Seattle Totems

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© Jeff Obermeyer 2000-2009

When Seattle hockey fans reminisce about the “good old days”, the team they talk about is the Totems. Re-branded and renamed by the new ownership group for the start of the 1958-59 season, the franchise was a continuation of the Isaacson Ironmen team of 1943-44, going through numerous name changes and surviving a one-year hiatus due to financial difficulties.

The decade from 1958-68 is one of the two “golden ages” of Seattle hockey (the other was the 1917-20 era that saw the Metropolitans play for the Stanley Cup three times). During the era the Totems appeared in five WHL finals, winning three championships, and five times the league MVP played in Seattle (four awards for Guyle Fielder, one for Bill MacFarland). The franchise fell from its lofty perch after 1968 and despite some good players and notable accomplishments quickly faded from prominence.

The summaries below are fairly brief given the storied nature of the team. A more thorough examination is done in my book Emerald Ice.

1958-59 – The Totems dominated the Coast Division in the regular season, finishing with a 40-27-3 record. Guyle Fielder led the league in scoring for the third straight year with 24 goals, 95 assists, and 119 points – the third season in a row that he put up over 100 points, and earning him his second straight Coast Division MVP. Other league leaders included Tom McVie, with nine game-winning goals, and Frank Arnett with 210 penalty minutes, a new league record.

The First Team All-Star squad was comprised almost entirely of Totems, featuring Fielder and Val Fonteyne as forwards, Gordie Sinclair on the blueline, and Bev Bentley in goal.

Seattle’s dominance continued in the playoffs. After sweeping Victoria three games to none, they knocked off Vancouver in the division finals four games to one to make it into the finals against Calgary. The Totems were much too strong for the Prairie Division champs, sweeping the Stampeders four games to none to win their first WHL championship. When the smoke cleared, they had put up an 11-1 playoff record and had outscored their opponents by a 44-20 margin, including two shutouts.

1959-60 – The WHL contracted to seven teams and did away with the two division format. The Totems were strong again, finishing the regular season in second place at 38-28-4, and for the second year in a row led the league in scoring. How good was the offense? It was the only year in history that the three leading scorers in the league were all from the same team – Guyle Fielder (95 points), Bill MacFarland (86) and Rudy Filion (85). In addition, Marc Boileau and Tom McVie finished sixth and seventh in league scoring.

For the fourth year in a row Fielder led the league in assists and total points, and picked up his third straight MVP award. Frank Arnett led the league in penalties for the second straight year with 183. Seattle was also well represented with two First Team All-Stars (Fielder and Gordie Sinclair) and two Second Team All-Stars (MacFarland and Boileau). Even coach/general manager Keith Allen got into the act, as he was named the Minor League Executive of the Year by The Hockey News.

Unfortunately none of this did the Totems any good come playoff time. They were swept by Victoria, four games to none, getting outscored 14-4 in the process.

1960-61 – The Totems sank to fourth place in the eight team league, but still had a solid record at 37-28-5. Filion, MacFarland and Fielder finished third, fourth and fifth respectively in the scoring race. Even though he only finished fifth in scoring overall, Fielder still managed to lead the league in assists for the fifth straight year with 71. He was also the only Totem to make the all-star team (Second Team).

In the first round of the playoffs Seattle bumped off the regular season champs from Calgary, four game to one to earn a spot in the finals against Portland. It was a tight series, but the Buckaroos prevailed four games to two to win their first WHL title, doing so in their first year in the league.

1961-62 – It was another transitional season for the WHL. The Victoria and Winnipeg franchises left the league and were replaced by teams in San Francisco and Los Angeles. As a result, the WHL went back to a divisional format with a Northern Division and Southern Division of four teams each.

The Totems 36-29-5 record was only good enough for third in the Northern Division, and led them to a best of three playoff series with Calgary. Calgary won the series two games to none.

Rudy Filion led the team in scoring with 21 goals and 63 assists, but Bill MacFarland (left) was the real story. MacFarland led the league with 46 goals and was named the league MVP. Al Millar was also honored as the league’s top goalie, and both he and MacFarland were named First Team All-Stars.

1962-63 -While Seattle’s record (35-33-2) was slightly worse than the year before, the Totems moved up in the standings to finish the regular season second in the Northern Division. Fielder bounced back from a disappointing 1961-62 season to again lead the league in assists (80) and total points (102), and Bob Barlow led the league in goals with 47. Fielder and Sinclair were named First Team All-Stars, and were joined by Second Team All-Star Barlow.

The Totems got off to a good start in the playoffs, beating Edmonton two games to one in the first round on Barlow’s overtime winner in game three. In the Northern Division finals, Vancouver jumped out to a quick two games to none lead and led the series 3-2 going into game 6 in Seattle. Game 6 was a rough affair, with Seattle coming from behind in the third period for a 4-3 win. The game also featured a bench-clearing brawl in the third, and a second brawl started with 2 seconds remaining when Seattle netminder Al Millar skated to the Vancouver bench to go after forward Jim Baird, who had slashed him earlier in the game. Game 7 in Vancouver was a laugher, as the Totems came away with an 8-2 win and the series.

Seattle earned the right to face San Francisco in the WHL finals, but unfortunately the Civic Arena was booked and all the games had to be played in San Francisco. It was a truly classic series, with the Totems taking a three games to one lead before collapsing and losing the final three games. Four of the seven games, including games 6 and 7, were decided in overtime.

1963-64 – With the loss of Edmonton and Calgary, the WHL was once again a six team league. The Totems had an off year, finishing 29-35-6, and the fifth place finish left them out of the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons. The only real positive was the stellar play of Fielder, who led the league in assists (85) and total points (102) for the second consecutive year and won his fifth MVP award.

Newcomer Larry “Rock” Zeidel (right) made things interesting with a number of brutal fights, including a stick-swinging duel with Willie O’Ree that netted him a four game suspension. Zeidel also received an ejection for throwing the penalty box bench onto the ice in protest of a call.

1964-65 – Seattle rebounded from the disappointment of the previous season to finish in second with a 36-30-4 record. Guyle Fielder led the league in assists (78) and points (92) for the third straight year. The First Team All-Stars featured two Totems, Jim McLeod and Gordie Sinclair, and Fielder was named to the Second Team. McLeod was also named the league’s outstanding goalkeeper.

Zeidel once again made news for all the wrong reason, receiving a suspension after spitting on referee Willie Papp. For the second consecutive season he led the team in penalty minutes, this time eclipsing the 200-minute barrier with 202.

The playoffs were a disappointment, as Seattle fell to Victoria in the first round four games to three. It was the last season for coach Keith Allen, though he stayed on for one more season as general manager. Allen later joined the front office of the expansion Philadelphia Flyers of the NHL.

1965-66 – For the first time the WHL played an interlocking schedule with the American Hockey League (AHL). Each team made one long road trip across the country to face their counterparts in the other league. Seattle, under new coach Bobby Kromm, did not fare well and fell back to fifth place with a 32-37-3 record. The fifth place finish kept them out of the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.

Fielder led the team in scoring with 94 points, but this was only good enough for fourth best in the league. However, his 75 assists led the league for the fourth straight year. He also won the Hume Cup as the league’s "Most Gentlemanly Player". Seattle all-star selections included Fielder and Bill MacFarland, both named to the Second Team.

1966-67 – Bill MacFarland retired from playing took over the coaching duties from Bobby Kromm. In his first season as coach MacFarland led the team back to greatness, with a 39-26-7 second place regular season finish. It wasn’t as easy as it looked, as the team had only 4 wins 17 games into the season. Physical play and the best defense in the league were the keys, as the Totems pounded the opposition – and even their owners.

In a February 24 match-up in San Francisco, Noel Picard knocked out Seals owner Barry van Gerbig after the second period. Picard was in a shoving match with Seals goalie Jack McCartan by the dressing rooms, when van Gerbig pushed Picard. Noel responded with a right to the face of the owner. Said Picard after the game, "He was coming at me, so I hit him".

During the final game of the regular season against Portland, a bench clearing brawl broke out that resulted in $1,200 in fines being imposed by the league. It took referees 13 minutes to restore order, and amazingly only two players received penalties.

Fielder again led the way, leading the league in assists for the fifth straight season with 71, and total points with 91. He also won his sixth (and final) MVP award, and was awarded the Hume Cup for the second straight season. Joining Fielder on the all-star team were Bill Dineen and Howie Hughes, both Second Teamers. Jim McLeod was named the league’s top goaltender.

MacFarland led the big bad Totems into their opening round match-up with California (San Francisco), and they came away with a four games to two series victory. The WHL finals were an anti-climax, as the Totems swept Vancouver in four games to win their second WHL championship.

1967-68 – It was another solid year for the Totems, dubbed the "Jolly Green Giants" by the local press. They finished second in the standings again, posting a 35-30-7 record. Guyle Fielder led the league in assists (55) for the sixth straight season, the 12th time in the last 15 seasons. His 70 points topped the team, but were only good enough for third best in the league. The Totems had two First Team All-Stars (Don Head and Chuck Holmes) and two Second Team All-Stars (Larry Hale and Fielder).

It wasn’t all roses, though, as the Totems often allowed emotions to cloud their judgment. Holmes received a misconduct for a "threatening gesture" made towards an official, Fielder was ejected from a game for making contact with a ref, Earl Heiskala got a misconduct for pushing a linesman, and even coach MacFarland was ejected from a game for throwing a towel at a ref.

It was a rough year, but it was worth it as Seattle moved into the playoffs. Seattle faced Phoenix in the opening round, outscoring them 16-7 and sweeping them easily in four games. In the finals against archrivals Portland, the Totems picked up a win in game one but fell behind by a score of 6-2 after two periods during game 2 in Seattle. They got two goals in the first minute and a half of the third, and another about halfway through the period to cut the Buckaroos lead to 6-5. The Totems thought they had the tying goal late in the period, but it was waived off due to a high stick. With just over a minute to go Seattle pulled their goaltender, and scored with 19 seconds left in the game to tie it up. In overtime Fielder got the game winner in what announcer Bill Schonley called the greatest comeback in Seattle hockey history. The Totems went on to win the series in 5 games, finishing with an 8-1 record in the playoffs. The team was 16-3 in the playoffs over the past two seasons.

No one could have guessed that it would be the last time that the Totems would win a playoff series.

1968-69 – The Totems had a down year after their back-to-back championships, finishing in fourth place with a 33-30-11 mark – the last time that the franchise finished with a record over .500. It was also the last season Guyle Fielder played in Seattle – he would be traded to Salt Lake City for Bobby Schmautz at the beginning of the 1969-70 season.

Fielder finished third in the league in scoring with 20 goals and 74 assists, although he did not lead the league in any category nor did he make the all-star team. New teammate John Hanna (right) did, however, as he had a fantastic year on the blueline, scoring 25 goals and winning both the Laycoe Cup (Outstanding Defenseman) and the league MVP. He was joined as a First Team All-Star by Bob Courcy, who scored 43 goals on the season. The Totems also featured the WHL Rookie of the Year, Jack Michie (19 goals, 28 assists).

Seattle faced off against regular season champs Vancouver in the first round, and were promptly swept in four straight games. The lack of offense really hurt the team (and the defense wasn’t very good either) as Vancouver outscored the Totems 19-4 in the four games.

1969-70 – The Totems had another down year, finishing the regular season tied for fourth place and the final playoff spot with Phoenix. A one-game playoff was won by Seattle, giving the Totems a 30-35-8 record. The fact that they made the playoffs was amazing, as they had the worst offense and the third worst defense in the league.

Bob Courcy had another fine year, leading the team in scoring with 40 goals and 49 assists, good enough for 6th best in the league scoring race. He, along with John Hanna, were named Second Team All-Stars.

The playoffs were another disappointing affair, as Portland defeated Seattle in the first round, four game to two. It was the last appearance that the Totems made in the playoffs. Coach Bill MacFarland left the team at the end of the season to take over the job as league President. In his four seasons behind the bench MacFarland led the Totems to a 137-121-33 record and two WHL championships.

1970-71 – Seattle continued its downward slide in the standings, finishing in fifth place with a 27-36-9 record. The only bright spot for the team was defenseman John Hanna, who led the team in scoring (20 goals, 40 assists) and won his second Laycoe Cup in three years as Outstanding Defenseman. He was also named a First Team All-Star, the sole Totem honored. The Totems leading goal scorer, Gary Veneruzzo, only managed 27 goals on the season, and the team finished out of the playoffs for the first time since 1965-66.

1971-72 – Just when it seemed that things couldn’t get any lower for the Totems, the bottom dropped out. Seattle finished in last (sixth) place with a horrible 12-53-7 record. The 53 loses were the most in WHL history for a single season. Former Totem Chuck Holmes coached the sinking ship all season long.

The Totems only managed 175 goals on the season, the lowest total by a team in league history, while giving up a whopping 331 goals against. The offense was "led" by Jim Peters with 16 goals and 36 assists. Don Westbrooke was the only player to score over 20 goals that season (23).

Needless to say, Seattle finished well out of the playoffs for the second straight season.

Financially the season was a disaster as well, and owners Vince Abbey and Eldred Barnes sold a majority interest in the club to Northwest Sports, the company that owned the Vancouver Canucks of the NHL. The agreement allowed the Totems to survive as a farm team of the Canucks. Part of the agreement was that if Seattle was offered an NHL franchise, Abbey and Barnes would be entitled to purchase the team back from Northwest Sports.

1972-73 – Things improved for Seattle (how could they not), as the Totems climbed out of the cellar to post a 26-32-14 record. It was good enough for fifth place in the standings, but not good enough for a playoff spot. Bob Walton led the league in scoring with 40 goals and 61 assists, and Dave Dunn won the Laycoe Cup as the Outstanding Defenseman (19 goals, 56 assists, 147 PIM).

The highlight of the season took place on December 25, 1972, as the Totems squared off with the Russian National Team at the Coliseum. The game represented the first ever meeting between a Russian national team and a professional team in the United States. The Soviets were just one year removed from their fantastic Summit Series with the Canadians, in which the Canadian pros escaped with a 4-3-1 series win. The series was the international coming out party for a young Russian goaltender named Vladislav Tretiak, who was on his way to becoming a fixture between the pipes for over a decade.

The Totems were able to keep it close early, playing to a 4-4 tie half way through the second period in front of 12,000+ fans at the Coliseum. The Russians proved too strong, however, defeating the Totems 9-4 behind the hat trick of Aleksandr Yakushev.

1973-74 – The Totems remained stuck in fifth place, finishing the season 32-42-4. Danny Gloor led the way offensively with 36 goals and 48 assists, the best on the team in both categories. For the fourth straight season the Totems finished out of the playoffs. There was still some excitement in Seattle, as both the Czechoslovakia Army Team and the Russian National Team came to town for exhibitions.

On December 25, 1973 the Totems faced the Czechoslovakia Army Team. A crowd of 6,041 watched the Totems beat the Czechs 6-4 in a game which the Czechs protested due to the officiating. It was the third game in their tour of the WHL, and they had played to a pair of 2-2 ties in Spokane and Portland. The score was tied at 3-3 going into the third period, but the Totems scored twice more to open up a lead. The Czechs countered with one of their own, and Totems goaltender Bruce Bullock closed the door with a save against Czech captain Jan Hrbaty who came in on a breakaway with 75 seconds remaining. Seattle scored an empty net goal to end the game.

After beating the Czechs, the Totems took on the Russian National Team 11 days later on January 5, 1974. A crowd of over 12,700 was on hand to see the Totems upset the World Champions by an 8-4 mark. The Russians took a 2-1 lead early in the second period, but Seattle rallied behind Don Westbrooke’s hat trick to pick up the big win.

In April of 1974 the NHL announced that Seattle and Denver had been awarded franchises, both scheduled to begin play during the 1976-77 season. This contributed to the folding of the WHL following the 1973-74, and the Totems moved to the Central Hockey League (CHL) to await the launching of their NHL team.

1974-75 – The Totems finished last in the four team Northern Division of the CHL with a 29-38-11 record. It was another lackluster season, with Danny Seguin leading the scoring with 37 goals and 47 assists, topping the team in both categories, and the Totems again finished out of the playoffs.

Things went from bad to worse for Seattle in the spring of 1975, as Vince Abbey had trouble coming up with the money required by the NHL for the new franchise. He also tried to strike deals to buy either the San Francisco or the Pittsburgh franchises so that he could move them to Seattle for the 1975-76 season. The Totems had lost over $2,000,000 since Northwest Sports bought a portion of the team in 1972, and Abbey knew he couldn’t afford another year of losing money in the minors.

Eventually both the Seattle and Denver deals fell apart, and Denver got a WHA franchise. Abbey opted to sue the NHL for anti-trust violations, and the case dragged on until 1986 when it was finally thrown out by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In the meantime, Northwest Sports counter-sued Abbey for his share of the losses suffered by the Totems, eventually winning a judgment of over $1.3 million.

So ended professional hockey in Seattle… with a whimper. Seattle would never again have a professional hockey team, and no hockey at all until the junior league Seattle Breakers came to town in 1977.