Seattle Americans

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© Jeff Obermeyer 2000-2009

Attendance had been on the decline in the early 1950s, and Seattle Bombers’ owner Frank Dotten was in financial trouble. The Western Hockey League allowed the franchise to suspend operations for the 1954-55 season, but when Dotten remained insolvent it stepped in and purchased the team. League president Al Leader knew Seattle was an important city for the WHL, being both the largest and the only one in the U.S. He eventually helped put together a six person ownership group headed by Bill Veneman, the manager of Seattle television station KTVW. In addition to having the money necessary to run the team, Veneman knew sports marketing and promotion – after all, his station televised Seattle Rainiers baseball.

The group budgeted $125,000 for operations and promotions and quickly set up 14 billboards in the city advertising the return of hockey to Seattle. NHL veteran and former player-coach of the Victoria Cougars Bill Reay was hired to coach the new team, signing a three-year, $30,000 contract that gave him complete control over personnel decisions. Along with the new owners and coach came a new name for the team – the Seattle Americans.

1955-56 – The Americans earned a respectable 31-37-2 record, though still finished in the cellar of their division. It was a physical team, becoming the first club ever in the professional PCHL/WHL to register over 1,000 penalty minutes in a season, and their 1,046 PIMs remained a league record until 1972-73. Ironically, star forward Val Fonteyne played in all 70 games during the season without earning a single trip to the penalty box.

Guyle Fielder, having returned from a one-year stint in New Westminster, led the team in scoring (18-61-79), while goaltender Charlie Hodge appeared between the pipes in every minute of every game, a feat replicated only one more time in Seattle hockey history (Claude Dufour, 1963-64).

1956-57 – The Americans finally turned it around on the strength of another huge year by Fielder and veteran Rudy Filion. Seattle went from worst to first in the Coast Division, leading the way with a 36-28-6 record. Keith Allen was the new head coach, a position he held for the next nine seasons.

Guyle Fielder had the greatest scoring season in professional hockey history to that point, with 33 goals, 89 assists and 122 points. It was third time that he led the league in assists, and was first of five consecutive assist crowns. The overall points leadership was the first of four consecutive points titles, and he won his first (of six) league Most Valuable Player awards.

Joining Fielder as First Team All-Stars were linemate Ray Kinasewich (44 goals) and defenseman Gordie Sinclair. Future Hall-of-Famer Emile "the Cat" Francis (right, with Val Fonteyne) was named a Second Team All-Star in his only season in Seattle.

Unfortunately Seattle’s domination didn’t carry over into the playoffs, as they were downed four games to two by New Westminster in the first round.

1957-58 – Fielder had another amazing year, earning his second consecutive Coast Division MVP award by leading the league in assists (85) and points (111) despite missing eight games at the start of the season while playing with the Detroit Red Wings in the NHL. Rookie Bill MacFarland, who later became coach of the Seattle Totems and president of the WHL, picked up 31 goals and 59 points.

The club finished the season at 32-32-6 and qualified for the playoffs, defeating New Westminster in the first round to tally the first playoff series win for the franchise since the the old PCHL turned professional in 1948-49. The team had solid nucleus of players who were gaining valuable experience playing together, and it was on the verge of a breakout season. That season would come in 1958-59.

Seattle Americans Rudy Filion (left, #6) and Alex Kuzma (right, #12) battle it out against the New Westminster Royals.

Filion played 14 seasons in Seattle, finishing second all-time in career games played (887), goals (316), and assists (553). Amazingly he

only earned 82 penalty minutes during that time, averaging one minor penalty every 21 games.