Calgary, AB – As part of the Western Hockey League’s 50th Season celebrations, a panel of historians selected the top 125 players in WHL history this past September. From this list, WHL fans voted at Top50.whl.ca to select the Top 50 WHL Players of All-Time. This week, the fan and panel voting results revealed the following placements:
#32 – Dennis Sobchuk (Regina Pats)
#31 – Mike Vernon (Calgary Wranglers)
#30 – Doug Wickenheiser (Regina Pats)
#32 Dennis Sobchuk (Regina Pats, 1971-74)
Sobchuk eclipsed the 50-goal mark and 100-point plateau in each of the three seasons he played for the Regina Pats from 1971 to 1974. In 1971-72, Sobchuk received the WCHL Rookie of the Year award after tallying 123 points (56-67a) in 68 regular season games. The freshman then amassed a league-best 27 playoff points to guide the Pats to the WCHL final. The following season, Sobchuk took home WCHL Most Valuable Player honours as he finished second in scoring with 147 points (67a-80a) in 66 games. His 10-point performance on January 19, 1973 is still tied for the most points by an individual in a single game.
In his final year of junior hockey, Sobchuk was again the runner-up in the scoring race with 146 points (68g-78a) in 66 regular season games. The Pats were crowned WCHL champions that season as Sobchuk led the playoffs in scoring with 31 points (10g-21a). Regina then became the first team in League history to hoist the Memorial Cup in 1974 after Sobchuk potted a hat trick in the final game.
Throughout his WCHL career with the Pats, and a brief eight-game stint with the Estevan Bruins in 1970-71, Sobchuk recorded 418 points (192g-226a) in 208 regular season games and accumulated 64 points (22g-42a) in 35 postseason appearances.
The forward from Lang, SK began his pro career in the World Hockey Association and played for the Phoenix Roadrunners, Cincinnati Stingers and Edmonton Oilers. At the end of his five-year WHA career, Sobchuk had collected 331 points (145-186a) in 348 regular season games and netted 19 playoff points (11g-8a) in 25 contests. A fifth-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1974 NHL Draft, Sobchuk spent a brief time in the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings and Quebec Nordiques.
Sobchuk, whose jersey has been retired by the Regina Pats, returned to the organization as an assistant coach for two seasons before becoming the head coach in 1988-89.
#31 Mike Vernon (Calgary Wranglers, 1980-83)
Vernon played three seasons for his hometown Calgary Wranglers from 1980 to 1983. During his rookie campaign in 1980-81, Vernon picked up 33 wins over 59 regular season appearances before backstopping the Wranglers to the League final. In each of the following two seasons, Vernon cleaned up at the WHL Awards as he took home back-to-back Most Valuable Player, Goaltender of the Year and First Team All-Star honours. The Wranglers allowed the fewest goals in the League in 1981-82 as Vernon registered 22 victories along with a 3.68 goals against average in 42 outings.
In 1982-83, Vernon posted 29 wins and a WHL-best 3.26 goals against average in 50 regular season contests. After the Wranglers were eliminated from the playoffs, the Portland Winter Hawks added Vernon to their Memorial Cup roster for the second consecutive year. Portland lost in the tournament the previous year but the Winter Hawks hoisted the 1983 Memorial Cup on home ice. Vernon received the Hap Emms Memorial Trophy as the most outstanding goaltender of the tournament. His sensational season also included winning a bronze medal at the 1983 IIHF World Junior Championship with Team Canada.
Over his WHL career, Vernon registered 84 victories and seven shutouts in 151 regular season appearances. In 47 postseason contests, the netminder recorded 28 wins. Vernon did not have to travel far to start his pro career as the Calgary Flames selected him in the third round of the 1981 NHL Draft.
Vernon posted 385 wins in 781 games over 17 seasons in the NHL with the Flames, Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks and Florida Panthers. The 5-9, 170 lb goaltender hoisted the Stanley Cup for the first time in 1989 with the Flames. When the Red Wings lifted the Stanley Cup in 1997, Vernon led the way with an MVP performance to earn the Conn Smythe Trophy. In 1995-96, Vernon also received the William M. Jennings Trophy. Internationally, Vernon had the opportunity to represent his country again at the 1991 IIHF World Championship and captured a silver medal at the tournament.
#30 Doug Wickenheiser (Regina Pats, 1977-80)
Wickenheiser played three seasons from 1977 to 1980 with his hometown Regina Pats. In his first two campaigns in the WHL, Wickenheiser topped the 30-goal mark and was also a point-per-game player. During the 1979-80 season, the 18-year-old broke through and was an integral part of the Pats’ 52-point improvement in the standings from the prior year. The captain of the Pats was named the 1979-80 CHL Player of the Year and the WHL’s Most Valuable Player. Wickenheiser tallied 170 points in 71 regular season games that season to claim the WHL Top Scorer Award. His 89 goals that year is good enough to tie for sixth all-time. The WHL First Team All-Star then tallied a league-best 40 points (14g-26a) in the 1980 WHL Playoffs to guide the Pats to their second title in franchise history.
Over his WHL career, Wickenheiser accumulated 352 points (158g-194a) in 207 regular season games and collected 49 points (18g-31a) in 31 postseason contests. The Montreal Canadiens selected Wickenheiser first overall in the 1980 NHL Draft. Wickenheiser is one of eight WHL players to have been chosen first overall in the NHL Draft.
Wickenheiser played in the NHL for 10 seasons with the Canadiens, St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks, New York Rangers and Washington Capitals. At the end of his NHL career, Wickenheiser had registered 276 points (111-165a) in 556 regular season games and added 11 playoff points (4g-7a) in 41 matches.
Wickenheiser, whose jersey has also been retired by the Regina Pats, passed away on January 12, 1999 at the age of 37. In May of 2001, the WHL Humanitarian of the Year Trophy was named in honour of Wickenheiser for his contributions both on and off the ice.