Junior hockey is being played in Seattle for the 30th consecutive season, but if it hadn't been for a team that bonded 25 years ago, the...
Junior hockey is being played in Seattle for the 30th consecutive season, but if it hadn’t been for a team that bonded 25 years ago, the franchise might have been long gone.
The Seattle Thunderbirds are struggling to stay alive in the Western Hockey League playoffs, trailing Vancouver 3-1 in a best-of-seven series that continues tonight in Vancouver, B.C.
But before they were the Thunderbirds, they were the Seattle Breakers, and in 1982 the team was struggling to stay alive, period. The Breakers declared bankruptcy during a tumultuous season that was nearly their last in Seattle.
The Breakers (the nickname was changed to Thunderbirds before the 1985-86 season) overcame numerous financial obstacles in 1982 to reach the West Division championships against the hated Portland Winter Hawks.
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The Breakers lost that series to their archrivals, but won fans along the way. The season ended with a heartbreaking, overtime loss in Game 6 in front of a sellout crowd at Seattle Center Arena. After the game, Breakers owner John Hamilton announced he’d find a way to keep the team in Seattle.
Prior to the season: Owner John Hamilton names Jack Sangster coach after finishing the 1980-81 season with 20-year-old Mike Mesic behind the bench. Sangster is named WHL coach of the year. Breakers acquire goalie Dave Ross from Regina; Ross later named second-team WHL all-star.
Oct. 4: The Breakers, in a Sunday matinee, beat the Winter Hawks 8-4 in their season opener in front of 1,976 fans. Hamilton offers refunds to any fans who didn’t enjoy the game.
Oct. 15: Seattle loses 3-2 at Winnipeg after traveling by bus for 31-½ hours.
Oct. 22: Breakers announce they’ll honor unused Seahawks tickets at their next two games. “We don’t want it to come across as a slam against the Seahawks,” Breakers officer manager Sheila Owings says. “We want to expose more people to hockey.”
Dec. 3: Spokane Flyers fold and Seattle gets defensemen Ken Daneyko in the dispersal draft. Daneyko played two seasons in Seattle, then 20 years for the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, who retired his number last year.
Dec. 19: Terry Sargent scores five goals as Seattle beats the Winter Hawks 10-7 in Portland. A brawl results in 17 players being ejected.
Dec. 30: Breakers file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, getting 120 days to present a plan for repaying their creditors. “This takes a heavy burden off everybody,” Hamilton says. “You can’t function with people threatening to sue you every day.” Seattle also gets a $30,000 loan from the owners of Victoria, Portland teams — with Breakers players serving as collateral.
March 28: Victoria GM and coach Jack Shupe resigns after his team loses Game 2 of what becomes a four-game playoff sweep by the Breakers.
April 10: “Seattle’s fans are Neanderthals,” Portland’s Brian Shaw says during their second-round playoff series, which the Winter Hawks win in six games.
April 18: Beer sales banned for Game 6 against Portland to cut back on rowdyism. Hamilton nixes one fan’s refund request, saying, “We’re running a hockey team, not a tavern.”
The franchise, which had moved from Kamloops, B.C., before the 1977-78 season, was in bankruptcy court most of the 1982 season. But attendance doubled for the final half of the season, and three playoff games were sellouts.
“I’m going to keep this franchise here next year,” Hamilton told The Times then. “As long as the city gives me a good lease, I’ll find a way. The reason I will go another year is because of the heart these guys showed this year. With all the adversity, they never gave up, they always showed heart, class and guts.”
The Breakers won only two of their first 10 games that season under new coach Jack Sangster. But the aggressive group known as “Sangster’s Gangsters” started to come together behind goalie Dave Ross, forward Wayne Prestage and newly acquired defenseman Ken Daneyko.
Daneyko had been added in early December in a dispersal draft after the Spokane Flyers folded. Add to the mix tough guys Mitch Wilson (436 penalty minutes), Phil Stanger (349) and Brent Shaw (209) and you had a team that wouldn’t back down to anyone, including the Winter Hawks.
Portland, which had beaten Seattle 14 of 15 games the previous season, was scheduled to play the Breakers 14 times in 1982. But because Spokane folded, seven games between the I-5 rivals were added.
The Breakers showed that this season would be different in a mid-December matchup at Memorial Coliseum in Portland. The Winter Hawks, coached by legendary Ken Hodge, had scored the final four goals to win 6-4 the previous night in Seattle. But in Portland, the Breakers exploded for a wild, 10-7 win. The game included a huge brawl that resulted in the ejections of 17 players, leaving Portland with six players and Seattle eight when the horn sounded.
The Breakers won the next two games against Portland in late December and finished the season 8-11-2 vs. Portland, including a respectable 4-6-1 in the Rose City.
Things weren’t so good in the front office as Hamilton filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in late December to give him 120 days to present a plan to repay creditors. This assured that the Breakers would at least finish the season.
Seattle finished the season 36-34-2, third in the four-team West Division, which was won by Portland.
The Breakers shocked the defending WHL champion Victoria Cougars with a four-game sweep in the first round of the playoffs. It was Seattle’s first playoff series victory. (The team did win a round-robin series in 1980.)
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And after 21 games in the regular season, it was Seattle vs. Portland again.
Seattle rallied from a 5-0 deficit to win the first game, 7-5, in Portland. The Winter Hawks won the next two, though. In Game 3, the first one of the series played in Seattle, Portland won in overtime. Three seconds after it started came the first of six fights in the game.
In another fight-filled game, the Breakers evened the series at 2-2.
But Portland took the next two games, and the series, and went on to win the WHL title.
“[Sangster] turned that whole organization around,” Portland goalie Darrell May said after the series.
Seattle hockey fans during the past 25 years have watched Glen Goodall, Petr Nedved, Victor Gervais, Patrick Marleau, Brendan Witt, Turner Stevenson, Danny Lorenz and Aaron Gagnon, to name just a few.
They might not have had the chance if it hadn’t been for the 1982 team that fought through a crazy season and kept junior hockey in Seattle.
|Then and now|
|A comparison of junior hockey in Seattle 25 years ago, and today:|
|$6||Most expensive ticket||$20|
|Barbed-wire fence||Keeping puck in play||Plexi-Glass|
|12||WHL teams that finished season||21|
|21||Regular-season games against Portland||12|
|13||Players with more than 100 penalty minutes||2|
|7||Players with at least 20 goals||2|
|“Portland sucks”||Favorite chant||“Portland sucks”|
|– Compiled by Gary Dougherty|