Monday, August 31, 2009

Scouts Notes: January 1976

• January 1976 proved to be a tumultuous and tortuous time for the Scouts. In doing research on the first year and a half of the Scouts existence, I’ve been somewhat surprised by the number of bright spots. The losses were never far apart when the Scouts played, but a nice victory here or individual performance there seems to have kept things from getting too bleak. Throughout the ’74-’75 season, there was reason to think the Scouts could take a large step forward the next year, and in the first half of ’75-’76, it appeared the Scouts were taking that step. They even had the playoffs in their sights halfway through the year.

But the occasional good times disappeared for good in 1976. The Scouts entered a free-fall that would end with their demise a few months later. Their captain was traded, their coach resigned amid controversy, and the losses piled up at a dizzying rate.

• Appropriately, the month started off with a couple of Scouts getting clubbed by the Philadelphia Flyers. Guy Charron received a seven-stitch gash above his eye and Craig Patrick a broken nose, both courtesy of high sticks from the Broad Street Bullies. “What we need is a couple of guys in here to do the same thing,” said coach Bep Guidolin. “It should be tit for tat. We ought to bring in a couple of butchers who can’t even skate.” (1/2/76 Times) There was a small bit of good news as Denis Dupere returned to the lineup in limited duty after separating his shoulder in practice the day after the first game of the season.

Fans were treated(?) to a Freddy Fender concert after the game.

• After dropping their fifth straight game on the 7th, Bep said, “We can’t sit back and wait too long to make a move. And we better do it quick while we still got a shot at the playoffs. I can still hear people in the stands who are sticking with us.” (1/8/76 Times) Bep didn’t have to wait; Simon Nolet, the prize of the ’74 expansion draft, captain of the team from day one, and the previous season’s team MVP, was shipped to Pittsburgh the very next day. (C) Ed Gilbert, another original Scout, went with him, and in return the Scouts received (F) Chuck Arnason and (D) Steve Durbano. Durbano was one of the top enforcers in the game at the time. He was third in the league in PIMs at the time of the trade, and finished the year at the top of the list. Guidolin had one of the “butchers” he was asking for. Little good it did them however, as the Scouts went 1-29-8 (.128) after the trade.

Bep said Durbano would “fire up the whole team and a whole building full of people.” (1/9/76
Star) Management no doubt hoped that adding a goon to the roster would stimulate ticket sales.

Arnason and Durbano debuted with the Scouts on the 10
th against the Rangers. Both got their names on the score sheet by assisting on a Denis Dupere goal in an 8-4 loss.

• Guy Charron was named captain on the 12th.

• GM Sid Abel wasn’t done trying to shake the Scouts out of their miserable play. On the 14th, while in Detroit, Abel sent (RW) Buster Harvey to the Red Wings in exchange for (RW) Phil Roberto an hour before the game. Both players dressed that night, just not for the teams they were expecting in the morning. According to Star reporter Steve Marantz, “Aside from Roberto’s face the Scouts looked the same: Terrible. Goalie Denis Herron continued his swoon in the nets, allowing two short-handed goals and a couple other bad ones among the 30 shots he faced.” (1/15/76 Times)

• After the game against the Red Wings, a group of eight players or more missed Guidolin’s curfew. Guidolin apparently singled out (D) Larry Johnston, and slapped only him with a fine and one-game suspension, served in the next night’s game at home against the Maple Leafs. Seven players came forward in Johnston’s defense, protesting they had also missed curfew. All were fined. “The fines levied by Guidolin come with the Scouts locked in a 9-game losing streak, the longest in their 2-year history, and with several roster changes having been made in the last 10 days. The Scouts’ performance has become increasingly ragged and it was suggested by one departing player that they had become fearful and apprehensive about their security. Several players have indicated privately that communication between Guidolin and the team has deteriorated and that the players’ confidence in Bep has dwindled. ‘I have not lost control of the team,’ said Guidolin yesterday.” (1/20/76 Times)

“Guidolin’s ultimatum to Abel (on the 21st) was either defenseman Larry Johnston be sent to Springfield of the American Hockey League or he would resign…Abel held a team meeting (on the 21st) Guidolin did not attend and afterwards told Guidolin that Johnston would remain with the team. An hour later Guidolin informed Abel of his resignation.” –Steven Marantz (1/22/76 Times)

Joe McGuff did a great job summarizing events leading to Guidolin’s resignation:

• While the coaching mess was unfolding back in Kansas City, Wilf Paiement was the Scouts sole representative at the All-Star game in Philadelphia on the 20th. Paiement said, “I think Guy (Charron) should have made it too. I gotta thank Guy and Craig (Patrick) too for being picked. The other guys have helped. I owe this to my teammates.” (1/17/76 Star) Wilf’s Campbell Conference fell to the Wales Conference 5-7. He does not show up on the score sheet, and the Star had no report on his appearance that I saw.

• Abel was forced to step behind the bench the very day that Guidolin resigned, as the Scouts hosted the Blues and ran their losing streak to ten. Abel didn’t feel too comfortable behind the bench, despite having coached 961 NHL games between 1954 and 1972. “‘I never did feel adjusted,’ he said. ‘I lost my voice. I was really afraid I’d have too many men on the ice or something. One time we didn’t have enough.’” (1/22/76 Times)

Abel was behind the bench for just two more games, both losses. The second game he coached was on the 23rd in California, and is notable for being goalie Bill Oleschuk’s only game with the Scouts. Oleschuk managed to stop 48 of the Seals’ 52 shots but took the loss as the Scouts could only score once. Oleschuk would go on to play 54 more NHL games, all with the Colorado Rockies between 1977—80. Oleschuk got the start because #1 goalie Denis Herron was laid up in the hospital for a week with a kidney stone. (Did I mention this month didn’t go so well for the Scouts?) Bill McKenzie played all of the other games in Herron’s absence.

• After Abel’s final game as a coach, he said, “I kind of enjoyed myself tonight.” (1/26/76 Star) Nevertheless, new coach Eddie Bush stepped in on the 28th in Minnesota. Bush had a 26-game NHL playing career between 1938—42 for the Red Wings; Abel was a Red Wing at the time as well. Bush had spent 25 games as a player with the Kansas City Greyhounds of the American Hockey Association in 1938-39. The bulk of Bush’s coaching experience was in the amateur Canadian junior OHA league. His 32 game stint with the Scouts would prove to be his only shot at coaching in the NHL, and he would only enjoy one win.

Of Bush’s first game in Minnesota, a 9-3 loss, Star reporter Steve Marantz wrote the Scouts “shortcomings have become almost second nature. The forwards backchecked sporadically, the defensemen mishandled the puck, and everyone was caught out of position.” (1/29/76 Star) The only Scouts footage that I have ever seen comes from Bush’s first game. Skip ahead to the four-minute mark to see the Scouts getting torn apart by the North Stars:

The Scouts dropped their 14
th straight in Pittsburgh the next night, far and away the longest losing streak in the Scouts short history. Simon Nolet and Ed Gilbert both tallied points for the Penguins that night.

• The Scouts returned for Bush’s KC debut on the 31st, another game against the Penguins. The Scouts managed a tie, their only point on the month. Despite the losing streak, Tanya inspired a season-high turnout of 12,471 fans.

• The brutal month ended with a 0-13-1 (.036) record, and drew an average of 9,250 in the eight home games. The press had gotten no wind of it if owner Ed Thompson had begun searching for a way to get the rid of the team.

1 comment: said...

good history. i feel like i was there.