second time in three years, this time taking on Moscow Spartak of the Soviet First Division on December 12, 1979. The Russians were on an 8 game tour of the WHL, and were coming off wins against Victoria (14-3) and New Westminster (11-1). The Breakers borrowed a complete five player line from Portland for the game which included future NHLer Dave Babych on the blueline. A crowd of 2,700 was on hand as the Russians beat the Breakers 7-4, quite an accomplishment for the junior players from Seattle (and Portland) against a much older and more experienced Soviet squad.

The Breakers also took on the Swedish National Junior Team on December 29, 1979, and came away with a 7-2 victory. Danny Held led the way with a hat trick, and John Neeld had four assists. A sparse crowd of 1,407 was on hand to see the game.

The first round of the West Division playoffs featured a three team, round robin tournament.  Seattle (4-4) and Victoria (5-3) eliminated Portland (3-5), and then Victoria knocked off Seattle in the division finals four games to none.

John Neeld led the team in scoring with 36 goals and 61 assist, followed by defenseman Tim Hunter (14 goals, 53 assists, 311 PIM).  For the second straight year the Breakers would have no all-stars on the first or second teams.  Three players were selected in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft, with Joe Ward (2nd round, 22nd overall) being the highest pick.

1980-81 – The Breakers managed another third place finish in the now 5 team West Division, finishing 26-46-0.  Things got so tight financially that coach Monte Miron was fired with 7 games remaining in the season because the team could no longer afford to pay him.  He was replaced by one of his players, Mike Mesic, who would lead the team to a 2-5 record down the stretch, followed by a quick first round departure from the playoffs as Seattle was beaten by Portland four games to one.

One former team employee told me that the season was like "a low-budget version of Slap Shot in the front office", complete with an owner who kept a well stocked liquor cabinet, and his "trophy wife" who made personnel decisions.  Did I mention that the organ player was blind, and used to listen to the radio broadcasts to know when to play?  Unfortunately no one told him there was a 7 second delay in the broadcast…. seriously.  This really happened.

Alan Graves led the team in scoring with 47 goals and 43 assists.  For the third year in a row there would be now Breakers named to the first or second all-star teams, and no Breaker player was selected in the 1981 NHL Draft.

1981-82 – The Breakers continued to wallow in mediocrity, posting a 36-34-2 record good for third in the West Division.  Spokane dropped out after 26 games, leaving the division with four teams for the remainder of the season.

Jack Sangster was the team’s new coach, and the Breakers became known as "Sangster’s Gangsters" as they terrorized the league.  The team featured 13 players with more than 100 minutes in penalties each, led by Mitch Wilson with 436 (he still managed to score 35 points on the season).  Even leading scorer Wayne Prestage (50 goals, 58 assist) got into the act, racking up 197 minutes.  Sangster was named the Coach of the Year at season’s end.

In the playoffs, Seattle finally picked up a win in the first round by sweeping Victoria four game to none.  It was then on to the division finals, where Portland outlasted Seattle in a bloodbath of fights and bench-clearing brawls to win the series four games to two.

While the Breakers again were shut out as far as first and second team all-stars go, they did have 6 players selected in the NHL Draft, with Ken Daneyko being selected in the first round (18th overall) by New Jersey, where he still plays to this day.

1982-83 – Sangster’s Gangsters dropped to fourth place, with a 24-47-1 record in the six team West Division.  There really wasn’t much to cheer about, the team didn’t stand out in any way.  Fred Ledlin was the leading scorer (50 goals, 59 assists), and no one even came close to 300 penalty minutes (Phil Stanger led with 275). 

In January of 1983 the Breakers made what is undoubtedly the strangest trade in the history of hockey.  Seattle owned the rights to forward Tom Martin, who was playing with the University of Denver.  They traded his rights to the Victoria Cougars "for a used bus and future considerations" (quote from Total Hockey, 2nd ed.).  When asked about the trade years later, Breakers owner John Hamilton stated "It may have been the best deal I ever made."  What did Martin have to say about the deal?  "I heard the bus was a really nice one."

The playoffs were practically over before they started, as Portland knocked off the Breakers four games to none in the first round.  Again Seattle was shut out of the all-star first and second teams, and no one was selected in the 1983 NHL Draft.

1983-84 – Former Seattle Totem Marc Boileau took over the coaching duties, and led the Breakers to another boring fourth place finish, although they improved to 32-39-1.  It was more of the same in the playoffs, though, as Kamloops did the honors and swept Seattle five games to none.

Alan Kerr led the offense with 46 goals and 66 assists.  Kerr and defenseman Gary Stewart were both named to the First Team of the West Division All-Stars.  Brent Severyn was the only player selected in the 1984 draft, picked in the 5th round (99th overall) by Winnipeg.

The "Hottest Thing on Ice" (left), eh?  It should read, "A Mediocre Team Wearing Pants"…

1984-85 – This was another down season for the club, as they finished with a 25-44-3 mark and in fifth place in the West Division.  It was the first time since 1978-79 that Seattle would not make it to the playoffs.

Scott Robinson led the team in scoring with 44 goals and 53 assists.  He and John Kordic would be named West Division Second Team All-Stars .  The 1985 NHL Entry Draft featured three players from Seattle selected, led by Brian MacFarlane in the 7th round (130th overall).  The last Seattle player chosen, Jame Huscroft (9th round, 171st overall) would go on to a long NHL career with a number of different teams.

One player making his WHL at the age of 14 would go on to be a fixture in Seattle for six years, and would be the only player to have his number (#10) retired by the team.  That young man was named Glen Goodall, and his 26 points in 1984-85 was no indication of what was to come.

Seattle picked up brawler John Kordic from Portland early in the season.  He had a fine season in Seattle, tallying 53 points and 154 penalty minutes in 46 games.  He would go on to play seven seasons in the NHL before his untimely death in August of 1992 while fighting with a dozen police officers in a Quebec hotel room.  The combination of alcohol, cocaine and steroids in his system was too much for his body to handle, and the 27 year old suffered  a fatal heart attack during the altercation.

After the season the Breakers were sold to new owners and renamed the Seattle Thunderbirds.  The Thunderbirds continued in the WHL, and they still play in the league today.

When the smoke cleared, the Breakers finished with a record of 225-319-32 over the course of 8 seasons.  Their playoff mark was 11-21, although they did get to play in the West Division Finals twice.

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