|League|| WHL 1968–74|
|Home arena|| Denver Coliseum (1968-1975)|
McNichols Sports Arena (1975-1976)
|Media|| KOA-TV |
(to January 1)
(folded January 17)
|Regular season titles||1971–72|
(WHL's Lester Patrick Cup)
The Denver Spurs were a professional ice hockey team based in Denver. The Spurs began play in the Western Hockey League in 1968, and played at the Denver Coliseum. The Spurs became the first professional sports team in Colorado to win a championship in 1971–72. After the WHL folded in 1974, the team transferred to the Central Hockey League for the 1974–75 season.
In June, 1974, Ivan Mullenix, owner of the CHL Spurs, was awarded a "conditional" NHL franchise for the 1976-77 season. With the McNichols Sports Arena already complete by 1975, he looked to enter the NHL a year early, and the league attempted to broker an arrangement whereby Mullenix would acquire the California Golden Seals (then under league ownership) and move them to Denver in lieu of an expansion team. At the same time, the bankrupt Pittsburgh Penguins would be sold to a Seattle group who also held a conditional franchise, which would have been named the Seattle Totems.
The proposed arrangement fell through, and with the continuing franchise difficulties, the NHL called off the 1976-77 expansion. Mullenix accepted an offer from the WHA to join that league for the 1975-76 season. The Spurs were the second WHL refugee to join the WHA, following the Phoenix Roadrunners.
The WHA Spurs claimed most of the players in a dispersal draft from the Chicago Cougars, who had folded in 1975, and some players from the CHL Spurs were also retained.
A Sports Illustrated preview on the upcoming WHA season noted that it was stalwart Gordie Howe's 28th year in major league hockey, and the Spurs' first. The magazine picked the expansion team to finish last in the WHA's Western Division. It also said that unless the Spurs drew well immediately, "Denver's stay in big-league hockey could be exactly 27 years shorter than Gordie Howe's."
The Spurs' first exhibition game, against Howe's Houston Aeros, proved to be a microcosm of their brief stay in the WHA. No beer was available because Mullenix was unable to get a liquor license, there was no flag to face during the national anthem, and the scoreboards didn't work. Only 5,000 fans showed up. The situation didn't get much better during the regular season; they only averaged 3,000 fans in a 16,800-seat arena. The most widely cited reason for the poor attendance was hard feelings over being spurned by the NHL. Denver-area fans had been banking on an NHL team after three years of advertising and did not consider the WHA to be a major league.
The situation wasn't much better on the ice either. Veteran Ralph Backstrom was one of the Spurs' few experienced players, but at 38 his career was in decline. Still, he wound up leading the team with 50 points in 41 games. The rest of the roster was filled with cast-offs and career minor-leaguers, such as Don Borgeson, who had played for the WHL Spurs from 1971–73; he finished second to Backstrom in points scored with 41. They could never find an answer in goal; one of their goalies ran up a staggering 15.00 goals against average (GAA).
The Spurs played their first regular-season game at home against the Indianapolis Racers. Before only 5,000 fans, the Spurs scored the first goal, only to give up seven unanswered goals en route to a 7-1 loss. By December 30, they were in the Western Division cellar with a 13–20–1 mark, despite an overtime win over the Racers that night in Denver. It would turn out to be the last game the Spurs would play in Colorado.
Rumors had abounded even before the Spurs got on the ice that the NHL was planning to move either the Seals or the Kansas City Scouts to Denver. By late December, Mullenix got word that the Scouts were in very serious discussions about moving to Denver for the following season. Knowing he couldn't hope to compete with an NHL team, Mullenix began the process of selling the team to the "Founders Club," a group of businessmen based in Ottawa, on New Year's Eve. He had initially begun negotiations with the Founders Club a month into the season when the first rumors cropped up of a Scouts move to Denver. Soon after Mullenix reopened the Ottawa feelers, the Founders Club insisted that Mullenix move the team to Ottawa immediately. In the middle of a road trip, Mullenix quietly moved the Spurs to Ottawa on January 2, 1976, where they were renamed the Ottawa Civics. The players reportedly only learned of the move to Ottawa when they stood on the ice in Cincinnati (in their Denver colors) and suddenly heard O Canada being played in honor of it being the national anthem of the nation of their new "home city".
Despite playing to sellout crowds at two home games in Ottawa, Mullenix and the Founders Club were unable to reach a deal, and Mullenix was not willing to operate the team in Ottawa. Negotiations for the sale were called off on January 15, however, and the team folded for good two days later. The Spurs/Civics' 41-game existence made them easily the shortest-lived franchise in WHA history, and one of the shortest-lived franchises in North American professional sports history.
The Spurs' abrupt departure turned out to be a prescient move, as the Scouts indeed moved to Denver for the following season, becoming the Colorado Rockies. The Rockies only lasted six seasons, though, before relocating again and becoming the New Jersey Devils. It would not be until the relocation of the Quebec Nordiques (ironically, a former WHA franchise) to Denver as the Colorado Avalanche in 1995 that Denver would enjoy lasting success in major league hockey.
The last active Spurs player in the NHL was Ron Delorme, who retired after the 1984-85 season. As well, Spurs draft pick Mel Bridgman played in the NHL until 1989, but never played in the WHA. Interestingly, Bridgman would become, in 1992, the first general manager of the new Ottawa Senators NHL franchise, which would initially play its home games at the Civic Centre.
Note: GP = Games played, W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, Pts = Points, GF = Goals for, GA = Goals against, PIM = Penalties in minutes
|1968–69||74||23||44||7||53||254||308||683||Fifth in League||Out of playoffs|
|1969–70||72||24||37||11||59||250||316||736||Sixth in League||Out of playoffs|
|1970–71||72||25||31||16||66||242||253||804||Fourth in League||Lost Semi-final to Phoenix Roadrunners, 1-4|
|1971–72||72||44||20||8||96||293||209||993||First in League||Won Semi-final over San Diego Gulls, 4-0|
Won Final over Portland Buckaroos , 4-1
|1972–73||72||27||32||13||67||264||275||1022||Fourth in League||Lost Semi-final to Salt Lake Golden Eagles, 1-4|
|1973–74||78||28||50||0||56||249||335||0||Sixth in League||Out of playoffs|
|1974–75||78||36||29||13||85||285||263||1406||Second in Northern||Lost Quarter-final to Omaha Knights, 0-2|
|1975–76||41||14||26||1||29||134||172||536||Fifth in Western||Team moved to Ottawa to become Ottawa Civics after 34 games. Franchise folded 7 games later.|
Gordon Howe was a Canadian professional ice hockey player. From 1946 to 1980, he played 26 seasons in the National Hockey League (NHL) and six seasons in the World Hockey Association (WHA); his first 25 seasons were spent with the Detroit Red Wings. Nicknamed "Mr. Hockey", Howe is often considered the most complete player to ever play the game and one of the greatest of all time. At his retirement, his 801 goals, 1049 assists, and 1850 total points were all NHL records that stood until they were broken by Wayne Gretzky, who himself has been a major champion of Howe's legacy. A 23-time NHL All-Star, he still holds the NHL record for seasons played, and his all-time NHL games played record of 1,767 was only surpassed in 2021 by Patrick Marleau. In 2017, Howe was named one of the "100 Greatest NHL Players".
The World Hockey Association was a professional ice hockey major league that operated in North America from 1972 to 1979. It was the first major league to compete with the National Hockey League (NHL) since the collapse of the Western Hockey League in 1926. Although the WHA was not the first league since that time to attempt to challenge the NHL's supremacy, it was by far the most successful in the modern era.
The Hartford Whalers were an American professional ice hockey team based for most of its existence in Hartford, Connecticut. The club played in the World Hockey Association (WHA) from 1972 until 1979, and in the National Hockey League (NHL) from 1979 to 1997. Originally based in Boston, the team joined the WHA in the league's inaugural season, and was known as the New England Whalers throughout its time in the WHA. The Whalers moved to Hartford in 1974 and joined the NHL in the NHL–WHA merger of 1979.
The Calgary Cowboys were an ice hockey team that played two seasons in the World Hockey Association (WHA) from 1975–1977. The Cowboys played at the Stampede Corral in Calgary. The franchise was founded in 1972 as the Miami Screaming Eagles, though it never played a game in Miami. The team was based in Philadelphia and Vancouver, known in both markets as the Blazers, before relocating to Calgary. The franchise folded in 1977.
The Quebec Nordiques were a professional ice hockey team based in Quebec City. The Nordiques played in the World Hockey Association (1972–1979) and the National Hockey League (1979–1995). The franchise was relocated to Denver, Colorado in May 1995 and renamed the Colorado Avalanche. They played their home games at the Colisée de Québec from 1972 to 1995.
Ralph Gerald Backstrom was a Canadian professional ice hockey centre and later a coach, entrepreneur and hockey executive. He played in the National Hockey League with the Montreal Canadiens, Los Angeles Kings, and Chicago Black Hawks between 1956 and 1973. He also played in the World Hockey Association with the Chicago Cougars, Denver Spurs/Ottawa Civics, and New England Whalers from 1973 to 1977. With the Canadiens, he won the Stanley Cup six times, and won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year in 1959. After retiring he served as head coach of the University of Denver Pioneers for several years in the 1980s.
The Western Hockey League (WHL) was a minor professional ice hockey league based in Western Canada that operated from 1952 to 1974. The league was managed for most of its history by Al Leader, and had roots in the Pacific Coast Hockey League and the Western Canada Senior Hockey League. The championship trophy of the WHL was the Lester Patrick Cup.
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The Houston Aeros were a professional ice hockey team in the World Hockey Association (WHA) from 1972 to 1978.
The Cincinnati Stingers were an ice hockey team based in Cincinnati that played in the World Hockey Association from 1975 to 1979 and in the Central Hockey League during the 1979–80 season. Their home arena was Riverfront Coliseum, and they are the only major league hockey team to have played out of Cincinnati.
The Ottawa Civics was a professional ice hockey team based out of Ottawa that played in the World Hockey Association. The team, which hastily adopted its identity in midseason when the Denver Spurs announced plans to sell the team and relocate to Ottawa, existed for approximately two weeks, folding after only seven games.
Mark Steven Howe is an American former professional ice hockey left winger and later defenseman who played sixteen seasons in the National Hockey League (NHL) following six seasons in the World Hockey Association (WHA). He is currently serving as the director of pro scouting for the Detroit Red Wings.
Maxwell Douglas McNab was a Canadian professional ice hockey player, coach, and NHL general manager. McNab won the Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 1950, centering a line with Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay. He later played in the Western Hockey League, earning league MVP honors in 1955 with the New Westminster Royals.
The Colorado Rockies were an American professional ice hockey team in the National Hockey League (NHL) that played in Denver from 1976 to 1982. They were founded as the Kansas City Scouts, an expansion team that began play in the NHL in the 1974–75 season. The Scouts moved from Kansas City, Missouri, to Denver for the 1976–77 season. The franchise moved to East Rutherford, New Jersey, for the 1982–83 season and was renamed as the New Jersey Devils. Denver went without an NHL team until the Quebec Nordiques relocated to become the Colorado Avalanche following the 1994–95 season. The Rockies name itself would be applied to the Major League Baseball expansion team that began play in 1993.
Larry Stuart Roy Johnston is a Canadian former professional ice hockey defenceman who played for over 14 years in seven different hockey leagues. He spent the most time with the Springfield Indians/Kings of the American Hockey League and the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League, where he served a short term as captain.
The Seattle Totems were a professional ice hockey franchise in Seattle, Washington. Under several names prior to 1958, the franchise was a member of the Pacific Coast Hockey League between 1944 and 1974. In their last season of existence, the Totems played in the Central Hockey League in the 1974–75 season. They played their home games in the Civic Ice Arena and later at the Seattle Center Coliseum. The Totems won three WHL Lester Patrick Cup championships in 1959, 1967 and 1968.
The 1976–77 Colorado Rockies season was the Rockies' first season. The Kansas City Scouts relocated in the off-season to Denver. With the World Hockey Association's Denver Spurs leaving Denver in a midnight move to Ottawa, Ontario just about 10 months earlier, Denver would get a franchise and the team would be anointed the Colorado Rockies. The team moved from Kansas City, which was a two-year NHL franchise that struggled from the beginning.
The 1979 NHL expansion was the culmination of several years of negotiations between the National Hockey League (NHL) and the World Hockey Association (WHA) that resulted in the WHA and all of its surviving franchises folding in return for the owners of four of the WHA's six remaining teams being granted expansion franchises that commenced play in the NHL for the 1979–80 season. The agreement officially took effect on June 22, 1979. The agreement ended the seven-year existence of the WHA and re-established the NHL as the lone major league in North American professional ice hockey.
The 1975–76 Denver Spurs/Ottawa Civics season was the ill-fated single season of operation of the Denver Spurs/Ottawa Civics in the World Hockey Association (WHA). The Spurs began the season in Denver, Colorado but relocated to Ottawa, Ontario before giving up for good after 41 games.
Dennis Arthur Murphy was an American sports entrepreneur who helped co-found the American Basketball Association (1967–1976), the World Hockey Association (1972–1979), the original World Team Tennis (1973–1978), Roller Hockey International (1992–1999), and several other trend-setting amateur and professional sports concepts and events. Each of his innovations exhibited ground-breaking marketing and promotional tactics, new rules, and a style of play that forced the evolution of the entrenched incumbent. Among the many visionary rules and promotional concepts introduced by Murphy include the 3-point shot (ABA), the Slam-Dunk Contest (ABA), team cheerleaders (ABA), the first $1 million contract (WHA), and he paved the path for the ever-growing wave of European and Russian hockey players that now play in North America.