Friday, October 3, 2014

Phoenix Roadrunners (1973-74, WHL)

1973-74 Regular Season--Roadrunners vs. Denver Spurs
     There have been numerous teams that have been called "Phoenix Roadrunners" over the years, in leagues from the ECHL to the WHA. The first version played in the Western Hockey League, a minor-pro circuit in Western North America, from 1967-74. The Roadrunners previously played as the Victoria Maple Leafs in British Columbia. The team played their home games at the Arizona Veterans' Memorial Coliseum. They were coached by Alex "Sandy" Hucul, a long-time minor league defenseman who played the last five years of his career in Phoenix.
     Coming off their first Patrick Cup championship, the Roadrunners finished in first place in the WHL. Their 43-32-3 record was three points ahead of second place Salt Lake. Hucul's squad boasted the second-best offense in 1973-74, scoring an even 300 goals. Murray Koegan led the charge, with 31 goals and 87 points. Former Detroit Red Wing Howie Young led the team in goals with 37. Four other Roadrunners had at least 20 goals.
     Phoenix was also in second place in goals against, allowing just 273 red lights to turn on. The team used three different netminders that year. Gary Simmons, who would make it to the NHL with the California Golden Seals and LA Kings, played in 49 games that season, going 30-16-1 with a 3.00 GAA. Former Muskegon Mohawk Dave Hainsworth went 9-13-2 with a 4.07 GAA in 26 appearances. Don Caley went 3-3-0 with a a 3.68 GAA in seven appearances.
     The Roadrunners didn't have much difficulty defending their Patrick Cup championship. In Round One, they drew the San Diego Gulls, who finished in third place. Phoenix swept aside the Gulls in four straight, outscoring them 19-13, to advance. In the Patrick Cup Finals, the Roadrunners faced the Portland Buckaroos, who finished in fourth place, just five points back. However, Phoenix annihilated the Buckaroos in five games, outscoring them 20-9, to win their second straight Patrick Cup.
     This program has 40 pages, most of them are black-and-white, but there are a few color ads. Dave Hainsworth is on the front cover. Local ads include Sharkey's Pizza, KPHO TV5 (which broadcast several Roadrunner games that year) and Cobre Tire. Nice program, don't see too many WHL Roadrunners programs.

Aftermath: The WHL was already on life support by 1973-74, losing several cities to the 1968 and 1970 NHL expansions and increased competition from the new World Hockey Association. The league would merge with the rival Central Hockey League after this season. The Phoenix Roadrunners would not join the CHL, though, opting for the WHA, keeping a roster very similar to last year's Patrick Cup champion squad. The Roadrunners were unable to build on their WHL success, and would fold after the 1976-77 season. Phoenix would be home to the CHL, Pacific League, IHL and ECHL Roadrunners franchises over the next three decades. In 1996, the Winnipeg Jets would relocate to Phoenix, becoming the Phoenix (later Arizona) Coyotes. 

 Sources:
Western Hockey League Statistics: 1973-74 (from hockeydb.com)
Phoenix Roadrunners (WHL), from Wikipedia

 

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