By Andy Eide
SEATTLE — It’s been 50 years since Seattle Totems star Guyle Fielder, recognized as the greatest minor league player of all time, raced around the ice at the Seattle Center. He was back on Tuesday as NHL Seattle honored his career with a recreation of his locker stall at the Preview Center and by naming a new team award after him.
After some brief remarks to the intimate gathering, Fielder turned to cut a ceremonial ribbon and paused for a second.
“Is the camera on me,” he quipped with a smile, showing that he still knows how to be a star.
Fielder’s career was legendary among the minor leagues, playing in the old professional Western Hockey League for 22 years. He spent 15 of those seasons in Seattle with the Totems and their first incarnations, the Bombers and Americans. Over his career he recorded 1,929 points in 1,487 games. The only players in pro hockey to record more points were Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemiuex, Gordie Howe and Jaromir Jagr.
He won the WHL rookie of the year in 1952 with New Westminster Royals and was named the league’s Most Valuable Player six times. He topped the 100-point mark four times and his 122 points in 1957 was a professional record at the time.
“Anyone who is a hockey historian in Seattle knows the name Guyle Fielder,” NHL Seattle Senior Advisor Dave Tippett said on Tuesday. “We’re honored to have him here today. I’ve actually done some research on him, just watching clips of him play and it’s amazing. It’s amazing where the game was and where it is now and the impact that he had on his team.”
Known as an elite-level play maker he set up his teammates with 1,491 assists.
He was the type of player who made those around him better. He’d park behind the net and his wingers knew they just needed to get to the front, he’d find them. In the 1958-1959 season he piled up 95 assists in 69 games with the Totems and had four other seasons that saw him top 80 assists.
Being that prolific of a passer earned him a reputation around the league.
“It came out in the paper that I wasn’t a very good goal scorer,” Fielder recalled about an article that appeared in a Vancouver newspaper. “I did not see the article before the game. We went out that night and played Vancouver, we beat them 4-1, and the goaltender was Gump Worsley. I got all four goals.”
Fielder liked having the puck and would have been a huge hero among the analytics crowd today.
He drove possession for the Totems and as dump and chase became the rage in hockey, he never understood why.
“Why, if I have the puck and get up to the red line and shoot it in to give it back to them, when I already have it,” he asked. “It’s a team sport and I did the best that I could at the time. I just loved to play hockey so every night I went out and I played to the best of my ability.”
Fielder played in an era when the NHL consisted of just six teams. That made jobs scarce and left many good players relegated to toiling in the minor leagues.
He did get a couple of brief chances in the NHL, starting in 1952 with the Chicago Blackhawks where he played in three games. The next year he would play four playoff games with the Detroit Red Wings followed a year later by two more with the Boston Bruins. In total, he would only get into 15 NHL games.
As a young player at the time, he didn’t get much playing time and opted to return to Seattle where he would be able to log big minutes for the Totems.
“I got my call, but I didn’t make the best of it at the time because I was very immature,” Fielder recalled. “I just wanted to play hockey, not sit on the bench. Anybody can sit on the bench, but I didn’t want to do that.”
Tuesday he was honored by NHL Seattle with not only the locker stall but by the creation of the club’s first team award.
“It’s the Guyle Fielder Award,” Tippett said. “In recognition of outstanding sportsmanship and leadership. That will be a team award that we’ll award to a player on the NHL team that exemplifies what Guyle Fielder is all about.”
The locker stall will be on display in the team’s Preview Center and contains several artifacts from Fielder’s playing days.
That includes his number seven Totems sweater, some old team photos, gloves, skates, shoulder pads, and one of Fielders old wooden sticks. A stick with no curve in the blade and with Fielder’s signature tape job.
Fielder opted to tape the blade of his stick at the heel and the toe, leaving a portion of the blade exposed. Was this to give him a competitive edge?
“That was just a personal thing,” he said with a wry smile. “All the guys used to tape their sticks from toe to heel with the whole thing taped. I thought ‘everybody does that, why don’t I do something different’. I saw an old photo of some old teams years ago and somebody taped it like that, so I thought ‘I’ll do that’.”
As a member of the Totems, Fielder played his games both in the old Arena on Mercer as well as the Seattle Center Coliseum.
Tuesday, just a few blocks away from where the NHL team will play, he spoke fondly of the memories he had in both buildings. He talked about the Seattle fans and how loud they were.
His career ended with two seasons playing for the Salt Lake Golden Eagles before being traded to the Portland Buckaroos. He would play his final season and a half in Portland, who were big rivals with the Totems.
He remembers coming back to Seattle with the Buckaroos for the first time.
“That was weird,” he recalled. “I have to say, when I did come back even though I played for Portland, when they introduced the players, I got a standing ovation. I’m proud of that.”
Fielder is a humble man and his appreciation for the honor Tuesday was evident. At 88-years-old, he is full of energy and spends his days playing pool in Arizona.
When speaking of Seattle getting an NHL team, he gets emotional, tears welling in his eyes. He says he wants to come back for the first game in 2021. He admitted the honor from the NHL team was a surprise, but it was well appreciated by he and his family.
“I want to wish Seattle the very best because they should have been in the NHL 50 years ago,” he said. “It’s unfortunate but it finally happened and I’m happy for the city and I hope they’re very prosperous. They deserve it.”
Without any surprise, he’s been asked the biggest burning question surrounding the incoming franchise. What should the team’s name be?
“Totems would be a great name,” he answered confidently.
Whether that is the name the club chooses or not, the NHL Seattle group has made sure that Fielder’s accomplishments and legacy in Seattle will always be remembered. In many ways, he is the ultimate Seattle throwback. A great player, a mighty star who never got the national acclaim that he deserved.
That didn’t matter at the time. He was loved in Seattle and he was one of its earliest and brightest sports superstars. Like the natural beauty of the Northwest, the tech innovation and the music borne here, Fielder’s name can now be shared on a bigger stage.