The London Knights have been my team in the Ontario Hockey League since as far back as I can remember. My first visit to the London Gardens was to see local boy Rob Ramage play during his rookie year. I recall that our seats were at ice level in the west end of the arena and that London was playing the Oshawa Generals – that’s as far as the memory goes.
So, unfortunately, I missed out on a great crop of players that played in London just a few years before that. It seems, the city of London has forgotten about those guys, as well. In 1972-73, the team was led by Dennis Ververgaert, Reg Thomas, Dennis Maruk and Andy Spruce. The group were all among the league leaders and brought the Knights their greatest success up to that point. All four went on to pro careers of varying levels of longevity and success. Yet, none of the four are honoured by the club.
1972-73 London Knights
1972-73 was the year legendary Bill Long took over as head coach of the Knights. The team finished fourth overall in the ten team league. London reached the semi-finals before falling to the Peteborough Petes. It was London’s eighth year in the league and their fifth as the Knights. Along with the four players mentioned, other future NHLers on the roster included Larry Goodenough and Rick Green.
That year in the OHL (known at the time as the OMJHL), Rick Middleton of the Oshawa Generals led the league with 67 goals. Blake Dunlop of the Ottawa 67’s was league leader in assists with 99 and points with 147. Bob Neely of the Petes was the league’s bad boy with 304 penalty minutes. In 1972-73, Ververgaert, Thomas and Maruk were among the top ten for points while Spruce was in the top ten for assists.
Dennis played for the Knights for three years from 1970-71 to 1972-73. In his final season, he scored 58 goals and assisted on 89 for 147 points over 63 regular season games. Ververgaert was fourth for goals, second for assists and second in the race for the Eddie Powers Trophy, behind only Dunlop. His 89 assists stood as a single season record for the Knights until 2006-07 when Sergei Kostitsyn topped the mark with 91. That year, Dennis was honoured with the biased Jim Mahon Trophy as the top scoring right winger.
Over his three years, Ververgaert played in 192 regular season games, scoring 141 and assisting on 210 for 351 points. He ranks sixth all-time with the Knights for career points. In the previous year, he was a 2nd Team All-Star while in 1972-73 Dennis was chosen as a 1st Team All-Star.
After that standout season, the Vancouver Canucks chose Ververgaert third overall at the 1973 NHL Amateur Draft. Going ahead of him were Denis Potvin and Tom Lysiak, both to expansion teams. Potvin, star for the Ottawa 67’s went to the New York Islanders while Lysiak, who played in the WHL for the Medicine Hat Tigers, was taken by the Atlanta Flames. Dennis was also chosen in the sixth round of the 1973 WHA Amateur Draft by the New York Golden Blades.
Ververgaert played in the National Hockey League from 1973-74 to 1980-81, appearing in 583 regular season games, scoring 176 goals and assisting on 216 for 392 points. He played in just eight Stanley Cup playoff games, adding three points. Most of his career was spent with the Canucks but he also appeared for the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals.
Dennis played in the NHL All-Star Game in 1975-76 and 1977-78. His best season in the league was 1975-76 with Vancouver when he scored 37 and totalled 71 points while playing the full 80 game schedule.
Thomas played the same three years with the Knights that Ververgaert did. In 1972-73, Reg scored 52 goals and assisted on 83 for 135 points over 61 regular season games. He tied for seventh in the league for goals and finished fourth for both assists and points. He was chosen as a 1st Team All-Star that year.
Over his career with London, Thomas scored 136 and assisted on 173 for 309 points over 180 regular season games. He stands eleventh all-time on the team for career points.
At the 1973 NHL Amateur Draft, Reg was taken in the second round by the Chicago Blackhawks, 29th overall. He was also the eighth overall pick at the 1973 WHA Amateur Draft by the Los Angeles Sharks and chose to start his pro career in sunny southern California.
Thomas played in the World Hockey Association from 1973-74 until the league merged with the NHL after the 1978-79 season. Along with the Sharks, he played for the Michigan Stags, Baltimore Blades, Indianapolis Racers and Cincinnati Stingers. Over his WHA career, Reg played 428 regular season games, scoring 121 and assisting on 138 for 259 points.
Reg joined the Quebec Nordiques in the NHL for the 1979-80 season but played just 39 games – his only time in the league.
In 1981-82, Thomas was a standout in the Central Hockey League with the Cincinnati Tigers. He was chosen as a 1st Team All-Star and finished the season with 110 points on 47 goals and 63 assists over 80 games. Reg placed fifth in the CHL for goals, fourth for assists and tied for second in the overall scoring race.
That year, he was awarded the Don Ashby Memorial Trophy as the league’s unsung hero. He was the first of just two players to win the award. The Tigers were coached by Doug Carpenter and Thomas was teamed up with Bruce Boudreau and Ernie Godden, along with former Knights Frank Nigro and Ron Zanussi.
The following year, 1982-83, Reg moved up to the AHL to play with the St. Catherines Saints. His 57 assists were good for ninth in the AHL while his 92 points placed him eighth. He was again selected as a 1st Team All-Star. Carpenter was once again behind the bench while Boudreau, Godden, Nigro and Zanussi were on the roster. Other notable players included Craig Muni, Fred Perlini (father of OHLer Brendan Perlini), former OHL scoring champ Mike Kaszycki and hairdo specialist Barry Melrose. Even Mike Palmateer played two games in net for the Saints that year.
Thomas finished up his pro career playing two years in Austria, 1983-84 and 1984-85.
We’ve talked a lot about the underappreciated hockey career of Dennis Maruk. So, other than the fact that his number should hang from the rafters at the Budweiser Centre in London, we won’t go beyond the facts today.
Maruk played for the Knights from 1972-73 to 1974-75. In his official rookie season (he appeared in eight games with the Toronto Marlboros in 1971-72) Dennis scored 46 and assisted on 67 for 113 points while playing in just 59 games. He tied for ninth for assists and ninth in the race for the Eddie Powers Trophy. Maruk was honoured with the Emms Family Award as the league’s most valuable rookie. Two years later, he would take home the Red Tilson Trophy as MVP.
Over 199 games in the league, Dennis scored 161 and assisted on 212 for 373 points. He stands fourth all-time for career points with the Knights.
At the 1975 NHL Amateur Draft, Maruk was taken in the second round by the California Golden Seals, 21st overall. He was also taken by the Cleveland Crusaders in the 1975 WHA Amateur Draft, but chose the Bay Area. Ironically, after one season in California, the Golden Seals relocated to Cleveland for Maruk’s sophomore year.
Between 1975-76 and 1988-89, Dennis played in 888 regular season games in the NHL with the Golden Seals, Cleveland Barons, Minnesota North Stars and Washington Capitals. He scored 356 goals over that time, while assisting on 522 more for 878 points. He played in 34 Stanley Cup playoff games, adding 14 goals and 36 points. Dennis also played for Canada at four IIHF World Hockey Championships.
Spruce played three years with the Knights from 1971-72 to 1973-74, although 1972-73 was his only full season not hampered by injuries. In 72-73, Andy scored 34 and assisted on 69 for 103 points over 63 games. He finished eighth in the league for assists.
Over his career with London, Spruce totalled 164 points on 47 goals and 117 assists over 135 regular season games. The Vancouver Canucks selected him in the sixth round of the 1974 NHL Amateur Draft. The Phoenix Roadrunners also picked him in the seventh round of the 1974 WHA Amateur Draft.
Andy played in the NHL between 1976-77 and 1978-79, appearing in 172 games with the Canucks and Colorado Rockies. He scored 31 goals and added 42 assists for 73 career points in the league.
Spruce had a short stint as a head coach in the OHL. In 1983-84, Andy took over the head coaching job of the Sudbury Wolves from Billy Harris midseason. The following year, he was behind the bench as the Wolves won just 17 games and totalled just 37 points while finishing last overall in the Ontario Hockey League in 1984-85.
99% of the time, opinion is left out of articles on this website. Is was originally started as way to track the whereabouts of OHL alumni with a ‘just the facts’ approach. However, readership is down and maybe a little opinion now and then would be beneficial. Should these four players have their numbers retired by the Knights? Other than Maruk, probably not. I do believe, however, that it is important for Knights fans to know, remember and respect that the team history does go beyond the day that the doors closed at the London Gardens.
There have been London teams in the pre-Hunter days that were quite successful and developed some great hockey players. Those teams did what they did with a lot less money and connections. Yet, the honoured numbers by this team seem to radiate around the 1976-77 and 2004-05 teams. Do I believe that the eight players that are currently honoured are deserving? For the most part. I question Rick Nash, David Bolland and Brendan Shanahan. Nash because of his duration with the team, mediocre numbers and lack of team success. Shanahan for much the same reasons. Bolland is certainly deserving but what puts him ahead of Danny Syvret, Dylan Hunter or Gerald Coleman from the same era?
A number should be retired because of what a player did with THAT team. I know that some OHL teams have criteria that states they won’t retire a number unless the player reaches the Hockey Hall of Fame. I don’t think what happens starting the day after a player plays his last game with a club should make a difference in the value he provided while with that club. In saying that, London needs to take a serious look at players like Brian Bradley, Syvret, Danny Bois, Dave Simpson, Chris Taylor, Scott Campbell, Rico Fata, Rick Green, etc…
Sadly, I don’t think this is just a London thing. I believe the OHL honours the present and future and neglects the past.