Seattle Totems

1968-75 – The Decline and Fall of the Totems

1966-68 saw the Totems finish second in the WHL twice and win two WHL championships.  Who could have guessed that in the final six seasons of their existence they would only make two more trip to the playoffs (without winning a series), witness the folding of the WHL, and see Seattle gain and then lose an NHL franchise?

1968-69 – The Totems had a down year after their back-to-back championships of the last two seasons, finishing in fourth place with a 33-30-11 mark – the last time that the franchise would finish with a record over .500.  It would also be the last season during which 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, and they finished the regular season tied for fourth place and the final playoff spot with Phoenix.  A one game playoff was won by Seattle, who finished the regular season 30-35-8.  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 Seattle was defeated by Portland in the first round, four game to two.  It would be the last appearance that the Totems would make in the playoffs.  Coach Bill MacFarland would leave 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 only 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.  Former NHLer Larry Popein was the coach for just this season.

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 (left wearing #16) 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 which 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 to be 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 they 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 would become 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 Seattle would finish out of the playoffs.  There was still some excitement in Seattle, as both the Czechoslovakia Army Team and the Russian National Team came into 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 before the Totems scored twice. 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 after the 1973-74 season was finished, 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.  The Totems would again finish 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 all the way 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.

John Hanna Game Used Stick

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