Saturday, December 14, 2013

Detroit Hockey: Junior Red Wings/Whalers (OHL, 1993-present)

The Detroit Area has been in the OHL since 1990-91, when the Compuware Ambassadors joined the league. The team has changed it's name and home arena a couple times since then, but still exists. Here are a couple programs I have.


1993-94 Regular Season--Opponent Unknown

 The 1993-94 Junior Red Wings, coming off their first playoff berth the previous year, won the Emms Division, their first divisional title. Their sparkling 42-20-4 record was 11 points better than second place Sault Ste. Marie. The team was coached by Paul Maurice, who would eventually coach in the NHL for several teams. 
The Wings were the fourth-highest scoring team in the OHL that season, racking up 312 goals. The team was led by Kevin Brown, who popped in 54 goals in 57 games, to go along with 135 points. Five other players scored over 20 goals. 
On defense, the team was even better. Their 237 goals allowed was third-best in the league. Between the pipes for the majority of the season was Jason Saal. Saal played in 45 games, going 28-11-3 with a 3.36 GAA. Backup Aaron Ellis went 14-9-1 with a 3.71 GAA. Chris Mailloux played in one game.
With such a talented roster, the 1993-94 Jr. Wings earned a first round bye. In Round Two, they swept aside Owen Sound in four straight, then knocked off Sault Ste. Marie in six to reach the OHL Finals. They battled the North Bay Centennials in a thrilling seven-game series, but fell in overtime in Game 7, 5-4.
I got this program at a Red Wings Fan Fest at Joe Louis Arena in 1994. It's autographed by Bill McCauley, Dan Pawlaczyk and Jason Saal. It's a 71-page program, all in black-and-white, with tons of ads and stats. 
Just looking at their record that season, the Jr. Wings were a talented team. They also had several players who went on to play in the NHL. Guys such as Kevin Brown, Sean Haggarty, Eric Cairns and Todd Harvey went on to "The Show".

The Junior Red Wings would win the OHL Championship in 1994-95 and participate in the Memorial Cup Tournament, falling in the final game. After that season, the NHL Red Wings kicked the Jr. Red Wings out of Joe Louis Arena. Needing a new home, the Jr. Wings split their schedule between the Palace of Auburn Hills and Oak Park Arena. They would also change their name to "Detroit Whalers".
I went to a few Whalers games when they played at the Palace. Back then, you could get "2-for-1" tickets when the Whalers and Vipers played on the same night. Can't argue with two hockey games in one night!

1995-96 Regular Season--Whalers vs. London Knights

The Jr. Red Wings became the Detroit Whalers for 1995-96. No, there isn't a whaling tradition in the Detroit area. Team owner Peter Karmanos had recently purchased the Hartford Whalers and chose that nickname for his OHL squad. 
Peter DeBoer was the coach that season, with Greg Stefan as assistant coach. For this game, the Whalers played host to the London Knights at the Palace. This game was a matchup of two teams going in opposite directions. The Whalers entered the game with a solid 20-12-2 record, first in the West. The Knights, however, were a putrid 0-29-1, dead last in the league (they would win only 3 games all year!). However, the Knights kept it close for the first half of the game, even taking a 2-1 lead. Six unanswered goals by the Whalers put the game away pronto. 
Detroit would finish the season 40-22-4, first in the West, two points ahead of Sarnia. They were led on offense by Sean Haggarty, who scored 60 goals and 111 points. Defenseman Bryan Berard had a fine season, with 31 goals and 89 points. Four other players scored over 20 goals, and as a team, the Whalers notched 319, second in the league.
On defense, the Whalers were seventh best, allowing 243 goals. Mike Minard led the way in net, appearing in 43 games and going 25-10-4 with two shutouts and a 3.32 GAA. Robert Esche played in 23 games, going 13-6-0 with a 3.74 GAA and 1 shutout. Darryl Foster made it into 8 games, but went 2-6 with a 4.89 GAA.
The Whalers played their home playoff games at Oak Park Arena. In Round One, they knocked off Windsor in seven, then shoved aside Kitchener in five in Round Two. Their luck ran out in the semifinals, as they fell to Peterborough in a closely fought, 5-game series.
The 1995-96 squad featured three players that would make it to the NHL. Robert Esche and Bryan Berard would play several years in the NHL, while Sean Haggarty would play a handful of games over the course of a few seasons. Coach Peter DeBoer would also make it to the big leagues. He coached in Florida and is the current head coach of New Jersey.

The following season, the Whalers moved into their new home, Compuware Arena in Plymouth, Michigan. In 1997, they would change their name to Plymouth Whalers.

Sources:
Detroit Jr. Red Wings Statistics: 1993-94 (taken from hockeydb.com)
Detroit Whalers Statistics: 1995-96 (taken from hockeydb.com)

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