Professional hockey in Colorado has seen better days. The 2016-17 NHL season marked the worst season in the history of the Colorado Avalanche. We have had to turn to the ECHL for any semblance of success in this great sport. We are forced to hope and pray that our prospects don’t become busts and wait for them to enter the league. We have seen better days. But, alas, that’s just the way she goes sometimes. The Avs will get better, just as the Blackhawks and Penguins before them who saw perpetual disappointment eventually replaced by sustained success. Time is a flat circle and improvement is inevitable. While we’re waiting though, why not revisit another time and a team you may not have heard of… this is the history of the Denver Spurs.
The WHL Years
The Denver Spurs came onto the scene as an expansion team in the, now defunct, Western Hockey League (no relation to the major junior hockey league). The league was of the minor pro variety and teams annually fought for the Lester Patrick Cup.
As you can see by their year-by-year record, the Spurs’ WHL years were marked by mediocrity except for one season – 1971-72. That season would prove to be a monumental one for the Spurs and for Colorado sports in general. The 1971 WHL season brought to the Centennial State its first pro sports championship as the Spurs prevailed over the Portland Buckaroos. Before continuing, let’s take a moment to appreciate each team’s glorious threads.
Anyhow, the Spurs swept their first round matchup that year against the San Diego Gulls and beat the Buckaroos four games to one. Saskatchewan native, Fran Huck, was our leading scorer that year in both the regular season and playoffs. Huck was also proficient at growing a luscious lip sweater.
The CHL Years
The WHL folded at the conclusion of its 1974 season so the Spurs shifted to another now defunct league, the Central Hockey League (again, no relation to the umbrella organization of major junior leagues). Denver achieved satisfactory results in their maiden season in the CHL. They had the third best record out of eight teams (36-29-13) and made it to the playoffs, losing in the first round. It should be noted that before the CHL season started, the owner of the Spurs, Ivan Mullenix, reached a conditional agreement to be part of the NHL’s 1976-77 expansion
The WHA Years
Things get interesting in 1975 as the NHL called off the proposed expansion. This caused Mullenix to make a deal with the World Hockey Association (WHA; a league on par with the NHL, talent-wise) to be part of their expansion into the Colorado market. Fielding a team made up of players from the recently folded Chicago Cougars (which the Spurs were essentially replacing) and their CHL team, the Denver Spurs entered the WHA for the 1975-76 season. As it would seem, this year’s Colorado Avalanche took inspiration from the 1975-76 Spurs – who finished last in the league with a difference of 24 points between their point total and the second-last team’s (the difference between this year’s Avs and the Canucks was 21 points so at least we’ve made some progress). The team also performed horribly with regard to attendance, drawing the lowest number of fans (roughly 3,000 per game) in the league to games at brand new McNichols Arena (which seats 16,800). This proved disastrous to the franchise’s future in Colorado. In December of 1975, midway through the season, the team was sold and moved to Ottawa, becoming the Ottawa Civics.
While the life of the Spurs franchise was undoubtedly bleak, they did leave an impression on Colorado. While the Spurs only gave a taste of this great sport to the state, they were still pioneers and exposed a population to the thrills of sport on ice. Coloradans didn’t have to wait long for this taste to be satiated as the NHL’s Colorado Rockies came onto the scene in 1976 (before leaving for New Jersey in 1982).