Legacy of the Saginaw Gears
The Saginaw Gears were a minor-league ice hockey franchise that played in the defunct International Hockey League (IHL). The Gears existed from 1972 to 1983. The Gears played their home games at Wendler Arena in the Saginaw Civic Center (now known as The Dow Event Center).
IHL hockey would later return to the Tri-Cities when the Flint Generals were moved to Saginaw, Michigan to become the Saginaw Generals for the 1985–86 season.
The Gears made the playoffs for nine straight seasons, from 1973–82. The Gears reached the Turner Cup Finals five times in that stretch, and won the championships in 1977 and 1981.
The 1976-77 Saginaw Gears hockey team had it all with strong goaltending, physical defensemen and dynamic scorers on a club laden with veterans.
Saginaw knew it has something special from the outset and carried it through the regular season and to the final game of the playoffs where the Gears defeated Toledo to win the Turner Cup title.
They're the first professional sports team to join the Saginaw Country Sports Hall of Fame as a member of the 2014 induction class.
"We had a type of hockey club that we could play a variety of different styles of game depending on what the opponent wanted to play," said forward Dave Westner. "If they wanted to play a wide open, high-scoring affair, we could do that. If they wanted to play a defensive-minded affair, we could do that. ... If they wanted to play a rugged, physical game, we would oblige the opponent."
Gears star Dennis Desrosiers was inducted into the Saginaw County Sports Hall of Fame in 2006, and general manager Wren Blair was inducted in 2007.
That 1976-77 was just the fifth year of existence for the Gears, but it turned out to be one of their most memorable.
During the regular season, Saginaw went 40-27-11 to win the Fred A. Huber Trophy, awarded annually by the International Hockey League to the North American hockey team with the most points. Of course, the Gears felt the most comfortable at home where they went 27-8-4.
"There was no doubt that we had the best fans in the whole International Hockey League," Westner said. "We had a real good following. We were pretty well sold out most games. For the most part, there were 5,000 fans there and they backed us every night."
Of course, they had a lot to cheer for watching a Gears team that set records for most goals in a period with eight and most power play goals in a season with 67. Saginaw even set a record by scoring two goals in two seconds one time. They scored, won the face-off and blasted a slapshot from the blueline for a second goal.
Paul Evans led the team with 50 goals and 62 assists, while Desrosiers finished with 46 goals and 50 assists. However, the Gears had plenty of offensive firepower behind those two. Rick Chinnick finished with 37 goals and 33 assists, while Western had 35 goals and 29 assists. Wayne Zuk, Stu Irving, D'Arcy Ryan and Marcel Comeau also topped the 50-point barrier.
Mario Lessard provided Saginaw's presence between the pipes finishing the season with a 3.47 goals-against average.
The group was coached by Don Perry.
"He was the type of coach that if you didn't play his style of hockey, you didn't stay around in Saginaw very long," Westner said. "He knew how to get the most out of his players and who worked well together."
That formula worked throughout the regular season until the first round of the playoffs where the Gears faced their first bit of adversity against Muskegon. Saginaw fell down 3-1 in the series and had to fight back for the series win in seven games. They rebounded to down Kalamazoo in five games in the second round before needing seven games to knock off Toledo and claim the title.
"Anything can happen in a Game 7, but we were confident in that game," Westner said. "We were up 1-0 after two periods, and we just said we had to go out there in the third and make it happen."
The Gears sent several players to the National Hockey League in their 11-year existence. The biggest names include:
Greg Hotham, whose sons Scott and Andrew played for the Saginaw Spirit
In 1974–75, longtime NHL forward/defenceman Reg Fleming joined the Gears in time for the 1975 playoffs.
Head Coach Don Perry also made it to the NHL, coaching the Los Angeles Kings from 1981–84.