They were quite literally the worst team in the history of organized hockey. They were disorganized, they were dysfunctional. Before they even won a single game in the Quebec League in 1984-85, they were taken out behind the barn and shot.
It's been over 30 years since the miserable Plattsburgh Pioneers were, in fact, miserable, but you won't find anyone raising a glass to make a toast. Not the fans, not the New York state community, not the players, not the team founder.
"That was a bad situation, I'd rather not talk about it," said team coach-GM-owner Denis Methot, now 65, when asked to reminisce. "I've got nothing to say."
The trailblazing Plattsburgh Pioneers were the QMJHL's first foray into the United States. Dr. Methot, a former university sports science teacher from Trois-Rivieres, Que., saw potential in the city of 35,000, a one-hour drive south of Montreal. He helped finance $500,000 in the project and was sure it would be a hit.
"The problem was, major junior wasn't as big in the States at the time," said Chicago Blackhawks assistant John Torchetti, who played eight games with that miserable Plattsburgh team. "Hockey fans in that area followed the Plattsburgh Cardinals (Div. III NCAA). There wasn't much interest in the Pioneers."
The biggest flaw with the Pioneers was their mandate to ice a team made up exclusively of U.S.-born players. Methot recruited prep schools in the eight Northeastern states and jury-rigged a roster of 17 willing young Americans. It was a disaster waiting to happen.
The high point was Game 1 at home. A 7-6 overtime loss to Hull was witnessed by 1,500 fans. It was the only point in the standings the Pioneers would earn when the plug was pulled after 17 games. Before the team was two weeks old, it had lost 13-0 to Laval, 15-2 to St-Jean, and 15-2 to Verdun.
"Things were completely dysfunctional," Torchetti said. "It was a horrible environment to be a part of."
Methot was coach-GM-owner, also handled the recruiting and did much of the marketing and administrative duties as well. Plagued with financial troubles and owing money to the city for rental agreements, he hoped solid attendance figures would allow the team to grow organically.
After seven games, the QMJHL's board gave Methot a list of things to shore up and a one-week deadline. "The problem is the structure of his organization," QMJHL president Gus Morissette told The Hockey News in 1984. "He's doing too much himself. He's a one-man show. You can't run practice and look for players at the same time. (We) gave him a week to get a secretary, a coach and some more players."
Methot complained the league wasn't being helpful or offering guidance. "The league could have given us direction on how to operate," Methot told THN in October of 1984. "It's hard to find a secretary (in Plattsburgh) who speaks and reads French. All communications from the league are in French."
Things continued to spiral downward. Losses of 17-1 to Granby, 11-1 to Hull. Five games were lost by a margin of 73-9. Average attendance slipped to just 500 after nine home games. Methot was ejected from one game when he sent out the team's backup goalie to serve a penalty given to the starting goaltender.
"I had to leave the team," Torchetti said. "It was a bad situation getting worse. Going there was the first big decision I made in life and my parents let me make it on my own. It was Plattsburgh or go to West Point (U.S. Military Academy) and become a pilot. I gave up my college (playing) eligibility to go there."
The Pioneers soon crashed and burned. An Oct. 27 home game versus St-Jean was postponed when a compressor broke at Plattsburgh's Crete Center. A 9-3 loss in Drummondville the next day was the 17th straight and mercifully final loss when the QMJHL disbanded the team due to financial considerations. The Pioneers were outscored 185-56 in those 17 games. Goalie Frank Currie had a 13.86 goals-against average and .718 save percentage.
So disgusted was the league, it stripped every Plattsburgh game from the record book and standings. No records realized in games against the Pioneers were recorded for archival or statistical purposes. Scoring stats in games against the Pioneers were purged as well. It was as though the team never existed. (The scores and stats you see in this story came from the archives of The Hockey News.)
"I felt so sorry for Mr. Methot," Torchetti said. "It wasn't his fault. He did everything he could to make it work. He was such a nice person. This whole thing just drained him."
Methot went back to Trois-Rivieres, 12 players went to other teams in major junior, four turned pro in the low minors and six others never played again at this level or higher. Torchetti had the most notable career, playing seven seasons in the low minors.
"I wouldn't say it was all bad," said Torchetti, who served as an interim head coach for three NHL teams and assistant coach for four others in the decades to come. "I learned about extremes and dealing with the emotional swings of extremes. Being in that situation actually got me thinking like a coach. It got me thinking in a detail-oriented way.
"And I still keep in touch with some guys from that team, like Louis Finocchiaro, Scott Rettew and Ed Considine. We don't talk about Plattsburgh, but we talk."