Minnesota Fighting Saints

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Minnesota Fighting Saints
Saintplayer blue.png
City St. Paul, Minnesota
League World Hockey Association
Operated 19721976 and 1976–77
Home arena St. Paul Auditorium (1972)
St. Paul Civic Center (1973–77)
Colors Royal blue, new gold and white (1972–76)
Scarlet, old gold and white (1976–77)
Franchise history
1972–1976
(original)
Minnesota Fighting Saints
1972 Calgary Broncos
1972–1976 Cleveland Crusaders
1976–1977
(replacement)
Minnesota Fighting Saints

The Minnesota Fighting Saints was the name of two professional ice hockey teams based in Saint Paul, Minnesota that played in the World Hockey Association. The first team was one of the WHA's original twelve franchises, playing from 1972–76. The second team was relocated from Cleveland, Ohio, and played for part of the 1976–77 season. Neither edition of the franchise completed its final season of play.

Original team[edit]

The first team was one of the WHA's original twelve franchises. They played four seasons, beginning in 1972–73. The Fighting Saints' first game, a 4-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, was played October 13, 1972, at the St. Paul Auditorium. Partway through the first season, the new St. Paul Civic Center opened in January 1973. The first game in the new arena was on January 1, 1973, a 4-4 overtime tie with the Houston Aeros.

The team colors were royal blue, white and new gold. The name was taken from the St. Paul Saints of the Central Hockey League, who had used the nickname "The Fighting Saints" in promotional material.

At the outset, the Saints had a policy of favoring local players, with the 1972–73 roster featuring no fewer than 11 athletes who were either born in Minnesota or (in the case of former Team USA players Keith Christiansen, George Konik and Carl Wetzel) American citizens. This was almost unheard of in the early 1970s, when few NHL or WHA teams had even a single American player.

Among the players the Saints selected in the inaugural WHA draft in 1972 was a defenseman who had played for Team USA at the 1956 Winter Olympics, Wendell Anderson. Anderson said he was flattered, but he chose not to join the Saints and instead stuck to his day job—as Governor of Minnesota.

The Saints never missed the playoffs nor had a losing record and the team always drew more fans than the WHA average. On a few occasions, the Fighting Saints drew more attendance then their NHL rivals, the Minnesota North Stars. They also boasted a handful of expensive marquee players such as Mike Walton, Dave Keon and John McKenzie. Nevertheless, without a true franchise player, the Saints were unable to secure the lucrative television deal that could have relieved their growing financial woes. The Saints had a winning record of 30-25-4 and were second in the West behind the Houston Aeros when they ceased operations on February 28, 1976, due to financial struggles.

The last game was played February 25, 1976 at the Civic Center, a 2-1 overtime loss to the San Diego Mariners in front of an announced crowd of 6,011.

Second team[edit]

The second incarnation's logo, from the 1976–77 season.

After the NHL's California Golden Seals moved to Cleveland to become the Cleveland Barons, the WHA's Cleveland Crusaders moved to St. Paul for the 1976–77 season. Like their predecessors, this second version of the Saints (called the "New Fighting Saints" in advertising and promotional material) had a winning record through their first 42 games (19-18-5), but owner Nick Mileti was unable to sell the team to local buyers. The franchise officially folded on January 20, 1977. The team's logo and uniforms were identical to the first team's, but with scarlet replacing royal blue.

The "New" Fighting Saints played their final game on January 14, 1977, a 9-5 home win over the Indianapolis Racers.

Players[edit]

Ted Hampson was the Saints' captain in their first four seasons. In the final season, Ron Ward was the team captain, replaced in mid-season by John Arbour.

Among the Saints' notable players in their brief history were Wayne Connelly (the team's career scoring leader), Mike Walton, Mike Antonovich (the team's career games leader), Ted Hampson, Hockey Hall of Famer Dave Keon, John McKenzie and Rick Smith, tough guys Jack Carlson, Gord Gallant, Curt Brackenbury, Bill Butters and Paul Holmgren and goalies Mike Curran and John Garrett. In the 1974 WHA semifinals against Houston, controversial forward Bill "Goldie" Goldthorpe played three games for the Fighting Saints, compiling no points and 25 penalty minutes. (The 1977 movie Slap Shot featured a wild player named Ogie Oglethorpe, based on Goldthorpe.)

Team executives[edit]

Glen Sonmor was the Saints general manager throughout their history. Sonmor coached the Saints for the first part of their inaugural season. When Sonmor gave up his coaching duties, assistant coach Harry Neale took over as head coach. Sonmor coached the Saints again during their final season, 1976–77. Neale had become head coach of the New England Whalers after the original Saints folded in 1976.

Season-by-season record[edit]

Note: GP = Games played, W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, Pts = Points, GF = Goals for, GA = Goals against, PIM = Penalties in minutes

Season GP W L T Pts GF GA PIM Finish Playoffs
1972–73 78 38 37 3 79 250 269 1134 4th, Western Lost Quarterfinals (Jets)
1973–74 78 44 32 2 90 332 275 1243 2nd, Western Won Quarterfinals (Oilers)
Lost Semifinals (Aeros)
1974–75 78 42 33 3 87 308 279 1233 3rd, Western Won Quarterfinals (Whalers)
Lost Semifinals (Nordiques)
1975–76 59 30 25 4 64 211 212 1354 DNF Did not finish season
Totals 293 154 127 12 320 1101 1035 4964
Season GP W L T Pts GF GA PIM Finish Playoffs
1976-77 42 19 18 5 43 136 129 600 DNF Did not finish season
Totals 42 19 18 5 43 136 129 600

Media coverage[edit]

Games of the original Fighting Saints were heard on WLOL Radio (1330 AM) from 1972 to 1976, with Frank Buetel as play-by-play announcer. Buetel was the original TV voice of the NHL's Minnesota North Stars from 1967 to 1970 on WTCN-TV (now KARE-TV). Buetel's color commentators included Roger Buxton and Bob Halvorson, the Saints' first-season public relations director (1972–73), and Bill Allard (1973–76). Al Hirt's version of "When the Saints Go Marching In" was used as the theme song for WLOL's Fighting Saints broadcasts. No local radio station carried games of the New Fighting Saints (1976–77).

Fighting Saints games were televised sporadically on WTCN. The first WTCN game was a home contest versus Cleveland on December 23, 1973, with Buetel and Allard simulcasting. Buxton called subsequent games on WTCN.

On January 7, 1973, CBS aired its first WHA game between the Fighting Saints and Winnipeg Jets live from the new St. Paul Civic Center with Ron Oakes, Gerry Cheevers and Dick Stockton announcing. In the 1973–74 season, one Saints home game was carried on KTCA-TV (PBS).

The main sportswriters who covered the Fighting Saints were Charley Hallman of the St. Paul Pioneer Press-Dispatch and John Gilbert of the Minneapolis Tribune.

References[edit]