Love and peace was in the air for many in the late 1960s, but for the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Canucks and their fans early in the 1968-69 season, it was more a case of love and hate. Yet, when all was said and done on this historic season, it was mostly love—and a hefty helping of glory.

With the NHL looking at expanding in 1970-71, the owners of the WHL Canucks built the Pacific Coliseum, a new 16,000-seat arena, and bought nearly the entire roster of the American Hockey League’s Rochester Americans, the 1967-68 Calder Cup champions, for nearly $500,000. Much was on the line to show that Vancouver was NHL material.

Vancouver fans had lofty expectations for this team of high-priced puckslingers, and when few wins resulted early on, the players were showered with boos. It was a rude awakening for many of the Rochester transplants, who were universally adored by Rochester faithful as heroes just a season earlier. After bolstering the lineup with former Montreal Canadiens netminder Charlie Hodge and Andy Bathgate, the NHL’s 1959 Hart Trophy winner, the Canucks rebounded to finish the regular season a solid second.

Nearly forty years later, the collection of great players on this team remains impressive. Besides Hodge and the much-revered Bathgate, captain Bob Barlow, who recorded 84 regular season points, led the team with the help of linemate Bryan Hextall. Future Hockey Night in Canada celebrity Don Cherry patrolled the blueline. The popular ‘Silver Fox,’ Phil Maloney, who later coached the NHL Canucks to the 1974-75 Smythe Division title, played his final season. George Gardner, Murray Hall, and Ted Taylor all played for the Canucks in the inaugural 1970-71 NHL season. Vancouver’s well-respected ‘Dr. Sport’ Greg Douglas was the team’s PR man. But for all the great players, this team will be remembered for its amazing playoff run.

To keep his restless troops focused on capturing the prestigious Lester Patrick Cup, Canucks’ coach Joe ‘The Crow’ Crozier barricaded the entire team at a quiet Horseshoe Bay motel between home playoff games free from distractions. The players seemed annoyed at the lack of excitement. A bored Bathgate sarcastically announced the Horseshoe Bay “boot camp” as “noisy” with “all that grass growing and those rocks sitting there and rattling away. The noise is terrible.”

Province columnist Clancy Loranger wisely pointed out the method behind Crozier’s perceived madness: with nothing else to occupy their idle minds off the ice, the players played like madmen possessed when unleashed against unsuspecting opposition.

Opening the semifinals against the Seattle Totems, trainer Ed Shamlock quietly wrote a large number eight on the dressing room blackboard to signify the number of wins required to capture the WHL championship. With each passing victory, the number was lowered by Shamlock until a chalky “one” was washed away by celebratory dressing room champagne less than two weeks later.

The Canucks dispensed with Seattle in four straight games sealing the series on Marc Reaume’s overtime winner in game four. Up against the regular season champion Portland Buckeroos in the final, the Canucks’ fine play continued winning the first two games in Portland decisively. Games three and four in Vancouver were much closer, both decided in overtime on clutch winners by the opportunistic Reaume. The final victory, in front of a WHL record 14,902 spectators, gave the Canucks the distinction of eight straight playoff victories without a loss—an accomplishment never equaled before or since.

Jubilant Vancouver fans littered the ice with rolls of toilet paper and confetti as the players mobbed one another and pandemonium ensued. The city’s support was no longer in doubt. The cure for a bad case of love and hate? It appears love’s great after a magical streak of eight straight.

Team Members:
Bob Barlow, Andy Bathgate, Ken Block, Don Cherry, Joe Crozier (manager and coach), Greg Douglas (public relations), Les Duff, Germain Gagnon, George Gardner, John Gofton, Murray Hall, Pat Hannigan, Nick Harbaruk, Duke Harris, Bryan Hextall, Charlie Hodge, Don Johns, Bob Lemieux, Len Lunde, Phil Maloney, Ted McCaskill, Jim McKenney, Billy McNeil, Tracy Pratt, Marc Reaume, Ed Shamlock (trainer), Gerry Sillers, Darryl Sly, Ted Taylor.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.