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 five, who will be No. 1?
5. 1984-85 Prince Albert Raiders
Terry Simpson’s squad is the only Prince Albert team to win the WHL championship as well as the Memorial Cup, and it was one impressive team. The Raiders averaged more than six-goals-per-game and ran away with the league’s best record with 58 wins. After earning a first-round bye in the playoffs they went 12-1 the rest of the way and swept Kamloops in the final. They then went to Shawinigan and took out the Cataractes in the Memorial Cup final to win the title.
Dan Hodgson lead the Raiders in goals scored with 70 and in points with 182. He was not the league’s Most Valuable Player—that honour went to New Westminster Bruin Cliff Ronning and his 197 points—but he was named MVP at the Memorial Cup. Tony Grenier (62 goals), Dave Pasin (64 goals) and Ken Morrison (51 goals) were also dangerous members of the the Prince Albert attack. On the blueline, Emanuel Viveiros chipped in with 17 goals and 88 points Dave Manson added 30 points to go along with his intimidating 247 penalty minutes.
4. 1975-76 New Westminster Bruins
From 1974 to 1978, the New Westminster Bruins won four straight WHL titles. The team that took the ice in 1975-76 may have been the best of the bunch. Punch McLean’s squad won 54 games and the West Division title over the Kamloops Chiefs by 26 points. They scored a lot of goals—463 of them to lead the WHL—and had four players score more than 50, another hit 40 and three more best 30. On top of that, four Bruins had more than 100 points while three more were within two points of the century mark. Mark Lofthouse led the goal-scoring parade with 68 markers, followed by Fred Berry’s 59, Rick Shinske’s 52 and Steve Clippingdale’s 51. Seventeen-year-old Stan Smyl chipped in with 32 goals of his own, tied for seventh best on the club.
The Bruins were famous for dropping the gloves as well and had four players with 200 minutes in penalties, led by Barry Beck’s 325. For reference, Keegan Kanzig led the WHL last season with 166 PIM, which would have been the seventh most on the Bruins roster. New Westminster blew through the playoffs and didn’t lose a game until the final against the Saskatoon Blades. They won that series in six and went on to the Memorial Cup where they beat the Hamilton Fincups in the final.
3. 1994-95 Kamloops Blazers
Like New Westminster in the 1970s, the Kamloops Blazers had a dominant streak in the ’90s that saw them win three WHL titles and three Memorial Cups in a four year period. The last of those teams was the best, leading the WHL in wins with 54, goals scored with 375 and goals against at 202. Up front they had huge seasons from Darcy Tucker (64-73-137), Hnat Domenichelli (52-62-114) and Shane Doan (37-57-94). Tyson Nash also potted 34 while Jarome Iginla added 33. The Blazers had an excellent blueline as well and Nolan Baumgartner was named WHL defenceman of the year. Joining him was Aaron Keller—who scored 80 points—Brad Lukowich and Jason Holland.
Baumgartner added 17 points in the club’s 21 post season games to earn playoff MVP honours. The Blazers won the round-robin series to start the playoffs—yes the WHL’s Western Conference featured a round robin between six teams back then. After that they moved to the final with ease where they defeated the Brandon Wheat Kings in six games. As the host team in the Memorial Cup, the blazers went undefeated and beat the OHL’s Detroit Junior Red Wings in the final with Doan named tournament MVP.
2. 1978-79 Brandon Wheat Kings
The Wheat Kings did not win the Memorial Cup in the spring of 1979, but they still will go down as one of the best teams in WHL history. In an era without 4-on-4 overtimes and shootout wins, they amassed a dominating 58-5-9 record. Five losses are about as close to unbeaten as a hockey team can go over a 72-game season. Brian Propp led Brandon, and the league, in scoring with an astonishing 94 goals and 194 points. Propp wasn’t the only offensive powerhouse on the Brandon roster however as Ray Allison added 60 goals and 153 points while Laurie Boschman lit the lamp 66 times to go with his 83 assists. Imagine scoring 60 goals and being third on your team in scoring. Brad McCrimmon led the Brandon blueline with 24 goals and 98 points to round out the Wheat Kings’ big guns.
WHL Coach of the Year Dunc McCallum’s charges survived two round-robins in the playoffs before taking out the Portland Winterhawks in a six-game final. Propp, Allison and Boschman were huge in the playoffs as well, scoring 38, 37, and 34 points respectfully in 22 games. Despite their dominant WHL run the Wheat Kings went 2-2 at the Memorial Cup and came up just short in the final, where they lost to Peterborugh 2-1 in overtime.
1. 1988-89 Swift Current Broncos
Just two seasons after a tragic bus accident took the lives of Trent Kresse, Scott Kruger, Chris Mantyka and Brent Ruff, the Broncos were able to rebound and turn in a spectacular season. The team won 55 games and their 111 points were far and away tops in the league—the next closest team was Saskatoon with 86 points. The Broncos could score and were led by Tim Tisdale, Peter Kasowski and Sheldon Kennedy who each topped the 57-goal mark. They had big years from defenceman Dan Lambert who scored 102 points and Bob Wilkie with 85. Forward Brian Sakic chip
Swift Current earned a bye in the first round and went 12-0 the rest of the way in the WHL playoffs. The last sweep was handed to Portland for the Broncos’ first WHL title in only their third season in Swift Current. The Memorial Cup was held in Saskatoon and the host Blades actually managed to beat the Broncos in the round robin—their only post-season defeat. But Swift Current got its revenge against the Blades beating them in overtime for the Cup. Lambert was named tournament MVP and Tisdale and Kennedy joined him on the all-tournament team.