In honour of the Western Hockey League celebrating its 50th season beginning this September, we thought we’d count down the top 25 WHL teams of all time (because 50 is just too crazy). We’ve hit the Top 10, here are Nos. 10-6.
10. 1976–77 New Westminster Bruins
Head coach Ernie “Punch” McLean’s Bruins would beat you on the scoreboard and with their fists. As intimidating a bunch you could find, the Bruins had six players with more 100 penalty minutes (and three with 200-plus). While they pushed opponents around, they could also play. Mark Lofthouse scored 54 goals while Stan Smyl added 35—to go with his 200 PIM. The Bruins won 47 games and the West Division by 25 points before walking through the playoffs. They only lost twice on their way to beating the Brandon Wheat Kings for a third straight WHL Championship. Barry Beck was the Memorial Cup MVP as the Bruins would win their first national championship after beating the Ottawa 67’s.
9. 1991–92 Kamloops Blazers
The early ’90s were dominated by the Kamloops Blazers and in 1992 they captured their first of three Memorial Cups. Tom Renney’s team featured some top end talent and was led by Zac Boyer, Shayne Green and Craig Lyons—all scoring 40-plus goals. The Blazers also featured a pretty talented back end with Scott Niedermayer, Darryl Sydor, David Wilkie and Craig Bonner. In net, Corey Hirsch put up a .920 save percentage to win goaltender of the year. The Blazers would edge the Saskatoon Blades in seven games for their fourth WHL championship before heading to Seattle for the Memorial Cup where a late game-winning goal from Boyer defeated the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the final.
8. 2000–01 Red Deer Rebels
Brent Sutter coached the Rebels to the Dub’s best record with 54 wins. Red Deer also led the league in goals scored while allowing the fewest. Justin Mapletoft topped the scoring race with 120 points and Shane Bendera was the league’s best goaltender as the Rebels ran away with things in the regular season. Kyle Wanvig, Colby Armstrong and Ross Lupaschuk also chipped in and provided the Rebels with a deep offensive squad. After taking out the Portland Winterhawks in five games for their first WHL Championship the Rebels headed to Regina for the Memorial Cup. They won the round robin round and edged Val d’Or in overtime for the championship.
7. 1997-98 Portland Winterhawks
The Winterhawks have iced a lot of great teams, but this was their best. Nobody scored more goals or allowed fewer than Brent Peterson’s team. They had firepower up front with Todd Robinson, Brenden Morrow and Marian Hossa—who scored 45 goals. Andrew Ference led them on the blueline while goalie Brent Belecki was stellar in net. Portland won 53 games in the regular season to easily take the division as well as the President’s Cup. The Hawks got a challenge from Spokane in the Western Conference final but were able out last the Chiefs in seven games. The league final wasn’t as challenging—they swept aside Brandon for the franchise’s second WHL title. They breezed into the Memorial Cup final, led by Hossa and Andrej Podkonicky, where they beat Guelph in overtime. It was be Peterson’s last year behind the Portland bench before he moved on to be an assistant in the NHL.
6. 1993-94 Kamloops Blazers
Don Hay took over the bench in Kamloops in 1992, and didn’t take long to match the success that Renney had. The next season, Hay’s team won 50 games to run away with the President’s Trophy and Western Division title. Darcy Tucker and Rod Stevens both topped the 50-goal mark. The Blazers also had big years from Jarrett Dueling, Tyson Nash and Nolan Baumgartner. They also featured two 16-year-old soon-to-be stars in Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla. After a first round bye, Kamloops took out Seattle and Portland before beating Saskatoon in seven games for the WHL title. In the Memorial Cup, Tucker was named MVP while the Blazers went 4-0, including defeating the Laval Titan for their second Memorial Cup Championship in three years.