Venasky could do it all on the ice

Vic Venasky’s 430 games played with the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings are the most of anyone from the Lakehead. 1974-75 Venasky O-Pee-Chee hockey card image courtesy Hilary Kaszor.

HAVING been a proven offensive contributor in junior and college hockey, Vic Venasky showed he also had what it took to play defensively in the National Hockey League.

Hailing from Fort William, Venasky was a star locally, from the onset.

A stellar junior career saw him shine, mainly with the fabled Port Arthur Marr’s.

Brought up as just a 15-year-old by the Marr’s for their memorable run all the way to the Memorial Cup finals in 1967 against the vaunted Toronto Marlboros, who were coached by another local legend, Gus Bodnar.

There, Venasky saw action in five regular season games and scored once in as many playoff outings, plus had an assist in six contests in the playdowns.

Three more successful campaigns, as a regular with the Marr’s, he racked up 143 points in just 82 games while accumulating just two minor penalties.

Among the accolades he earned during his time with the Port Arthur junior side was a trio of Thunder Bay Junior Hockey League cleanest player awards as well as TBJHL league and playoff MVP laurels.

He also picked up TBJHL most gentlemanly player honours and a league scoring crown while being tabbed Thunder Bay’s Athlete of the Year in 1970.

His skill set also saw Venasky be a hot commodity as he was picked up by multiple clubs along the Memorial Cup trail after Port Arthur had been eliminated.

After appearing with the Marrs in the 1967 event, he would be added to the Fort William Hurricanes playoff-run-roster in 1969 and ’70.

The Weyburn Red Wings also bolstered their line-up with him in the 1970 Memorial Cup final against the powerful Montreal Jr. Canadiens.

In 35 postseason appearances his efforts saw him accumulate 40 points, including six with Weyburn in that 1970 Memorial Cup.

Venasky’s on-ice efforts in junior earned him a NCAA Division I scholarship to the University of Denver, where he played alongside fellow locals and future NHLers Rick Bragnalo and Mike Busniuk.

In his first season with the Pioneers, he provided plenty of offensive production with 56 points in 36 games overall.

His 39 points in Western Collegiate Hockey Association play were tops among all skaters in the conference.

His efforts earned him NCAA West 1st Team All-American honours as well as WCHA Second Team distinction.

Denver would advance all the way to the NCAA Final Four where they would fall to the eventual champion Boston University in the semifinal, before rebounding to shutout Harvard in the third-place match-up.

As a sophomore, Venasky produced another 56-point season for the Pioneers helping them win the WCHA’s MacNaughton Cup as regular season title holders.

DU did head to another NCAA Final Four, but we upended by Cornell.

After registering nearly two points-per-game at Denver (57 GP/102 PTS) over two years, Venasky opted to turn pro and sign with the Los Angeles Kings, who selected him in the third round, 34th overall, in the 1971 NHL Draft. The Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association also had selected him in the 1972 WHA Draft.

Making the Kings line-up for the 1972-73 campaign, Los Angeles looked for him to concentrate in keeping opposing centres off the board instead.

So despite being an NHL novice, Venasky was charged by Kings’ newly minted head coach Bob Pulford to go head-to-head against the other teams top players up the middle, such as Phil Esposito, Bobby Clarke, Jacques Lemaire, Jean Ratelle and Gilbert Perreault.

He did chip in offensively as well, picking up 34 points in 77 outings, including his first NHL goal, coming against the New York Islanders in a November 4, 1972 home game, before going on to earn club top rookie accolades.

In all, he skated in 430 NHL contests over seven seasons with the Kings, the most of anyone from Thunder Bay, and collected 162 points on 61 tallies along with 101 helpers.

He also had minor pro stops along the way and a stint locally with the Thunder Bay Twins senior side in 1980-81, and a stop in Switzerland with HC Davos, competing in the Spengler Cup, before retiring.

Venasky has stayed involved in the game, coaching and developing players in southern California and was inducted into the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.