April 18, 2020
A tribute to departed legends
Episode 70 of the Pro Hockey Alumni Podcast is a tribute to three NHL and WHA players who passed away recently: Tom “Hawkeye” Webster, Pat “Whitey” Stapleton and John “Tank Hughes.
We begin with a look back at the remarkable career of Tom Webster.
Tom was my favorite Whaler in the early days of the franchise. In fact, in my very first trip to Whalers Gift Store in 1975, I purchased a Whalers #8 replica sweater.
Tom was the Whalers first star, scoring 52 goals to lead the Whalers to the WHA championship in 1973. Although Tom had been a 30-goal scorer with the Detroit Red Wings, he was a high-risk signing with New England due to severe back injuries that limited him to just 12 NHL games with the California Golden Seals in 1971-72.
As noted, Tom was beset by back injuries throughout his WHA career but he scored 220 goals in 352 games and added 28 more in 43 playoff games … based on 80 games, Tom averaged over 50 goals per season in the WHA.
Tom went on to enjoy a remarkable coaching career, winning championships in the CHL with Tulsa, the AHL with Adirondack and the OHL with Windsor. He later became a scout with the Calgary Flames and ended his hockey career as one of the most respected men in the game.
Pat Stapleton played eight seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, and was named Second Team All-Star three times (1966, 1971, and 1972). His highest scoring season was 1969, where his 50 assists set a new NHL record for assists in a season by a defenceman (broken the next year by Bobby Orr).
Stapleton was a member of the Team Canada team at the Summit Series in 1972. During the tournament he was a +6 and was often paired with his Black Hawks teammate Bill White.
In 1973, Stapleton jumped from the NHL and signed a five-year deal with the Chicago Cougars of the World Hockey Association where he became player-coach. He was a WHA first-team all-star in 1974 and won the Dennis A. Murphy Trophy as the league's top defenceman in the 1973–74 season. That year the Cougars stunned the hockey world by reaching the WHA finals before ultimately losing to the Houston Aeros.
Stapleton again represented Canada in the 1974 Summit Series against the national team from the Soviet Union, this time as team captain. He was again player-coach of the Cougars in 1974–75, and the team struggled on the ice and financially. In December 1974, he and teammates Dave Dryden and Ralph Backstrom bought the troubled franchise.
The Cougars folded after the 1974–75 season and Stapleton was claimed by the Indianapolis Racers, where he played for two seasons and was named a second-team all-star in 1976.
When the Racers refused to honour his contract in 1977, Stapleton was transferred to the Cincinnati Stingers, where he played one season before retiring in 1978.
The next year he had the distinction of being Wayne Gretzky’s first pro coach with the Indianapolis Racers where he coached both Gretzky and Mark Messier before the team folded in December 1978.Similar to JC Tremblay, had Pat not jumped to the WHA he may be in the Hockey Hall of Fame today.
Nonetheless, Pat certainly has the respect for all who knew him. He was a player who truly appreciated the history of the game and his place in its legacy.
Hard-Hitting PEI native John Hughes was a member of the powerful Toronto Marlboros teams of the early 70s and went on to an excellent -- and well-traveled -- WHA career with Phoenix, Cincinnati, Houston, Indianapolis and Edmonton. John was chosen to the WHA’s mid-season all star team in 1977 and 1979.
Injuries took their toll on John in his brief NHL stay and he concluded his career, coincidentally, with Tom Webster’s Springfield Indians in 1981-82.
Andre Lacroix, a teammate of John’s in Houston and Jerry Rollins, who played with John in Indianapolis recall the rock solid D-man they call “Tank”