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Published: Saturday, 1/22/2005

Goaldiggers champs return after 30 years

BY DAN SAEVIG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Coach Ted Garvin died in 1992, but his presence will be felt today when 16 of the 17 players from the 1975 squad reunite in Toledo. Coach Ted Garvin died in 1992, but his presence will be felt today when 16 of the 17 players from the 1975 squad reunite in Toledo.
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It only leaves Willie Trognitz's right hand these days when he makes hamburgers, because raw meat gets wedged in the grooves.

Those same fists that at times looked like ground chuck when clenched to fight now lovingly cradle the ring that simply reads: "Toledo Goaldiggers, 1974-75 Turner Cup Champions."

When the green stone on top fell out, the hands of stone secured it back in with Super Glue.

Memories always hold up, even if they need a little adhesive over time.

"I wake up with it every day," Trognitz says. "It was overwhelming, really. It was the most exciting year in my life."

It has been almost three decades since Trognitz and his teammates earned that ring on May 7, 1975, a night many still call one of the most exciting in the history of Toledo. On one side of the Maumee River, a faded landmark known as Tiedtke's department store was burning to the ground. On the other side, a crowd estimated by police to be upwards of 10,000 had turned the roads surrounding the Sports Arena into a gigantic parking lot.

Fans were waiting for their heroes to return from Game 7 in Saginaw, Mich. Coach Ted Garvin's team had improbably captured the International Hockey League's Turner Cup and, in the process, the collective soul of a city.

Today at 5 p.m., 16 of the 17 team members return to the Sports Arena as a group for the first time in almost 30 years. Missing will be Garvin, who died in 1992, and Trognitz, who is home in Thunder Bay, Ont., fighting a viral infection.

There will be a reunion game against some Detroit Red Wings old-timers before the Storm's 7:30 contest against Dayton, but that's not why they're coming back - at their own expense - from the prairies of Saskatchewan and the sands of California.

For the members of the team who wrote the script to "The Miracle on Main Street," this gathering represents the final act of a performance for the ages.

An early sign that it was going to be a season not soon forgotten came at a Halloween costume party.

Paul Tantardini, who terrorized the corners of every IHL rink that year, was working the corners again - this time as a Lady of the Night.

"Quite frankly, he looked pretty attractive," said captain Juri Kudrasovs.

That wasn't the case for hockey in Toledo six months earlier.

Having been stung by the financial losses that came with poor fan support, Paul Bright moved his Toledo Hornets to Lansing, Mich.

Suddenly, the Sports Arena didn't have a hockey team.

Thankfully, neither did Garvin.

When a group of local businessmen decided to give the sport another shot, they turned to the coach who won Turner Cups in Port Huron in 1971 and '72 before being hired by the Red Wings during the summer of '73. The colorfully boisterous Garvin was available for Toledo after being quickly fired by Detroit. His record there was 2-8-1.

"In Toledo, Teddy was like Barnum & Bailey," Trognitz said.

Donny Craig graduated from Yale with a history degree in 1973. He joined the circus and made history one year later.

"At the end-of-the-season banquet, Ted got up and said, 'I had trouble communicating with Donny Craig during the year,'●" Craig recalled. 'He came from the Ivy League and I came from the school of hard knocks.'●"

It was the only time all year Garvin teased Craig about his education.

The only ivy the coach knew grew near his home in Sarnia, Ont., yet he had a Ph.D. in button-pushing.

At the practice following a 5-0 loss to Dayton in Game 5 of the semifinals, a furious Garvin took to the Sports Arena ice in street shoes. He lined the team up at one end and asked those who had won championships to go to the other.

"Kent Douglas and Darwin Mott were the only two who went down, I think," Ted Tucker said. "Teddy said, 'Those guys are winners, the rest of you are a bunch of losers. You quit on me, I'm quitting on you.'●"

Garvin went into the stands and laughed as Kudrasovs ran practice. The team was furious. Fed up, Kudrasovs skated over and threw his stick at Garvin.

It was exactly the response the coach wanted and expected.

Toledo won Game 6, 7-3, and Game 7, 6-2.

"He was calculated," Craig said. "Ted Garvin was a master motivator."

But it wasn't easy. Toledo finished the regular season at 34-38-4.

"It was very trying at times," said Craig Stamp, a frequent Garvin target. "You're trying to do your best and sometimes it didn't matter how good it was."

Garvin had a lunch box that was painted gold. Written on its side was: "The hours are many and the pay is few."

The message was clear, even if the grammar wasn't.

"Ted's attitude was, 'I go for the championship every year,'●" Ian MacPhee said. 'If you don't want to go for it, we'll get rid of you.'●"

MacPhee never left. Just days before Garvin's passing, the former player visited his coach's bedside to say thank you.

"I learned a lot from that man," MacPhee said. "I owe a lot to him. We all do."

The game hadn't even started when Sam Sisco, the dean of referees in the IHL, looked left and then right. He began shaking his head.

At left wing was Trognitz. Tantardini was at center, Doug Mahood on the right side.

Murder, Inc.

"Sam said, 'Now boys, come on,'●" Mahood remembered. 'Not again. That darn Garvin.'●"

Before Toledo drank out of the "T" Cup, they drove officials to drink.

"Line brawls," Sisco said. "Sometimes before the game even started. It happened so often. Saginaw would play Toledo and [Gears' coach] Don Perry would start five defensemen. I told the linesmen before the game what would happen. It usually did."

Combined, the Diggers' trio had 835 penalty minutes in 166 games.

They were the second-most popular line at the Sports Arena, topped only by the one that formed on 10-cent-beer night.

"You'd go into the dressing room and Willie had these huge hands and he was built like Charles Atlas," Mahood said. "He'd be sitting there with his hands taped - that's when you could tape your hands - staring straight ahead.

"I'd turn to Ted Tucker and say, 'Oh, this is gonna be a long one tonight.'●"

One evening, an opponent took a run at 39-year-old defensemen Kent Douglas. Picked up by Garvin when the American Hockey League team he was coaching in Baltimore folded, Douglas had been the National Hockey League's rookie of the year in 1963 with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"I was going to go back at him and I didn't have a chance," Douglas said. "Donny Craig was beating the snot out of him."

Craig, the Yale grad, finished the season with 243 penalty minutes.

Douglas won three Stanley Cups in Toronto, three AHL Calder Cups with Springfield, a Western Hockey League Patrick Cup in Winnipeg and the Turner Cup in Toledo.

Eight rings. One big surprise.

"That championship in Toledo meant more to me than any of the others," Douglas said. "From Day 1, Ted told me, 'You look after the defense and the goalies and I'll run the forwards.' The Cup in Toledo was the most fun I had in hockey."

It was also fun because the Goaldiggers weren't supposed to beat Columbus in Round 1, let alone Dayton and then Saginaw.

"The last thing I ever thought was that we would win a Turner Cup," Don Westbrooke said. "But we jelled into a team that would work for each other. It was a miracle. It really was. There's no way we should have won the Turner Cup. No way."

In the process, they cemented a foundation for hockey in the city and a warehouse of memories. Toledo has won five pro hockey titles since 1975. None of those teams came close to captivating a community like "The Miracle on Main Street."

"It's never been equaled in my lifetime," John Martin said. "I don't think anything's ever matched it and I'm not sure anything ever will."

Sometime tomorrow morning they'll say their good-byes, many for the last time in this life. Time doesn't stop, not even for miracles.

"When you're in your 20s, life is so much in front of you," Kudrasovs said. "You look at life now, and although you're still looking ahead, there's not as much time so there's a greater appreciation for the past.

"Our joy was as big as if it was the Super Bowl or the Stanley Cup. I believe in my heart that I know what it feels like to win something like that.

"I just don't know how it could be any better."

Contact Dan Saevig at:

dsaevig@theblade.com.



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