|League:||World Hockey Association|
|Operated:||1972 – 1975|
|Home Arena:||International Amphitheatre (cap.: 9,000)|
|Affiliates:||Long Island Cougars (NAHL)|
The Chicago Cougars were a professional team founded in 1972 and based in Chicago, Illinois, United-States that played in the World Hockey Association. The Cougars were short-lived and folded in 1975.
Expected to to become one of the league's cornerstones, the team started with some difficulties as it was forced to change ownership before even playing a single game. Jordon and Walter Kaiser, local businessmen, finally secured the franchise - those ownership problems made it difficult for the team to sign players to fill their roster and they could only start well into the 1972 summer. The Kaisers had much to do: only a few months prior to the beginning of the inaugural season, a single player was under contract with the team. It was Bob Kelly, formerly of the Philadelphia Flyers - who switched back to the NHL before the season began! The ownership attempted to raid their NHL rival, the Chicago Black Hawks, in order to sign their players. They even attempted to sign Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita! They lacked success in their attempt however; the only Black Hawks players they could sign were Bob Sicinski, Rick Morris and Dan Lodboa - all three of them being minor leaguer in their system and not even Black Hawks regulars. On the other hand, Bobby Hull did move to the WHA, but with the Winnipeg Jets instead of the Chicago Cougars.
All in all, the Cougars ended up signing a whole bunch of minor league players and only a couple of NHL players, such as veterans Reg Fleming and Larry Cahan or Rosaire Paiement. The result was nothing convincing. Head coach Marcel Pronovost led the team to a 2-12-1 record to start the season on a pretty bad note. The situation seldom improved during the season, which ended on a dismal 1-12-0 run. With only 26 wins and 50 losses in 78 games, the Cougars finished the season dead last in the league with, to make matters worse, the fewest goals for total in the league with 245. The lackluster offense of the team nevertheless provided a couple pleasant surprises. Bob Sicinski topped the team in scoring with 88 points. Paiement and Fleming also performed well, while Dane Poul Popiel and Rick Morris both scored 31 goals. While the defense was generally porous, goalie Jim McLeod did manage to play well, almost managing a .500 win percentage. Sadly, André Gill did not do as well, with a 4-24-0 record between the pipes.
In the summer of 73, the Cougars resumed their policy of raiding the Black Hawks. This time, they were more succesful, as they managed to sign centre Ralph Backstrom (whose WHA rights belonged to the Los Angeles Sharks), long-time Black Hawk veterans Pat Stapleton and Eric Nesterenko, as well as Darryl Maggs. Stapleton, a fan favourite in Chicago, became the team's player-coach and gave some credibility to the formerly dismal defence of the Cougars, who went on to a 38-35-5 record, a massive improvement from their inaugural season. This ensured they could make the playoffs by barely finishing before the Quebec Nordiques.
If their season was average, their playoffs run was nothing short of exceptional, on and off the ice. The first round went normally, as the Cougars defeated the New England Whalers in seven games. When they returned home to meet the Toronto Toros, the Cougars had quite a big surprise: they realized that their normal home, the International Amphitheatre, had been booked to host a production of Peter Pan and thus was unavailable, in an incident that was dubbed the Peter Pan Incident. The Cougars tried to negotiate playing in Chicago Black Hawks's Chicago Stadium, but the Hawks were in the NHL playoffs and needed their rink. They had to play their home matches at the Randhurst Twin Ice Arena, a suburban public skating rink that could host a mere 2000 people.
Chicago went through the second round as winners and were to face the Houston Aeros in the Finals for the AVCO World Trophy. Hopeful to retrieve their home ice as the Peter Pan show was gone, the Cougars discovered that for some unknown reason, the ice of their rink had been melted and the copper pipes chilling the ice were uncovered and being dismantled for the offseason. The Cougars had to return to Randhurst and never recovered from those public relationship mistakes, losing the the powerful Houston Aeros in four straight games.
A last run
The Cougars approached their third season in 1974-75 with much hope. They had further improved their squad with the arrival of top goaltender Dave Dryden and centre Gary MacGregor, fresh from a solid 100 goals 174 points season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the Cornwall Royals. But there were signs of more troubled times to come. The Kaisers were losing money in the adventure. Visibly, the Hawks fans were not willing to abandon their beloved team to jump into the Cougar bandwagon and the team's fan base remained poor. They managed to fill half of the 9,000 seats International Amphitheater in their first season, and the numbers kept dwindling ever since. This was nothing to help on-ice performances be stellar. The Kaisers decided to get rid of the team and sold it to Backstrom, Dryden and Stapleton on December 28th 1974 - it was the first time active players of a sports team purchased their own team and controlled its destiny. In front of an average 3,000 fans, the Cougars missed the playoffs in what became their last season, posting a 30-47-1 record, good for 61 points - 20 less than the previous season. Gary MacGregor delivered excellent performances with 42 goals and 76 points. Rosaire Paiement had 74 points; the rest of team trailed behind. Frank Rochon enjoyed a 21 goals rookie season.
The sale of the Cougars to the players was not to their advantage. They did not have access to the season tickets' money, which remained in the Kaisers' pockets. Since the turn-out at the gates was never good, the players lost a lot of money and were forced to fold the team at the end of the season. In May 1975, a fair part of the team's players was transferred to the upstart Denver Spurs, furthermore marking the death of the Cougars. Another handicapping factor for the team was the lack of an arena of their own. Agreements to get a new one built, the Rosemont Horizon, had been achieved, but the lack of success of the team hinged the building, which in turn hurt the team even more. Even after the Cougars folded, various delays kept the arena from being built before 1980.
Note: GP = Games played, W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, Pts = Points, GF = Goals for, GA = Goals against, PIM = Penalties in minutes
|1972-73||78||26||50||2||54||245||295||811||6th, Western||Did not qualify|
|1973-74||78||38||35||5||81||271||273||1041||4th, Eastern||Won Quarterfinals (New England) |
Won Semifinals (Toronto)
Lost Finals (Houston)
|1974-75||78||30||47||1||61||261||312||1086||3rd, Eastern||Did not qualify|
Franchise scoring leaders
These are the top-ten point-scorers in the history of the Cougars.
Note: GP = Games Played, G = Goals, A = Assists, Pts = Points, P/G = Points Per Game, * = Active Player
|Player||POS||GP||G||A||Pts||Time at the club|
- Chicago Cougars players
- Chicago Cougars coaches
- Chicago Cougars seasons
- hockeydb.com, for the various team and player statistics
- SURGENT, Scott, The Complete Historical And Statistical Reference To The World Hockey Association 1972-1979, retrieved online here. ISBN 0-964474-4-0