A 'damn disgusting' NHL expansion that excluded Vancouver

A little over a half-century ago, the NHL was bringing pro hockey to six more cities, but Vancouver was then not one of them.

Vancouver bid rejected in 1966, though city would have an NHL franchise a few years later

In this file photo from Feb. 9, 1966, NHL President Clarence Campbell, center, is seen shaking hands with George Flaherty, of San Francisco, left, and Gordon Ritz, of Minneapolis-St. Paul, after they were awarded franchises. Vancouver was not awarded a franchise at that time. (The Associated Press)
A little over a half-century ago, the NHL was bringing pro hockey to six more cities, but Vancouver was then not one of them.

On Feb. 9, 1966, the league awarded six franchises — all in the United States. 

The decision did not go over well in British Columbia's largest city, where fans and aspiring franchise owners alike had been hoping they would see Vancouver's name in the NHL standings in the 1967-68 season.

'We was robbed'

"The feelings of Vancouver people associated with the venture can be summed up into three words: 'We was robbed,'" the CBC's Brian Kelleher reported to CBC Radio listeners on the day of the announcement.

The NHL expands from six to twelve teams. 2:12

"Vancouver was the only Canadian city among the 17 to apply for franchises and assurances had been given to the NHL that a new arena could be completed ... in time to receive an NHL team."

Kelleher reported that the B.C. bid leader, Cyrus McLean, believed Vancouver had been passed over in favour of more lucrative TV rights and other considerations in the selected American cities.

In Ottawa, Prime Minister Lester Pearson said he believed "all Canadians will regret" seeing Vancouver left out in favour of those same U.S. cities.

The new franchises would debut in 1967 as the California Seals, the Los Angeles Kings, the Minnesota North Stars, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the St. Louis Blues.

Blaming 'big shots in the east'

Fans react to the news that a six-team expansion of the NHL won't involve a Vancouver franchise. 1:43

CBC-TV's This Hour Has Seven Days sent journalist Jack Webster to the streets of Vancouver to ask fans there what they thought of the snub.

"I think it's damn disgusting!" a bespectacled fan with strong opinions told Webster.

This fan told CBC's This Hour Has Seven Days that he believes the NHL's decision not to award an expansion team to Vancouver was "damn disgusting." (This Hour Has Seven Days/CBC Archives)
Another man said "the big shots in the east are telling us what we're going to get and what we're not going to get."

Some still thought Vancouver could prevail, despite the setback.

"We better smarten up and get them back," said a woman wearing a rain bonnet, who urged Webster to "never give up hope, boy."

She was right: A few years later, the Vancouver Canucks would join the NHL, taking the ice for the start of the 1970-71 season.