Punch McLean and the 1977 New Westminster Bruins
The New Westminster Bruins are no more, but they were once a junior hockey dynasty. Imagine that. Vancouver area fans cheering on the Bruins.
Ernie "Punch" McLean is still a legend in British Columbia. Stan Smyl was the favorite adopted son, and continued to be when he graduated to the Vancouver Canucks of the NHL. Other New West players of note include Barry Beck, Ron Greschner, Mark Lofthouse, and John Ogrodnick.
Then there was Brad Maxwell. There were some extremely high expectations placed upon Brad Maxwell's shoulders as a junior hockey star with the New Westminster Bruins.
Drafted 7th overall by the Minnesota North Stars in 1977 Maxwell was a key figure in coach Punch McLean's legendary junior team in the suburb of Vancouver. Barry Beck got most of the attention from NHL scouts (he was drafted 2nd overall in 1977) but Maxwell was every bit as coveted.
One report even mentioned Maxwell in comparisons to the incredible Bobby Orr. What Orr did for the Boston Bruins Maxwell did for the New West Bears. He was able to control the flow of the game single-handedly. He was a fine rushing defenseman, but also, like the rest of coach McLean's team, a tough as nails player as well.
"We definitely had a big team," recalled Maxwell, "and we were very tough. But I don't think we were goons. Thinking back over all the hockey games I've played in, and all the game I've watched, I've never seen anybody hurt bad in a fight. We did a lot of fighting in those years, but it was because Ernie (Punch McLean) foresaw the changing scene. He knew that big tough players were the next NHLers and that's how built his great teams."
Appearances in the Memorial Cup were the norm for the Bruins of the late 1970s. Maxwell played a huge role in the 1977 Championship, played right in the Bruins home, the Queen's Park Arena. He scored an exciting end to end goal against the Ottawa 67's to clinch the Bruins victory in the final game.
The Bruins entered the third period with a commanding 5-2 lead, but somehow watched it evaporate. The 67's tied the game at 5 and had all the momentum on their side. That's when Maxwell deflated the 67s once and for all.
Maxwell raced up the left boards. A nifty give-and-go pass with the almost unheard of Rocky Greenwood put Maxwell in on 67's goal Pat Riggin. Maxwell's shot found it's away through Riggin's legs as the fans erupted.
"It was so great to win it in front of our hometown fans," remembered Smyl. "They were so into it, the north end gang from Queen's Park Arena and the bikers behind the Ottawa bench."
"A lot of people still talk about it. Sometimes when you're sharing memories it just seems like yesterday."
The Bruins were, more than anything, a group of hard workers, remembers Smyl. "We were so successful as an organization because we always played together. There was no superstar who carried the game. We were a team."
Mark Lofthouse gave a lot of credit to the talented core of defensemen.
"Look at who we had. Barry Beck, Brad Maxwell, Miles Zaharko, Brian Young. It was an awesome defence."
But so much of the credit had to go to the man behind the bench, Punch McLean. He instilled the tough, hard hitting style of play that intimidated the opposition on the small ice surface at Queen's Park. They emulated the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers to a large degree, leading to the copy-cat nickname the McBride Boulevard Bullies.
"McLean got the best out of the players no what size they were," said Smyl. "Players knew what they had to do, what their roles were, and they followed through and were committed. He was a player's coach."
"We were taught discipline and we were given respect. It's how I deal with situations and people now in business," says Lofthouse.
The Bruins would repeat as Memorial Cup champions in 1978 before the team's core graduated to the NHL. Of all the team members that Punch McLean coached, 41 played in the NHL totalling 5456 games played.
But McLean is as proud of the kids who never made the NHL as the ones who did.
"Taking them away from their home and parents at that age was tough. you need to teach them discipline both on and off the ice. When kids play organized sports they learn very quickly the glory of winning and the frustration of losing. They can then take that philosophy to heart and put it to work in their business, or their life. It shows them there is a chance to win in whatever they do.