As part of our continuing efforts to bring you summer programming, and to meet the requests of our readers, today we bring you the first in what is hopefully many in a series of posts about the Minnesota Fighting Saints. Being a history buff myself, I would not have minded the task of researching them for you, it turns out there is only so much one man can do.
Since I seem to have reached my daily limit of plate filling material, and then added running for School Board, I reached out to our favorite hockey historian, Jennifer Conway. She was more than happy to oblige us, once again, and bring s us what is, without a doubt, an epic tale of old school WHA hockey.
You wanted something to brighten your hockeyless summer day? Bring it. After the jump.
On April 11, 1975, the New England Whalers and Minnesota Fighting Saints met in Hartford for a first round play-off game. What the fans got instead was a 32 minute second period brawl so intense that players were fighting whoever they could reach, however they could reach them, including on the team benches and in the penalty box.
There is no known footage of the game, but the audio has been preserved as the B side of the Brass Bonanza "Second Edition" 45 LP. The disbelief as the fight explodes is palpable in the voices of the commentators for the game, Bob Neumeier and Bill Rasmussen.
Coach Harry Neale later told Liam McGuire " It was early in the second period (1:10) and we had nothing going. I put out the BBC Line, (Bill Butters, Curt Brackenbury and Jack Carlson) and they, well, they got something going. Butters was regularly a defenseman but on this occasion I used him up front. It took Larry Pleau about two years to forgive me, but he finally did."
Butters started matters by throwing a few punches at Larry Pleau as they left the penalty box. The Saints' Curt Brackenbury and Whalers' Brad Selwood then dropped the gloves. When Butters sucker-punched Pleau from behind, the benches emptied. Jack Carlson decided to suckerpunch Nick Fotiu, and the donnybrook was on. The fight lineup in just the first five minutes consisted of (Saints players listed first):
Butters - Pleau
Brackenbury - Selwood;
McCartan - French;
Garrett - Smith;
Gambucci - Hurley;
Busnick - Ley;
McCartan - Landon;
Carlson - Fotiu;
Hampson - French;
Butters - Swain;
Carlson - Fotiu (round 2);
Butters - Smith;
Butters - Fotiu;
Brackenbury - Smith;
Brackenbury - Fotiu;
Carlson - Fotiu (round 3)
The commentators can actually be heard calling the fight "the good guys in white, and the bad guys in blue." Moments later they can be heard splitting up the view of the ice: "Bob you you watch the left-hand boards, I'll watch the right, and we'll just kind of override each other." The goalies Al Smith and John Garrett were fighting at center ice, even though Garrett wouldn't take off his mask. Even team trainers Glenn Gostick and Joe Altott were chirping each other.
Fotiu ended up jumping onto the Saints' bench to fight Carlson a second time. As he later recalled for Liam McGuire, "It was one wild brawl, one of the wildest I had been in or would be in no question about it. One thing though that scared me more than anything else. If I could have, during that second fight with Jack Carlson, I would have killed him. I was that mad. We had gone through the door at the Minnesota players bench and I was fighting him in there and I wanted to kill him, seriously."
The brawl went on so long that fans began throwing things on the ice to get it to stop. In the end, a WHA penalty record was set: 41 penalties, amounting to 217 PIMs. Unbelievably, the teams shared a charter plane back to St. Paul after the game.
Although the Whalers went on to win this game, they ultimately lost the series in six games. The Saints were eliminated in the next round, 4-2, by the Nordiques.
Guess the Carlson brothers weren't the only reason to call them the Fighting Saints.
(FSN interviews, including story of shared charter is also there)