May 15, 2015

Gary Veneruzzo

Gary Veneruzzo was a pint sized scoring star out of northern Ontario. He began and ended his career as an amateur star in the Thunder Bay area.

Along the way the 5'8" 165lb left winger played in the Stanley Cup finals and was a World Hockey Association gunner and winning championships in the American and Western hockey leagues.

Gary Veneruzzo was born on June 28th, 1943 in Fort William, Ontario. He excelled at most sports, particularly football and baseball, but most of all hockey.

In the 1960s Veneruzzo was a junior sensation with the Fort William Canadiens and Beavers, challenging for but never quite winning the Memorial Cup. He also played senior hockey, chasing the Allan Cup as Canada's amateur men's champions as well.

Originally a Toronto Maple Leafs' prospect, Veneruzzo turned pro with Tulsa of the Central League. He played there for three seasons, before NHL expansion in 1967 saw his rights transfer to the newly minted St. Louis Blues.

Veneruzzo had a strong season with the Blues' farm team in Kansas City and was surprised by a late season call up to the National Hockey League. He debuted with five games in the regular season before appearing in nine of the Blues' playoff games, including games in the Stanley Cup final against the Montreal Canadiens.

Despite earning Scotty Bowman's trust in the playoffs of 1968, Veneruzzo was returned to the minor leagues where he remained a top scorer. Aside from a two game call up in 1972 Veneruzzo seemed destined to the minor leagues forever.

In 1972 the World Hockey Association was formed. It was a rival major league that dared to compete against the National Hockey League.

It was a great development for players like Veneruzzo. He joined the Los Angeles Sharks.

"The Sharks made an offer and I told the Blues what they were offering and they said 'go play in Los Angeles because we're not giving you that type of money.'"

The Blues' loss was the WHA's gain. In his first year he scored 43 goals. He would total 151 goals, 123 assists and 274 points in 368 WHA games.

Despite his strong play in the World Hockey Association, there was always a sense of regret that his time in the National Hockey League never worked out better.

"The Blues never would give me a really good chance. I think they wanted more of the rougher guys, the bigger guys. And that's not my game.

"I always played well in the minors for St. Louis and I think they should have given me a better shot than they gave me. It was pretty frustrating."

Veneruzzo returned to Thunder Bay in 1977, playing a couple of seasons of senior hockey before becoming a long time youth, junior, senior and university coach.

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