Minnesota Fighting Saints
1972/73: Minnesota long has been a hotbed for hockey, as children grew up playing pond hockey on any one of the states 10,000 lakes. In Minneapolis, the NHL had a team that was not very good in the North Stars, so the World Hockey Association put a team in St. Paul called the Minnesota Fighting Saints. If the new league was to have a break through Minnesota was perhaps their best chance. To help draw fans the team built its roster on American Born players, particularly those from the Land of 1,000 Lakes. The name Saints was from an old Central Hockey League team known as the St. Paul Saints, while Fighting was added to enforce what the team had hope would be their spirit. General Manager Glen Sonmor was also the team’s coach as they faced the Winnipeg Jets in their first game on October 13th. The Saints would lose that game 4-3, before beating the Chicago Cougars two nights later 3-2 for their first win. Late in the season, the Saints moved into a new arena as the St. Paul Civic Center opened, while GM Sonmor turned over the coaching reigns to Harry Neale. Under Neal the Saints played well down the stretch, finishing in a fourth place tie with the Alberta Oilers with a record of 38-37-3. The Saints would go on to beat the Oilers 4-2 to earn the last playoff spot in the Western Division. The Saints would go on to lose to the Winnipeg Jets in five games in the first round of the WHA playoffs.
1973/74: Heading into their second season, the Fighting Saints added some punch as they acquired Fran Huck from the Winnipeg Jets, while they signed Mike Walton away from the NHL’s Boston Bruins. The Saints also addressed their goaltending problems by signing Rookie John Garrett, who several NHL teams were interested in. Walton would the WHA in scoring with 117 points, along with 57 goals as Wayne Connelly and George Morrison each reached the 40 goal plateau. The Saints would go on to finish the season in second place with a solid record of 44-32-2. In the playoffs the Saints would waste little time in getting past the Edmonton Oilers, as they won their first round series in five games to set up a showdown with the Houston Aeros in the WHA Semifinals. Looking for extra toughness the Saints signed notorious enforcer Bill “Goldie” Goldthorpe. Goldthorpe was widely regarded as one of the most infamous hockey goons in minor league hockey, a man once dubbed him the “wildest, meanest, most unpredictable player in hockey.” Goldthorpe racked up an amazing 1,132 penalty minutes in just 194 professional games, and was the inspiration for Ogie Ogilthorpe from the 1977 film “Slap Shot.” Bill Goldthrope would rack up 25 penalty minutes over three games against the Aeros, but it would not help the Saints win the series, as the Aeros won the Western Division Championship in six games on the way to winning the AVCO Cup.
1974/75: The Fighting Saints would have another solid season, as they finished with a record of 42-33-3. In the playoffs the Fighting Saints would defeat the New England Whalers in six games to reach the WHA Finals for the second straight season. Against the Quebec Nordiques the Saints would put up a strong fight as the series was even after four games. However, a 6-3 loss on the road would be their undoing as the Nordiques would take the series in six games.
1975/76: On the outside things looked great for the Minnesota Fighting Saints as they had made the playoff s and had a winning record in all three seasons, making the semifinals two straight seasons. However, in a sign of the WHA’s coming demise they could barely pay their bills, as they could not complete against the North Stars, who had a strong television contract. Hoping to break through the Saints attempted to sign Bobby Orr, but a deal could not be reached as he remained in the NHL. they signed Dave Keon off the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. Keon had a solid season while providing leadership for the Saints, scoring 26 goals with 38 assists in 57 games, while Mike Walton, Wayne Connelly and George Morrison all scored over 30 goals. Also on the Saints roster were the Carlson brothers Jack, Steve and Jeff who were the inspiration for the Hanson Brothers in “Slap Shot.” Steve and Jeff Carlson portrayed the two of the Hanson Brothers in the cult classic, while David Hanson who was the third Hanson brother in the movie would also play for the new Fighting Saints in the 1976/77 season. The Saints would again be one the WHA’s strongest teams, posting a record 25-16-5 through the end of January as they battled the Houston Aeros for the division lead. However, the team’s finiancial woes would become too heavy burden for Owner Wayne Belisle, and before February was over the Saints were forced to fold, playing their last game on February 25th, with a 2-1 loss in overtime to the San Diego Mariners. The Saints would sit in second place a 30-25-4, with 19 games left in the season. John Garrett was among the top goalies and Mike Walton and Wayne Connelly were both on their way to 30 goal seasons again, but it was all gone they would become free agents. The WHA would return with a new team also called the Fighting Saints the following season, but that team too would fold in the middle of the season, as the WHA began its tailspin into oblivion.
©MMXIII Tank Productions. Stats researched by Frank Fleming, all information, and team names are property of the World Hockey Association. This site is not affiliated with the Minnesota Fighting Saints or the WHA. This site is maintained for research purposes only. All logos used on this page were from Chris Creamer’s Sports Logos Page.
Page created on July 30, 2013. Last updated on July 30, 2013 at 11:30 pm ET.