Monday, July 3, 2017

Saginaw Gears (IHL, 1978-79)

This was the only season of Saginaw Gears hockey I did not have in my collection. Cross one off the "white whale" list....

1978-79 Regular Season
Gears vs. Fort Wayne Komets
     The Saginaw Gears began their sixth season of play in the International Hockey League (IHL). Led by owner Wren Blair and Head Coach/General Manager Don Perry, the Gears had become one of the more stable franchises on and off the ice in the league. The Gears had been a Turner Cup contender for most of their existence, reaching the Finals three times, winning it all in 1976-77. The team was very popular in Mid-Michigan, as the Gears were frequently near the top of the IHL in average attendance. 1978-79 was no different, as an average of about 4,458 fans per game packed Wendler Arena that year.

Stat Sheet from Program
   This program is from a Gears-Komets game on Saturday, February 10, 1979. If you go by what is written on the cover, Saginaw won, 5-4. This game was a battle between two of the top three teams in the IHL at that point. Saginaw was holding on to first place in the North Division, with a solid 25-18-9 record, four points better than second-place Port Huron. Fort Wayne was in second place in the South, at 32-15-4, eight points behind league-best Grand Rapids.
     The design of the cover seems to be typical for that season, only the color was changed. The picture on the front is from an autograph signing at the McDonald's across the street from the arena. Gears players Doug Keans, Mark Suzor, Dave Westner, Stu Irving and Dennis Desrosiers were on hand that day with lots of photos to sign for the fans.
     As for the rest of the program, it's 55 pages long, in black-and-white on glossy paper. One page is dedicated to analyzing broadcaster Al Blade's signature, stating that Blade "has a stubborn streak, is intuitive, broadminded and selective of friends". Tuffy Mufflers has their usual "Find the Puck" contest, with the winner receiving tickets to the next Gears home game. Local advertisements include the Banana Tree Tavern, Garber Pontiac/Cadillac, Peet Packing Company and the Saginaw Steering Gear factory.
Team Photo Album
1978-79 Season
     Here's a team photo album from the 1978-79 season. I got this a couple of years ago, along with an album from the previous season. All the Gears players and staff members have black-and-white pictures in here. I didn't scan any of the pictures, but let's say the outfits everyone was wearing were very 1970s. Lots of huge-collared shirts and a few western outfits too. Ads in this album include Osterman Jewelers, WSGW Radio 790, Sun Furnace Company and the Saginaw Gears Booster Club.
     After this game, the Gears would stumble through a 9-17-1 record the rest of the way, dropping to third in the North with a 35-35-10 record. Their 80 points were 15 behind the first-place Port Huron Flags, and just five ahead of fourth-place Flint. Six different Gears had at least 30 goals that year, led by center Marcel Comeau, with 45 goals and 110 points. Defenseman Mark Toffolo led not only the Gears, but the entire IHL, in penalty minutes with an incredible 557, easily a career-high. Saginaw went through four goaltenders that season. Two future NHL netminders, Doug Keans and Bob Froese, led the way in games played. Froese would be traded to Milwaukee during the season, and Tim Thomlinson would take over as Keans's backup. Bob Parent would also tend net for the Gears, but would be dealt to Port Huron after just two games.
     The Gears faced the second-place Kalamazoo Wings in Round One of the Turner Cup Playoffs. Saginaw was quickly swept aside by the K-Wings, being outscored 21-10 in a four-game sweep. Kalamazoo then crushed Flint in four straight in Round Two, then won their first-ever Turner Cup in seven games over Grand Rapids.

Saginaw Gears 1978-79 Program, 10 February 1979
International Hockey League Statistics: 1978-79 (from
Associated Press. "Saginaw Hockey Franchise Could Fold". Argus-Press, 9 June 1981.

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