Rat puke and Wolves

Randy Russon
April 27, 2021

They had their share of good players and character individuals, including two standouts who became high draft picks to the National Hockey League and 11 others who would go on to play at the minor pro and/or European pro levels.

But for whatever reason, the Sudbury Wolves of 1983-1984 would finish in last place overall with a record of 19-50-1 in what was a 15-team Ontario Hockey League back then.

And it didn’t help that the underachieving Wolves of 1983-1984 were coached by a rude, crude dude who would routinely tell his players “you are all rat puke” when he was dissatisfied with their play.

The coach in question of that season was Andy Spruce, a snide, snarky individual known for having a high opinion of himself and a low opinion of many.

Handed the head coaching job early in the 1983-1984 season on the sole recommendation of Sudbury part owner Gerry Verbeek after Billy Harris resigned due to health issues, Spruce showed his lack of ability as a bench boss by somehow leading the Wolves to the bottom of the OHL standings despite a fairly talented roster of players.

The surly, scowling Spruce was the antithesis of Harris.

The gentlemanly Harris was a class act of an individual who played in more than 800 National Hockey League games as a quality center who was part of three straight Stanley Cup championship teams — 1962, 1963 and 1964 — with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Harris was later an assistant coach with the Edmonton Oilers of the NHL under the legendary Glen Sather before being asked to take the helm of the OHL Wolves midway through the 1982-1983 season. Unfortunately, the laid back Harris would have health problems and it was early into the 1983-1984 season when he had to step aside as Wolves coach and be replaced by the ill-tempered, ill-mannered Spruce.

Former Sudbury Wolves sensation Craig Duncanson

To be sure, Spruce failed to take advantage of the talent on the ’83-84 Wolves that included superstar defenseman Jeff Brown and high-end power forward Craig Duncanson.

Brown finished second on the Wolves in scoring that season with 17 goals, 60 assists, 77 points from his defense spot, just ahead of Duncanson, who produced 38 goals, 38 assists, 76 points as a rookie sensation.

Brown would go on to become a second round pick of the Quebec Nordiques and play in more than 800 NHL games as a world-class defenseman. Duncanson would become a first-round NHL draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings and have a lengthy pro career.

Besides Brown and Duncanson, an indication of the talent that general manager Joe Drago assembled for that ’83-84 Wolves team is that no less than 11 others would go on to play pro hockey — forwards Chris McRae, Jim Koudys, Glenn Greenough, Brian Verbeek, Dan Nowak and Dan Chiasson, defensemen Eddie Smith, John Landry and Steve McCharles and goalies Sean Evoy and Danny Longe.

Yet, self-professed great coach that he was, the obnoxious, ornery Spruce drove the Wolves into the basement of the OHL in spite of the number of quality players and good kids that he had on that team.

Constantly referring to his players as “rat puke” and accusing them of a “brutal effort” after games in which they out-shot the opposition might have had a lot to do with Spruce’s glaring shortcomings as a coach who was unable to get much out of his players.

Predictably, Spruce would last only one more season with the Wolves, the 1984-1985 campaign, and be unceremoniously fired after another disaster of a record — 17-46-3 — and a second straight last-place finish.

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