Friday, October 3, 2014

Saginaw Gears (1974-75, IHL)

1974-75 Regular Season--Gears vs. Lansing Lancers
     1974-75 was the third season of Saginaw Gears hockey. The Gears were coming off a surprise run to the Turner Cup Finals in 1973-74, which they lost to the Des Moines Capitols. Don Perry returned as Coach/GM, and the Gears were a secondary affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs, after two seasons in the Minnesota farm system.
     Saginaw would build on their Cinderella season by going 43-29-3, third place in the Eastern Division. Their 89 points put them 10 points behind the regular season champions, the Muskegon Mohawks, and ten points ahead of the fourth place Port Huron Flags.
     Perry's crew pumped in 302 goals that season, third-highest in the league. They were led on offense by power forward Dennis Desrosiers. "Rosie" scored 44 goals to go along with 80 points and 225 penalty minutes. Stu Irving, a member of the 1972 USA Olympic hockey team, had 32 goals and 76 points. Five other players had at least twenty goals that year.
     The Gears were fourth-best in the IHL on defense, allowing only 259 goals. The team used three different goaltenders that season, two of which later played in the NHL. The starter that year was Mario Lessard, who played in 59 games with a 3.22 GAA and 4 shutouts. Lessard would eventually make it to the NHL with the Los Angeles Kings. Mike Palmateer, who would later play with Toronto and Washington, made it into 20 games, with a 3.84 GAA and 2 shutouts. Roly Kimble played in 5 games with a 4.67 GAA. Lessard drew the nod for the majority of the playoffs.
Gears mini pennant (age unknown)
     The Gears would qualify for the Turner Cup Playoffs again in 1974-75, drawing the arch-rival Flint Generals in Round One. In the best-of-seven affair, the Gears court-marshaled (how's that for a verb?) the Generals in five games, allowing just 10 goals in the series. In Round Two, the Gears faced the first-place Muskegon Mohawks. After falling behind 3-1 in the series, Saginaw ripped off three straight wins, including an 8-2 series-clincher at Muskegon, to advance to the Finals. The Gears faced the expansion Toledo Goaldiggers for the Turner Cup, and the series was a classic. The two teams traded wins for the first six games before the Diggers won Game 7 in Saginaw, 6-5. Both teams set city attendance records during the Finals.
     The opponent for this progam was the Lansing Lancers, previously the Toledo Hornets, played on January 8, 1975. Saginaw entered the contest in first place with a 26-14-1, just two points ahead of Flint. Lansing, on the other hand, was 11-25-1, their miniscule 23 points just 3 ahead of the expansion Kalamazoo Wings. Not sure of the score, but Saginaw did win the game. Having only won 3 games on the road to that point, the Lancers were running on fumes by then. Their home stadium, Metro Ice Arena, sat only 950 fans (all bleachers), and they rarely even filled that. The Lancers would play just three games after losing to Saginaw, then fold after the IHL rejected owner Paul Bright's request to move to Grand Rapids. Defenseman John Gravel and goaltender Roly Kimble would join the Gears after the Lancers collapsed.
     These two teams only played each other four times in Saginaw, so not a common program by any means. It's 55 pages, mostly all black-and-white. Plenty of articles about the other IHL teams, and individual and team photos of the Gears. Forward Russ Friesen, in his final season of pro hockey, was the Coca-Cola feature player. Local advertisements include Farmer Peet's franks, Garber Cadillac and Pontiac and Rainbo Bread ("The 8-Hour Loaf"). I have another program from this year and it's identical to this one. Pretty sure this was the only design the Gears used that year.

Sources:
International Hockey League Statistics: 1974-75 (from hockeydb.com)
Saginaw Gears vs. Lansing Lancers statistics sheet, from 1/8/1975



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