Sunday, October 25, 2009

Scouts Notes: February 1976

• The Scouts started February, 1976 with three days off, which served as a chance for them to get to know their new head coach, Eddie Bush, a little better. Joe McGuff had this introduction in the February 2nd Star:

• On the 4th appeared the last article in which team president Ed Thompson tried to put a happy face on the shaky status of the Scouts. He claimed that “we (the team ownership group) knew it would be five years before we had the attendance we needed. This year is less than what we hoped for. But the partners are still enthused and so am I.” (2/4/76 Star) Thompson was either lying or something radically changed in the following week.

• On the ice, the month opened at home against the Blues on the 4th. 5,938 came out on poster night to see the two Missouri clubs skate to a 3-3 tie. It was the second straight tie for the Scouts, after having lost their previous 14.

• It was announced on the 6th that forward Henry Boucha had finally signed with the Scouts. It was well known that Boucha had been trying to get out of his contract with the WHA St. Paul Fighting Saints, and that the Scouts had acquired his NHL rights from the North Stars in November ’74.

Boucha had a fairly short but colorful career. A Chippewa Native American from Warroad, Minnesota, he spent much of 1969—72 playing on the United States National and Olympic teams, most notably at the 1972 Olympics. He had six points in six Olympic games on the way to earning a silver medal. Boucha put up big numbers throughout his tenure with the U.S. team, and earned induction in the US Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995. Boucha went on to play for the Red Wings and North Stars between ’72—’75. In January of ’75, Boucha was on the receiving end of one of the uglier incidents in NHL history. Michael Smith describes it thusly in his essay “What Is Sports Violence?” in the book Sports Ethics:
“…an altercation occurred between David Forbes of the Boston Bruins and Henry Boucha of the Minnesota North Stars. Both players were sent to the penalty box, where Forbes repeatedly threatened Boucha verbally. As they left the box at the expiration of the penalties…Forbes skated up behind Boucha and struck him with the butt end of his stick just above the right eye. Boucha fell to the ice stunned and bleeding (with a badly damaged eye, it turned out). Forbes jumped on him, punched him in the back of the head, then grabbing him by the hair, proceeded to pound his head into the ice.”
Boucha’s eyesight never fully recovered. He managed to comeback with the Fighting Saints and Scouts in ’75-‘76, but retired after just nine games with the Colorado Rockies in 1976. He received an undisclosed settlement in a lawsuit he brought against Forbes, the Bruins and the NHL. Boucha is one of the more recognizable players in NHL history thanks to the bright headbands he wore on the ice.

• On the 7th, Boucha made his debut as the Scouts hosted the Capitals. As poorly as the season had gone for the Scouts, they still had over twice as many wins as the Caps at this point (11 to 5). So this was a good opportunity to snap their 16 game winless streak, and the Scouts took advantage, downing the Caps 5-1. Boucha chipped in with an assist (though Star writer Steve Marantz said “his play otherwise generally reflected his 10-day layoff” 2/8/76 Star).

Things were looking up a bit, as this was the third straight game without a loss. With 27 games remaining on the season and no strong implication that the Scouts wouldn’t be returning to Kansas City the next season, Scouts players and fans had no way to expect or know that this would be the
last victory in Scouts history.

• The truth about how dire the Scouts situation was started to become public on the 10
th with a Joe McGuff column, “Scouts Are Feeling Financial Pinch,” in which McGuff didn’t yet have specifics, but wrote, “a crisis has developed.” On the 12th, the severity was coming into clearer focus in the below, highly recommended article from McGuff. It was announced by team president Thompson that 8,000 season tickets would have to be sold for the following season for the Scouts to continue to operate—a near-impossible number seeing as fewer than 4,000 were sold for ’75-’76.

• Edwin Thompson was not sole owner of the Scouts. In fact, he wasn’t even the majority owner. From a Steve Marantz column on the 12th: “Most of the investors, who number approximately 30, are from the area…The largest single stockholder, however, is Murray Newman, an Omaha businessman, who holds about 24 per cent of the total issue.” As president of the club, Thompson became the face of Scouts ownership, while the others stayed largely anonymous and behind the scenes.

• In the immediate aftershocks of all the terrible financial news, the Scouts got back on the ice on the 12
th as hosts to the Islanders. How did Kansas City hockey fans respond to the threat of losing the Scouts? They stayed away in droves. Just 5,837 showed up to watch the Scouts tie the Islanders 2-2. Incredibly, it was their fourth straight game without a loss (1-0-3), despite being in the midst of their 1-35-8 finish. From Steve Marantz’s game summary: “Even as the Scouts make steady strides on the ice, it has become more apparent to everybody that the problem now lies elsewhere… The audience ranked among the smallest three this season. ‘It was a great game to watch,’ said Robin Burns, Scouts’ left wing. ‘But where was everybody?’”

• It’s partly laziness on my part and partly a tribute to the fine writing of McGuff that I’m just going to reprint a couple of his columns in full rather than try to summarize them for you. They deal with the crisis of survival facing the Scouts at the time, and he explains it much better than I could:

• This group of four letters to the editor from the February 22nd Star provide a sample of what some Kansas Citians were thinking about the Scouts crisis:

• A McGuff column on the 26th (“Scouts Are Now Scrambling Just For Survival”) contains a couple of interesting nuggets: The NBA Kansas City Kings, co-tenants of Kemper Arena, had expressed an interest in purchasing the Scouts. This quote drives home just how bad things had gotten for the Scouts: “Adding to the confusion surrounding the hockey operation are persistent reports that the team is so close to bankruptcy that it might not be able to continue beyond Monday, when the next player payroll comes due. The National Hockey League reportedly has an emergency plan to proceed with 17 teams should the Scouts be unable to finish their schedule.” Crikey!

• On the 27th came a story in the Star that the Scouts were two months behind on payments to the city for Kemper Arena rental fees amounting to $65,000. The next morning’s Times revealed that the Scouts would indeed meet the next payday. Edwin Thompson said:

“The crisis certainly hasn’t changed. Our partners and myself are making the payroll as we have the last few, out of our pockets, certainly not from gate receipts. We are willing to do this as long as we see some hope, some light that the season ticket drive will get off to a successful start. So far we are encouraged by the Mayor and civic leaders who are participating in the drive and hopefully it will go along as planned. There isn’t anyone in Kansas City that is more enthusiastic and will give this franchise as much support as myself and the partners have and will continue to do so. As you know we have $5-million in this venture and this certainly isn’t the end. We want to know that somewhere along the line we have a chance to get even.”
In the same paper was an article stating the NHL would not be giving the Scouts any financial aid, even if it meant the Scouts couldn’t finish out the current season. “We have an emergency plan to finish the schedule in case Kansas City folds,” said president Clarence Campbell. The league had recently propped up the Pittsburgh Penguins financially, but Campbell said they didn’t “want to go through the same financial headaches” again. Kansas City was on its own.

• Back on the ice, the Scouts closed out the month with what were apparently three well-played games, particularly by goalie Denis Herron. The stretch consisted of a 3-1 loss to the Canadiens and ties with the Islanders and Sabres. The point against the Sabres was the only one the Scouts would ever gain from Buffalo in eight meetings. Herron seemed to slump a bit after returning from the kidney stone he suffered in January
, but garnered immense praise from opposing players and the press for his play at the end of February.

• The Scouts ended the miserable month with a 1-6-5 (.292) record, and an average of 7,329 fans at the nine home games.

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