Pat Ansell's 18th birthday was marked by flashes of red light. For goaltender Answell, that meant it was just like any other day, as his struggling Regina Pats were whipped by the powerful New Westminster Bruins on Sunday, 7-2.
Ansell's time for celebration was the night before, tere in the city with the strange name and all the natural gas the United States would like to have. The cause celebre was the Pats' 4-1 tie against the Medicine Hat Tigers, leaders of the Western Canada Hockey League's Central Division.
Now a tie usually is nothing to write home about, but consider the fact that Regina has savored only four victories in 54 games, of which it has lost 41. For 100 days, from Oct. 17 to Jan. 26, the Pats played 36 games and won none. George Raveling might have dubbed them the Capitals of the West.
On one nine-game road trip the Pats' nine losses produced an 81-12 scoring deficit. In Portland, they were outshot, 77-18, and beaten, 15-1. So it was perhaps fitting that the incredible arought ended with a 3-2 success over that same Portland team.
"It was like winning the Stanley Cup," said general manager-coach Lorne Davis, who took command Jan. 7 with the run of futility at 31. "It was a big load off our backs. Everybody was talking about the streak and we seemed to always tighten up in a close game. I was afraid we were going to lose that one too."
"We had to sort of keep the celebration down," said Ansell, a 5-foot-9, 160-pound scrapper who has retained his sense of humor. "We had to play another game two days later."
During those hundred days of horor, the Pats were called all the names the Capitals haeard during their 25-game winless streak a year ago. With a nickname like that, they heard others. Patsies was the common term.
Some players quit. One of them was the backup goaltender, leaving Ansell to bear the nightly 50-shot load himself.
"Those guys that quit were doing everybody a favor," Ansell said. "It was sort of cancerous. I couldn't believe it for a while, the way things were going. It's harder to get drive and desire when things are going so bad. But I want to play hockey and I'm not going to quit just because we're losing."
Coach Bob Turner wouldn't give up, either. He had guided the Pats for 11 seasons, including their Memorial Cup success in 1974, and before that spend six seasons playing defense for a real winners, the Montreal Canadiens.
During the streak, Turner said, "This season's been hard on the nerves. I can't sleep any more. I wake up having nightmares. My wife doesn't want to go to the rink any more. Sometimes I don't even want to go down there."
After he was fired. Turner commented, "At least my nerves have settled down and I'm sleeping the whole night for a change, and my stomch isn't churning when I get up."
Davis accepted the threat of a churning stomach with the rationalization, "There is only one way to go with this team." A Regina resident and former Pats' player, he had been a scout for the Houston Aeros, but noted that "There's not all that much security in the pros."
The Pats beset by injuries, struggled into Medicine Hat with only 16 players. They had other problems. Ansell wore No. 21, doubly odd for a goalie, because four sweaters had inadvertently been left at home. the local fans posted a sign that read, "Pats 39 plus one equals 40" Regina had fooled them, though. It had lost No. 40 the night before.
Medicine Hat supposedly received its name because the South Saskatchewan River bends into the shape of a hat as it sweeps through town. According to Indian legend a medicine man became caught between warring Sioux and Blackfoot warriors, and his hat fell off, forming the oddd curve of the river.
Ansell must have felt like a man in the middle of a war Saturday night the way the Tigers - and occasionally his own teammates - peppered shots at him. He stopped enough breakaways to qualify for the warden's job at Lorton. After one save, teamate Kevin Krook hugged the little goalie. If this is not a successful team, it is nevertheless struggling toether.
"In practive I try to get on the guys a little more so they'll help out," Ansell said. "But it's a young defense. I think we're going to surprise a lot of people next year. I'm looking forward to it, when we move into a new rink. The fans have been really good to us. We're still getting 1,700 a game. And I'm still looking forward to each game this season."
"We're very young, we only lost three," Davis said. "And we have a kid 15, Doug Wickenheiser, on our tier two team who is the best player in the Saskatchewan junior league."
In Western Canada, which has no draft of midget players, teams may protect up to 70 youngsters, regardless of age, and Davis confesses to robbing the cradle.
"The situation we're in, I've had to put a couple of 13-and 12-year-olds on our list," Davis said. "We can't afford to wait and risk losing them."
The Pats won the Memorial Cup in 1974 with a team that included goalie Ed Staniowski, defenseman Greg Joly and forwards Dennis Sobchuk and Clark Gillies. Only Staniowki was home grown.
"After that, the Pats thought they'd go with local players," Davis said. "The let down badly on their scouting. Regina has the best minor hockey system in all Canada, but it's not good enough to compete with teams that scout all over."
Nine of the league's 12 teams, three in each division, make the playoffs. Regina is 22 points behind third place Flin Flon in the Central Division and Davis, with a laugh, said, "It's some weird setup, but I don't know if they can arrange to get us in it."
Ansell, looking very small and very young with padding and mask discarded, said, "The playoffs are sort of doubtful, but we've still got a chance. We won't stop thinking about it until we're out."