August 29, 2006

Peter Sullivan

Peter Sullivan was another example of a player who was pretty good in the World Hockey Association, but was never able to translate that into National Hockey League success.

Originally the Montreal Canadiens 95th overall draft pick in the 1971 Amateur Draft, the impish center had little chance of breaking onto a strong Habs club that became perhaps the greatest dynasty of all time. He slowly improved in the minor leagues, eventually maturing into an exciting scorer in the AHL. By 1974-75 season, he led the whole AHL with 44 goals, and chipped in with 60 helpers.

Due to their great depth, the Canadiens never gave him a chance in Montreal. Despite his scoring exploits he remained suspect defensively and was labelled as uninterested in the physical game.

When his contract expired with the Habs in the summer of 1975, "Sully" jumped at an offer to join one of the top teams in the rebel league - the World Hockey Association.

Over the next 4 seasons he became a consistent scoring threat. He was described as "an entertaining center with moves galore" and more often than not scored highlite reel goals. He became nicknamed "Silky" - after the famous racehorse and because of his dekes and zig-zags. His great hands also made him a valuable faceoff man on the right side, as he was a right handed shot. Though not remembered as a top WHA player, he was certainly above average and a scoring threat. In his best season, 1978-79, Sullivan scored 46 goals and 86 points, and helped the Jets capture the final WHA championship ever.

When the WHA collapsed and the 4 remaining teams joined with the NHL, Sullivan's rights were retained by the Jets. The team was otherwise dismantled, which made for a horrendous first NHL season. The Jets won just 20 out of 80 games. With their lack of depth, Sullivan played a lot, and scored 24 goals and 59 points. But he was a -45. While he was one of the few players who could entertain the fans, his poor defensive play and lack of grit saw him quickly fall out of favor in the National Hockey League.

The following season was even worse. The Jets won just 9 times in 80 outings! And Sullivan fell completely out of favor. He was a healthy scratch for almost as many games as he actually played. He became an honorary member of the press, as he often infiltrated the press boxes for free catered food while he was watching his teammates play without him.

How could a team that won only 9 times not use the shifty pivot? Things could not have gotten any worse could they? At least he might give the home town fans something to cheer about.

Winnipeg's associate coach Mike Smith said "his age is a definite factor." He was just 29 at the time though, so it seems like a bit of a cover up. General Manager John Ferguson, who loved aggressive but skilled hockey, was blunt. "Check his plus-minus some time" he said, referring to Sullivan's non-existent defensive game.

A Hockey News article from the 1980-81 season suggests that Sullivan "has a few detractors, many occupying the Jets offices. It is oft stated that he doesn't take out the man; his checks score too frequently; his passes are often intercepted; and he is rarely aggressive."

With Sullivan becoming a free agent at the end of the year, the Jets tried to move him by the 1981 trading deadline. There was a rumour that the Flames showed very mild interest, but obviously nothing materialized. No other team wanted Sullivan either it seemed.

The Jets finished the season with Sullivan and then let him go in the summer. He ended up signing with a team in Switzerland of all places. He would continue his hockey career for several years in the neutral European country, hanging up the skates in 1987.

Peter is the son of 1928 Canadian Olympic hockey gold medalist Frank Sullivan, who also starred in football at University of Toronto as member of 1921 Grey Cup championship team. His uncle Joseph was also on the 1928 Olympic gold medal hockey team and later became a prominent senator in Canada.

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