Guyle Fielder (b. 1930), Seattle's greatest hockey player, was a high-scoring center from small-town Saskatchewan. A mighty mite at 5 feet 9 inches and 160 pounds, Fielder was a dazzling skater, a maestro with the puck, beloved by Seattle's rabid fans, and revered by teammates, yet marginalized by some hockey insiders who judged him as too small, too strong-headed, or too prone to disreputable behavior off the ice. For a host of reasons, including his own refusal to join the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1958, Fielder never stuck in the National Hockey League. But the NHL's loss was Seattle's gain: With "Golden Guyle" leading the charge, the Seattle Totems reached the Western Hockey League finals five times in a 10-year span and won championships in 1959, 1967, and 1968. When Fielder retired in 1973, he was professional hockey's all-time leading scorer.
Born on November 21, 1930, in Potlatch, Idaho, Guyle Abner Fielder was raised in Nipawin, Saskatchewan, where he learned to play hockey on hard-packed snow with a 25-cent stick and an improvised puck. "We played in our boots, not skates," he told biographer James Vantour. "We used horse manure … There was lots of that around. That's when I learned to stickhandle, with frozen manure. There were no boards so you held onto the 'puck' as long as you could" (Vantour, 8).
Success in hockey came quickly for young Guyle, but he struggled in school and never advanced past the eighth grade. With his parents' blessing, he left home at 16 to play junior hockey in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Said Fielder, "You get out in the world, away from your little town, and that's the greatest education in the world. You might not be up on your math and speaking and writing, but you gain a lot of road experience, so to speak" ("4-Handicapper …").
It wasn't long before scouts noticed him. As Fielder recalled, "Tiny Thompson, a Chicago Black Hawks scout, came to Nipawin one day and laid three $100 bills on the table in front of me, my mom and my dad, for me to turn pro, and they took it. That was a lot of money in those days" ("4-Handicapper …"). The Black Hawks sent him to New Westminster, British Columbia, for his first pro season, then sold him to the Detroit Red Wings in 1952. He spent the 1952-1953 season with St. Louis of the American Hockey League, joined the Red Wings for the 1953 Stanley Cup playoffs, and went to training camp with Detroit that fall in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. That's when a series of fortuitous circumstances landed him in Seattle.
Fielder had been sensational in his year with St. Louis, scoring 83 points, but sticking with Detroit was not in the cards. Only three centers were needed, and the Red Wings, defending Stanley Cup champions, already had a stable. When Fielder realized he wasn't going to make the team, he requested that the Wings send him somewhere where he could play regularly, even if it meant back to the minor leagues. Seattle might be an ideal spot, he figured. His parents had moved to Bellevue, Washington, in 1948, and an uncle, Al Leader, was living in Seattle. Even better, Leader was the president of the Western Hockey League. The extent of Leader's role in facilitating Fielder's move is unknown, but on September 23, 1953, a deal was struck sending the 22-year-old Fielder to the Seattle Bombers. "There's no reason why Fielder wouldn't be an asset to any club in the country," Bombers coach Muzz Patrick gushed to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "We're very happy to have him. I'll predict right now Guyle will either lead the league or be right up there near the top" ("Bombers Acquire …").
On opening night of the 1953-1954 season at the Civic Ice Arena, a 3-3 tie against Vancouver, Fielder, "on the play of the night, came from out of nowhere to scoop up a loose puck and drive it into the net after Gump Worsley had stopped his first effort" ("Bombers Hang On …"). Fielder finished that season as the WHL scoring champion with 88 points and second behind Worsley for the WHL's Most Valuable Player Award. "Golden" Guyle was off and running. In a career spent mostly in Seattle, he captured six WHL MVP awards and shattered some of professional hockey's most coveted scoring records. He scored a record 122 points in the 1956-1957 season, his third with Seattle and one of his four 100-point seasons. When Fielder left the game for good in 1973 -- with 438 goals, 1,491 assists, and 1,929 points -- he was professional hockey's all-time leading scorer.
"A Fierce, Unrivaled Intensity"
In his record-setting 1956-1957 season, Fielder centered the Bombers' "Pony Line" with wingers Ray Kinasewich and Val Fonteyne. Kinasewich scored 44 goals, and Fonteyne 24. Fielder was masterful with the puck. "Guyle was kind of a magician," Fonteyne recalled. "He didn't like to give the puck up. He wanted it. We just had to try to get open. If you did, you got lots of chances" (Vantour, 118). Wrote Lenny Anderson in The Seattle Times: "Fielder has a lot going for him in a lot of directions. He is one of the three or four fastest skaters in the league and, steering a puck, probably the fastest. He is regarded as one of the best stick-handlers in hockey. He has the stamina of a bill collector" ("The Versatile Mr. Fielder").
Fielder got another NHL chance in the fall of 1957. He dazzled in Detroit's training camp and made the team, but didn't play well when paired with future Hall of Famer Gordie Howe. The Wings soon sent him back to Seattle. After the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted him a year later, Fielder refused to report to the NHL club. "I like Seattle and I'm settled here," he said ("Fielder May Not Join ..."). "I've had many so-called tryouts with NHL clubs," Fielder said, "but now at the age of 28 I've got to begin looking to the future. I've been accepted for an electrical apprenticeship and I'd have to give that up if I reported to Toronto" ("Fielder Says 'No' ..."). It would be his final flirtation with the NHL, though people would continue to wonder why he never stuck. Wrote the Post-Intelligencer in 1978:
"Hockey experts have offered several reasons why the WHL's greatest player did not go on to the major leagues. The master of hockey finesse was not considered 'physical' enough in those days when just six major league teams were offering only slightly more compensation that the now-defunct WHL. He was both too early and too late -- beginning his career after hockey was shifting to a new, harder-hitting, less-artistic era, and before expansion and inter-league rivalry would have assured Fielder a place in the major leagues. [Bill] MacFarland said Fielder prided himself on stick handling and skating ability -- simply refusing to play the shoot-it-and-chase-it style of hockey required in the NHL" ("Whatever Happened …").
By his own admission, Fielder could be stubborn and contrary. He recalled refusing to participate in drills for his junior team in Lethbridge, Alberta. He said his reputations as a pool hustler and beer drinker were well earned, even if the drinking was overblown. He could be standoffish with the media. Hy Zimmerman of the Times, who covered Fielder for his entire Seattle career, wrote, "Guyle was an unusual person, slow to talk, slow to react. He not only could be rated an introvert, he often was glum and dour and morose. He even could pout and sulk. On the ice he was something else, with the quickest reactions, most rapid reflexes you ever saw. And, if some outsiders had problems denting his shell, he was extremely popular with his teammates" ("Can Golden Guyle …").
Fielder meshed with Keith "Bingo" Allen, who coached the Totems for nine seasons. "Allen's skills as a personnel manager are proven by his success in handling the league's superstar, Guyle Abner Fielder, who is otherwise known as Tom," Seattle Magazine wrote in 1964. "Fielder is a genius in handling the puck -- he is the league's top scorer almost every year -- but he is also a finicky prima donna who has a tendency to sulk. This partially explains why Fielder has been unable to retain a spot on a National League team and has always drifted back to the Western League … In action, Fielder plays with a fierce, unrivaled intensity, but on dry land he is quiet-spoken and even withdrawn; off season, he works as a Seattle electrician. Among his avocations is golf, and he is also a top-notch pool shark. 'Hell,' says one of his friends, 'for a while there, Tom was making more money shooting pool at Ben Paris than he was playing hockey'" ("Make Way …").
Packy and the '59 Champs
Bill MacFarland was the other face of Seattle hockey in the 1960s, perhaps even more influential than Fielder. MacFarland played for Seattle from 1957-1967, followed by stints as the Totems' coach and general manager, and later served as president of the WHL. His first two seasons as coach ended with WHL championships. On the ice, MacFarland was a prolific goal scorer with a bruising style. He was voted the league's Most Valuable Player for the 1961-1962 season. He collected nicknames -- "Big Bill," "Mac," "Packy," "The Fist" -- and fighting penalties. "He is the Totems' policeman, the guy who keeps opposing rowdies in line," the Times wrote in 1959. "Many a WHL bully has felt Bill's classic, straight right" ("MacFarland Has New 'Eye' …"). But MacFarland was more than just muscle; born in Toronto, he earned a business degree while starring at the University of Michigan and then decided he wanted to be a lawyer. He often spent 30 hours a week clerking for Seattle attorney Vincent Abbey, part-owner of the Totems. When MacFarland became a U.S. citizen in 1964, he passed the Washington state bar exam.
With Fielder, MacFarland, Fonteyne, Rudy Filion, and Gordy Sinclair on the roster by 1957, the Totems had built a formidable team. Filion, a 30-year-old center, was a fan favorite. "Filion has been called the elder skatesman of Seattle ice hockey," Georg N. Meyers wrote in the Times. "In a sharp gray suit, with his biluminous-black hair slickened, he could be mistaken for a professional ballroom dancer. He is the most gentlemanly gentleman on Western Hockey League ice" ("Seattle's Elder …"). Fonteyne was an unfinished product when he came to Seattle in 1955, but developed into a productive goal scorer and fierce defender in four seasons as Fielder's left wing. He would go on to play 13 seasons in the NHL. Sinclair, nicknamed "Wedge" for the unusual shape of his head, was a latecomer to hockey who learned to skate when he was 14. A small defenseman at 150 pounds, with a knack for scoring goals, he became Fielder's best friend on the team. "Wedge had good hockey sense," Fielder quipped. "He was a defenseman, but he was smart enough to be a center" (Vantour, 94).
As the 1958-1959 season dawned, Fielder, Fonteyne, Filion, and Sinclair were recognized stars in the WHL, and MacFarland was fast becoming one. The supporting cast was rugged. Frank "Crash" Arnett was a "tempestuous, hard-rock defenseman" and "the Puck's Bad Boy of the WHL," according to Zimmerman. But Arnett was not the club's top pugilist; that award went to winger Gerry "Grump" Leonard by a vote of his teammates. "Grump, a mild-looking type, engaged in nine bouts with enemy players" ("Totems Take 6-Game …"). Resilient rookie right wing Tommy McVie endured personal tragedy -- the death of an infant child -- and a knee injury and scored 26 goals, including nine game-winners, in just 50 games.
After finishing the regular season in first place, the Totems rolled through the playoffs, winning 11 of 12 games, the final eight in succession. The capper was a 5-1 rout of the Calgary Stampeders sparked by MacFarland and Fielder: "Bill MacFarland, like a plunging hammer, scored twice, as did Valiant Val Fonteyne, who used Frank Arnett as a springboard," waxed Zimmerman in the Times. "The fifth light came from Bill Davidson on a whirlwind thrust with Tommy McVie and Golden Guyle Fielder, who assisted on four of the goals" ("Totems Raise …").
Ups and Downs
The Totems' upward trajectory stalled in 1959-1960, even as Fielder led the league in scoring for the fourth consecutive season. The club recognized its oldest player with Rudy Filion Night on March 11, 1960, and Filion thrilled the crowd with a hat trick. The Totems were quickly eliminated from the playoffs but bounced back the following season, first upsetting Calgary in the playoff semifinals before clashing with a new rival -- the Portland Buckaroos -- in the WHL finals.
Portland was a new entry in the WHL, returning to pro hockey after a nine-year absence. It had a new arena, the 10,500-seat Memorial Coliseum, and was stocked with front-line players raided from the defunct Victoria Cougars. Art Jones, a gifted forward who would become the top goal scorer in WHL history, was the Buckaroos' answer to Fielder. Portland tormented the Totems during the regular season, limiting Seattle to four victories in 12 meetings. Making matters worse, because Seattle's Arena was booked, the first three games of the finals would be played in Portland. The Buckaroos blasted Seattle 4-0 in Game 6 to win the series. "There may be several explanations for the downfall of the Totems, but this is the obvious one … the Buckaroos are the better hockey club," Royal Brougham concluded in the P-I ("The Morning After").
The Totems thrilled their growing fan base over the next four seasons but made only one serious title run. Despite a rash of injuries during the 1962-1963 season, they advanced to the WHL finals to face the San Francisco Seals. But again because of scheduling conflicts at the Arena -- the "Ice Follies" and Oral Roberts were booked -- they would have to play all seven games on the opposition's ice. Or would they? "Fielder's team took a 3-1 series lead, but the Seals roared back to tie it. San Francisco had the better regular-season record, and thus, Game 7 was automatically to be played at the Cow Palace. But the Arena by then was available, so the Totems applied to have the game transferred … The Seals, unsurprisingly, refused to give the Totems a decisive home game" ("Guyle Fielder Anticipates …"). The outcome, with Seattle losing a winner-take-all Game 7 in overtime, left a bitter taste. "We won those three championships," Fielder recalled, "and also kind of got screwed out of another" ("Guyle Fielder Anticipates …").
Attendance swelled in 1964-1965 when the Totems moved from the Arena to the Seattle Center Coliseum, where hockey capacity was 12,700. They finished with a winning record before stumbling in the first round of the playoffs. The following season, 1965-1966, was chaotic. Allen relinquished his coaching duties and new coach Bobby Kromm clashed with some of his players. A late-season collapse left the Totems out of the playoffs for the second time in three years. MacFarland announced his retirement shortly after the season. The club fired Kromm, and in June, Allen left Seattle after 10 seasons to coach the NHL expansion team in Philadelphia. The Totems installed former NHL player Murray Costello as the new GM. Costello then persuaded a reluctant MacFarland to take the coaching reins. Suddenly, the Totems and Fielder were set up for the most glorious two-year stretch in franchise history.
The Jolly Green Giants
The Totems began 1966-1967 wearing new colors -- Kelly green and white, replacing red, white, and blue -- but playing losing hockey. They ended the season as WHL champions thanks to a pivotal trade and the rise of a group of defensemen dubbed the "Jolly Green Giants." The trade acquisition was Noel Picard, a defenseman who was property of the Montreal Canadiens. The price -- Adam Keller, a Seattle fan favorite -- was steep. "The trade went through and Picard's robust style and strong leadership lifted the Totems to the championship," wrote the P-I. "Picard hit everything in sight, including a Victoria fan and the owner of the California Seals with a solid right jab one night in Oakland. Picard epitomized the nickname, Jolly Green Giants" ("From Out of the Icy …").
The Totems had just two wins in seven games when Picard arrived on November 4. They acquired another jumbo defenseman, Pat Quinn, on December 30. Fielder caught fire in March, and over the season's final 23 games, the Totems won 19, lost three, and tied one, the hottest finish in WHL history. They blitzed through the playoffs, defeating San Francisco 4-2 in a best-of-seven semifinal series before sweeping the Vancouver Canucks -- who ousted Portland in the other semifinal -- to claim their first championship since 1959. Larry Lund, who centered a line with Bill Dineen and Howie Hughes, led the team in postseason scoring. MacFarland's strategy to build around big, physical defensemen was validated. "No team in Seattle hockey history ever had a group like the blueline bunch on MacFarland's first club," the P-I's Bill Knight wrote three years later. "Noel Picard, Larry Hale, Jean Gauthier and Don Ward were the regulars, backed by Bob Lemieux -- then a rookie -- and Pat Quinn. Physically, it was the biggest in all of pro hockey. As for their skills, all but Ward and Lemieux are in the NHL now. And they hit – wham! bang! slam! crash! – to pick up the not precisely accurate moniker of Jolly Green Giants" ("Long Odds …").
The next offseason was eventful. MacFarland nearly quit to focus on his law practice, and the Totems entered their title defense with a depleted roster. The NHL expansion draft claimed Picard, Lemieux, Quinn, Gauthier, and Hughes, eliminating most of the Jolly Green Giants and one of the team's top scorers in Hughes. In a surprise move, the Totems swapped goaltenders with Portland, sending McLeod to the Buckaroos for Don Head, a Seattle nemesis since 1960. Other top newcomers included Cleland "Keke" Mortson, a high-scoring defenseman, and winger Marc Boileau, returning to Seattle after a six-year absence. Skating on Fielder's line, "Marc the Shark" was destined to score two of the biggest goals in Seattle hockey history.
The new-look Totems, now affiliated with Keith Allen's Philadelphia Flyers, jumped out to the best start in franchise history, a 10-game unbeaten streak. When a slump hit, the Flyers sent right wing Bob Courcy to Seattle; he scored three goals in his second game and was a Totems' fixture for the next four seasons. With Fielder, Dineen, and bruising Earl Heiskala having good seasons, the Totems finished in second place behind Portland, though MacFarland's club was spent at season's end. "We have no momentum and no spirit," he said after a loss to Portland in the regular season's finale. "And some of the boys are tired" ("Bucks Trip Totems …").
To win a second consecutive title, Seattle would have to slip past Phoenix before an inevitable matchup with Portland in the finals. Their mission was accomplished with stunning ease. After sweeping the Roadrunners in four games, the Totems needed only five games to vanquish the Buckaroos. Game 2 of the finals -- a 7-6 Seattle victory in overtime -- would go down as the greatest comeback in Seattle hockey history. Boileau won Game 4 with an overtime tip-in and scored the first two goals in Game 5. "The Totems completed their incredible journey to the pinnacle here last night," Bill Knight wrote in the P-I. "They beat Portland 4-0 and won their second straight Western Hockey League championship, satisfying an obsession for revenge against the Buckaroos. It was magnificent. A shutout by goalie Don Head and Marc Boileau's two goals were decisive in the clincher that gave the Totems full redemption after a season of frustration at the hands of the Portland club." It was, Knight wrote, "the finest hour of Seattle hockey" ("Totems Are Kings …").
Out in the Cold
The Totems fell quickly after their back-to-back titles. Fielder played only one more season, at age 39, and his exit from Seattle was tinged with drama. On June 21, 1969, he called Murray Costello from Canada to tell him he was retiring. He and his wife had partnered with Seattle hockey fan John Sonntag to purchase the Chilcotin Inn, a 51-room hotel in remote Williams Lake, British Columbia. As Fielder would later explain: "I could see the writing on the wall, even though I had worked hard to stay in shape. I was starting to feel the effects of getting older. I wanted to get a job and go to work. I thought maybe the Totems or one of the other teams would offer me something. It didn't have to be a hockey job. I just wanted a job. The Totems had about eight or 10 owners. They were businesspeople … But there were no takers; none of them could help me. I knew I didn't have any qualifications, no education. But I wasn't asking for much. It was time to retire" (Vantour, 298-99).
In the Times, Hy Zimmerman reflected on Fielder's tenure in Seattle: "We first met Guyle in 1953, just after he had been purchased by Frank Dotten, owner of the Seattle Bombers … Sixteen years later, we scarcely know the inner Fielder any better than on that first fall day … Because of his taciturnity, he was not a leader in the dressing room. Because of his ability, he was a leader on the ice. Unlike most of us, Guyle recognizes and admits his shortcomings. When a coaching job was broached to him, he readily admitted he was not the type to handle men. Instead, he has settled on a hotel in Canada, to the loss of Seattle hockey, to all of the Western League. It is difficult to believe, Seattle hockey without Golden Guyle" ("Can Golden Guyle …").
Fielder's retirement was brief. In November 1969, with the season underway and the Totems resigned to losing him, Seattle traded his rights to the Salt Lake Golden Eagles for defenseman Bobby Schmautz. Salt Lake was a new WHL team, coached by Fielder's old friend and Pony Line teammate Ray Kinasewich. In need of a drawing card, the Eagles offered Fielder a two-year contract paying him $20,000 the first season, the highest salary of his career. He played two seasons with the Eagle, leading them in scoring both years, and then was traded to Portland, where he finished his career in 1973. "I played with Portland until I was 43," Fielder said. "I had no business playing, but they still wanted to pay me, and I didn't know anything else" ("4-Handicap … ").
A P-I reporter caught up with Fielder in 1978. Out of hockey for six years, he was living in suburban Portland, working the parimutuel windows at nearby horse- and dog-racing tracks, playing golf, shooting pool, and keeping current with a subscription to The Hockey News. Another four decades on, he was still going strong. In June 2019, Fielder drove from his home in Mesa, Arizona, to his old Seattle haunts to be recognized by the city's newly awarded and long-awaited NHL franchise. In front of a gathering that included Fielder, 88, and former Totems teammate "Jumbo" Jim Powers, 83, NHL Seattle executive Dave Tippett announced: "The club has created the Guyle Fielder Award in recognition of outstanding sportsmanship and leadership. It will be an annual team award to the NHL Seattle player who best exemplifies what Guyle Fielder is all about" ("Totems Legend …"). "I never anticipated this anywhere in my dreams," said Fielder. "I will remember this fondly. They're going all out to appreciate my career back in the good old days" ("Guyle Fielder … ").