Guyle Fielder

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© Jeff Obermeyer 2000-2009

In the eyes of many fans, being referred to as the greatest minor leaguer of all time would seem to be a dubious distinction. Most assume that if a player had a long career in the minors it means that he simply wasn’t good enough to play in the NHL. While there is some truth to that line of thinking, particularly in the 30-team NHL of today, it wasn’t always the case. Prior to the first expansion in 1967, the NHL consisted of only six teams and roster sizes were smaller than today. It was much more difficult to crack the lineup of an NHL club, and many excellent players spent the majority of their careers in the minors. It was during this era that many of the best minor leaguers of all time played, and the greatest of them all was Guyle Fielder.

Born in Potlach, Idaho in 1930, Fielder was raised in Nipawin, Saskatchewan. He played junior hockey with the Lethbridge Native Sons, leading the WCJHL in scoring during both of his full seasons there. In 1945, at the age of fifteen, Fielder signed his first professional contract with the Chicago Black Hawks for a $100 signing bonus. He made his pro debut with them at the tail end of the 1950-51 season, appearing in three games and being kept off the scoring sheet.

There has always been a lingering question about Fielder’s career – why did a player with so much talent not get a chance to prove himself in the NHL? Part of the answer lies in the limited number of jobs available in the NHL during Fielder’s most productive years. Also, in the era before free agency, the only way for a team to acquire the rights to a player was through a trade or a cash purchase, and other clubs may have been scared away by the asking price. It wasn’t uncommon for a quality player to languish in the minors simply because it allowed club holding his rights to prevent the competition from getting better. There is also a question of motivation on Fielder’s part. After all, he made a good living in the WHL and was one of the league’s top stars. There wasn’t necessarily a lot of incentive for him to move up to the NHL where he would be forced to re-establish himself and possibly even take a pay cut. There isn’t one answer to the question, it’s likely more a combination of various factors that when taken together resulted in Fielder having a long and distinguished career in the WHL.

Over the course of 22 seasons as a pro, Fielder scored 2,037 points, all of them in the minors. He is the player most identified with hockey in Seattle and his time in the city coincided with the greatest era of success for the sport, both on the ice and in terms of attendance. To this day he is still remembered fondly by local hockey fans, skating down the ice with number “7” on his back, making a no look pass to a streaking winger for a goal. He is now and likely will always be the greatest player in the history of hockey in Seattle.

His first full season of pro hockey was with the New Westminster Royals of the PCHL in 1951-52, and his 25 goals and 75 points earned him the league’s Rookie of the Year award. He was assigned to the St. Louis Flyers of the AHL the following season, and for the second straight year received Rookie of the Year honors. He also got his second shot at the NHL, suiting up for four games during the 1952 playoffs with the Detroit Red Wings, who had acquired his rights.

Fielder was farmed out to the Seattle Bombers for the 1953-54 season, his first in the city where he would go on to have his greatest success. He played 15 seasons in Seattle from 1953-69 with the Bombers, Americans and Totems (he played with New Westminster in 1954-55 when the Seattle franchise dropped out of the league), setting the franchise regular season records for games played (1,036), goals (323), assists (1,099) and total points (1,422). Along the way he earned six MVP awards, led the league in assists 12 times, and led the league in scoring nine times.

A small player at 5’ 9” tall and 160 pounds, Fielder was known throughout hockey for his passing skills, and a number of players had career years when skating on lines he centered. Ray Kinasewich put together back-to-back 40+ goal seasons with the Americans on Fielder’s line, the only time in his career that he ever scored more than 31 goals in season, and Wayne Brown’s 49 goals in 1953-54 while skating alongside Fielder were 19 more than he scored in any other season. Because his assist statistics are so impressive, his goal scoring prowess is often overlooked. While he never led the league in goals, during his time in Seattle Fielder averaged 21 goals per season.

The Red Wings brought him to training camp in the fall of 1957, and Fielder got his last shot at the NHL. He opened the 1957-58 season in Detroit, but received limited ice time during the first six games of the season. More than anything Fielder wanted to play, not watch, and he asked Detroit general manager Jack Adams to send him back to Seattle. The Americans welcomed him back with open arms, and despite missing the first eight games of the season he led the league with 111 points and earned his second MVP award. His NHL career was finished after 15 games spread over four seasons with three different teams (Chicago, Boston and Detroit). The all-time minor league scoring leader didn’t score a single point in the NHL.

Back in Seattle, Fielder led the Totems to three WHL championships and five trips to the league finals. He was the cornerstone of the team, the one constant in a sea of changing players. He retired briefly following the 1968-69 season but returned to play for former teammate Ray Kinasewich, the coach of the expansion franchise in Salt Lake City. He remained with the Eagles until January of 1972 when he was traded to the Portland Buckaroos, where he remained until he retired for good following the 1972-73 season.