April 20, 1968: An intense rivalry turns out to be the ‘greatest comeback in Seattle hockey history’
By: Art Thiel
There are few things more appealing to sports fans than a storied rivalry. Back in the 1960s glory days of the Western Hockey League, then a professional league, games between the Seattle Totems and Portland Buckaroos would pack the Coliseum on the Seattle Center campus.
“I remember going into the old arena in Seattle with the Buckaroos and those fans were really rough,” said goaltender Don Head to the Seattle Times in 2011. Hood played and was an all-star for both Portland and Seattle. “Everybody sat close to the ice and it was a wild crowd.”
Imagine that crowd in the spring of 1968, when the Totems mounted what play-by-play radio broadcaster Bill Schonley described as “the greatest comeback in Seattle hockey history.”
Fun fact: It was Schonley’s final season of 10 calling Totems games on the radio. He moved to the major league Seattle Pilots for the team’s one season in the Northwest, then Schonley found his way to Portland (grrrr, of all places) to announce NBA Trail Blazers games.
In April of 1968, the Totems were defending their 1967 Lester Patrick Cup championship in a best-of-seven WHL finals against Portland. The Totems, 35-30-7 in the regular season, swept Phoenix in the first round, then opened the finals against Portland with a 2-0 win in Game 1.
Game 2 before a Coliseum crowd of 8,961 didn’t seem to match up and quieted the most throaty Seattle fans. The Totems fell behind 6-2 after two periods. Then came the whirlwind.
Seattle’s Bill Dineen scored in the first 90 seconds of the third. Strong cheers and fans sat a little straighter in their seats.
Fun fact: Dineen would go on to a long career as a head coach and executive, coaching the Philadelphia Flyers and, as amateur scouting director for the NHL’s Hartford Whalers, drafting then 18-year-old and now NHL Seattle GM Ron Francis fourth overall in the 1981 Draft.
A few minutes later, Charlie Holmes added another goal, cutting the deficit to 6-4. Then Bob Courcy scored with 11 minutes remaining. The crowd morphed into a frenzy.
Late in the period, the Totems believed they scored the tying goal, but officials waved it off due to a high-sticking penalty. With a minute left, Seattle pulled its goaltender. The extra man helped Dineen score with 21 seconds remaining to force the game into an overtime. The Coliseum was an ocean of mayhem.
With less than seven minutes left in the first overtime, Courcy carried the puck into the Portland zone. He fired a shot that hit the left side of the net. Courcy went after the loose puck and fired again. Portland goalie Jim McLeod, who was traded from Seattle in the previous off-season, knocked it away. But Seattle hockey legend Guyle Fielder, playing with a nose broken nose sustained earlier in the playoofs, collected the rebound and flicked it past McLeod to complete the Totems’ comeback and ignite an uproarious celebration
“That’s one game I’ll just never forget, because of the rivalry,” said Fielder, arguably the best player in North American minor league hockey history. “That was just an unbelievable game. I was fortunate.”
The Buckaroos were devastated and lost the series in five games. A second consecutive Patrick Cup was the high-water mark in Totems annals, especially because of the rivalry. In its first year the league in 1961, Portland won the Cup 4-2 over Seattle. In the mid-60s, Portland had a 15-game win streak over Seattle across two seasons. Even during the 1967-68 season, the Buckaroos dominated the regular season series, 8-4.
The Cup triumph marked the final playoff series win in Totems history (which dates from 1958 through 1975). And it was the 39-year-old Fielder’s final season in Seattle, where he had become one of the city’s brightest sports stars in the pre-major-league era.
A highlight recording of the third period radio call of play-by-play broadcaster Bill Schonley can be found here.