READY... SET.... GO!

As the 1978-79 Gears season drew near, things looked bright in the world of Gears fans. In fact, things were looking pretty terrific for the entire Saginaw Valley. All of the local industries were working around the clock, jobs were easy to find and hockey games were well attended. Student success of the Gears, the Saginaw Civic Center was well on the route to paying off the bonds used to finance its construction in advance. So good was the economic and business outlook that the nationwide hotel chain Radisson Inns where the process securing property in order to construct the newest in their chain of hotels right across the street from Wendler Arena. The new hotel was slated to open in the summer of 1980.

Although the team had failed to repeat their championship season of 1976-77, many of the same faces remained with team. Players such as, Marcel Comeau, Stu Irving, Dave Webster and Dennis Desrosiers, all of whom were championship rings were back for another season. Veterans from the previous season included Randy Rudayk, Dan Eastman, Kevin Howe and Bob Gladney. There was also a crop of new faces joining the team. That fresh blood included Bill Stephenson, Paul McIntosh, Neil Smith and Larry Hopkins. The range of experience among the new players stretched from the CHL, the OHA, the AHL, college teams and even the Canadian Olympic team. There were also some IHL trades in the mix of new players Mark Toffolo had come from Grand Rapids and Mel Hewitt had come from the Flint Generals. As if to replace the original, there was a “new” Paul Evans this season. Being the cousin of ex-Gear Jimmy Johnston, this Paul Evans, (not to be mistaken with the original Paul Evans- who gone up to play with the Philadelphia Flyers,) the new one came down from the Toronto Maple Leafs of the NHL. Topping off the new season's roster were three goaltenders. Doug Keans was fresh out of the juniors as was Bob Parent. Bob Froese had a bit more experience coming out of the juniors because he attended the training camp for the St. Louis Blues. He had also dressed for the Gears, but hadn't gotten any game time during the previous season. So, although the hockey savvy Saginaw fans may have been uplifted by their returning veterans anyone could see that Saginaw's true weakness this season would be in goaltending.

The 1978-79 exhibition season for the Gears began on October 11th when the Port Huron Flags handed them 6 to 3 loss. Things got better as the pre-season went on and eventually the Gears walked away with two losses, two wind and one tie. The final pre-season game was played at McMorran Place Arena in Port Huron. In that contest, Marcel Comeau demonstrated that he was fully prepared for the upcoming season. At 5:17 of the first period Dave Westner put a shot on goal that was turned aside by the Flags goaltender. Larry Hopkins, however, got the rebound and put the puck in the net. Then, at 8:58 of the first, veteran defenseman Bob Gladney slammed a blistering shot from the point that found the back of the net and the Gears went up the stairs at the end of the first period up 2 to 0. As the second stanza got under way, Comeau went to work early. Positioned in front of the Port Huron net he picked up a Dennis Desrosiers pass and scored at 8:07. Then, after the clock ticked off just 39 seconds more Comeau picked up his own rebound and scored his second goal of the evening. Finally, with only a half dozen seconds remaining on the clock, Jon Fontas ended the second period by scoring the evening’s fifth unanswered goal for the Gears with assists to Westner and Hopkins. When the third period began the Gears onslaught continued as Hopkins scored his second goal of the game just 47 seconds into the period. Shortly thereafter Comeau earned himself a hat trick on a short-handed goal and the Gears scoring finished with Mel Hewitt getting the team’s final tally for the night. Somewhere in there the flags got goals from Rick Simpson and prior to that Stan Gulutzan. Considering that the Gears were headed home down M-43 with an 8 to 2 win in their final game of the pre-season and that same win was against the Port Huron Flags, whom they would meet in their home opener- everyone on the bus was pretty confident for that first game and for the season ahead. Everyone was wrong.

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