For most of the 1970s, the Vancouver Canucks were the hottest ticket in town.
They played their inaugural National Hockey League game on Oct. 9, 1970, against the Los Angeles Kings, and were briefly .500 as a franchise when the Canucks beat the instant-rival Toronto Maple Leafs 5–3 at an electric Pacific Coliseum only two nights later.
Wins were scarce for most of the decade as the team went through six coaches and four general managers. But under Phil Maloney, who held both jobs for parts of four seasons, the Canucks won their first division title in 1974-75 when Vancouver went 38-32-10 and actually took one playoff game off the mighty Montreal Canadiens at the old Forum before losing its first playoff series 4–1.
It may not have felt like it at the end of the 1970s, but there were better days coming.
In honour of the Canucks’ 50th season, we’ve created all-decade lineups for the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Today we kick off the series with the first of those.
CANUCKS ALL-1970s TEAM
1973–76, .891 SV%, 3.33 GAA
One of the first impact players for the Canucks and possessing one of the great nicknames in franchise history, Gary “Suitcase” Smith crammed 189 games into just three seasons in Vancouver. In 1974-75, he played 72 of 80 games while recording six shutouts – a team goaltending record that stood for 27 years until Dan Cloutier recorded seven in 2001-02. Smith earned his nickname by playing for seven NHL teams, and to this day remains sixth in franchise history in games-played by a goaltender.
1970–81, 31 G, 290 A
A small, skillful, puck-moving defenceman, Dennis Kearns was about three decades ahead of his time in the 1970s. He joined the Canucks in their second season and spent his entire 10-year NHL career in Vancouver, where in 1976-77 he posted a 60-point season that included 55 assists, a record among Canuck defencemen that still stands. His 321 points are tied for third all-time for Vancouver blue-liners, and Kearns’ 677 games are 10th in franchise history.
1974–1984, 35 G, 160 A
One of the most popular Canucks of the 1970s, Harold Snepsts was perfectly suited to his era as a huge, intimidating defenceman who battered opponents and fought often. But the fourth-round pick who made the Canucks as a rookie pro in 1974-75 and stayed the next nine seasons, could play, too. He represented the Canucks when the NHL All-Star Game was in Vancouver in 1977, and sustained chants of “Haaaar-old! Haaaa-rold!” became a staple at the Coliseum. With two more seasons back with the Canucks near the end of his 17-year NHL career, Snepsts ranks 8th all-time with 781 games in a Vancouver uniform.
1970–76, 121 G, 267 A
Andre Boudrias was a respected NHL veteran on the expansion Canucks, and he led Vancouver in scoring in four of its first five seasons. During that time, the silky playmaker averaged 70 points per season, and Boudrias’ 62 assists in 1974-75 were the most by a Canuck player until Henrik Sedin set up 83 goals in the 2009-10 season when he won both the Hart and Art Ross trophies. Boudrias captained the Canucks in 1975-76.
1972–1980, 186 G, 221 A
The third-overall draft pick in 1972, Don Lever made the Canucks as a rookie and spent the rest of the decade as one of Vancouver’s best players. He captained the team for two seasons and was respected for his honest, two-way game at centre. A modern Canuck comparable would be Bo Horvat. Lever’s 38 goals during the ’74-75 campaign became an early franchise benchmark and his 407 points in 593 games for Vancouver puts him 10th in all-time scoring.
1973–1978, 139 G, 165 A
It’s a close call naming the third forward for the Canucks’ 1970s team but we’re going with Dennis Ververgaert, partly for his shooting ability and partly for a moustache that was second only to Snepsts’ Fu Manchu.
The third pick of the 1973 draft, Ververgaert was a scorer who averaged 26 goals a year over his five full seasons in Vancouver. He may have been the Canucks’ best right winger until Stan Smyl arrived in 1978. Smyl will be part of Sportsnet’s 1980s Canuck team.