The Western Hockey League (originally the WCHL) was formed in 1966-67 and is one of three major junior hockey leagues in Canada. Currently, there are 22 teams in the WHL, 17 in Canada and 5 in the United States. The trademark of the league is big players, toughness and defensive play. In the league’s history, three players have topped the 500 penalty minutes mark in a single season.
Brent Gogol – Billings Bighorns, Victoria Cougars
Gogol holds the WHL record for most PIM in a single season with 511 in 1977-78. It was Brent’s only full season in the WHL and he split it between the Billings Bighorns and Victoria Cougars. In the playoffs that year, Gogol played 20 games and added 95 more PIM as the Bighorns reached the finals before being swept by the New Westminster Bruins. The Bighorns are the current Tri-City Americans and the Cougars are now the Prince George Cougars. Gogol played 36 games in the league in 1976-77 with the Calgary Centennials and Victoria.
Although he was drafted by the Minnesota North Stars in the ninth round of the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft, Brent never reached the big league. In 1978-79, he played just two games with Billings before going pro in the IHL with the Flint Generals and Milwaukee Admirals. Gogol finished second in the IHL with 441 penalty minutes, behind Mark Toffolo who sat 557 in 78 games with the Saginaw Gears.
Mel Hewitt – Saskatoon Blades, Calgary Wranglers
That same year, 1977-78, Mel Hewitt sat 508 minutes in the sin bin while splitting his season between the Saskatoon Blades and Calgary Wranglers. The Blades are hosting the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup and the Wranglers are the present day Lethbridge Hurricanes. It was Hewitt’s fourth of four years in the WHL.
Mel was selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the sixth round of the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft, 92nd overall. Hewitt never saw action in the NHL but was leader of the bad boys in the minors for a few years out of junior. In 1979-80, he led the IHL with 504 PIM in 68 games with the Saginaw Gears.
The following season, he moved to the AHL and led that league with 304 penalty minutes over 68 games with the New Brunswick Hawks. 1981-82 would mark the last year the Hawks played in the AHL before moving to St. Catherines to become the Saints. Hewitt played the full season with the club but his time spent in the box was drastically reduced to 119 minutes. The Orval Tessier coached Hawks won the Calder Cup championship with a four games to one victory over the Binghamton Whalers in the final series.
Kerry Toporowski – Spokane Chiefs
The last WHL player to top 500 penalty minutes, Toporowski sat 505 in 1990-91 with the Spokane Chiefs. It was his second of two years with the Chiefs and he led the WHL both seasons.
Kerry was a fourth round pick of the San Jose Sharks at the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, 67th overall. He never played in the NHL but was a part of deal that sent Doug Wilson to San Jose from the Chicago Blackhawks in 1991. Toporowski played minor pro from 1991-92 to 2003-04 in the IHL, AHL, ECHL, UHL and Russia’s Super League. In 2000-01, he led the UHL in penalty minutes with 413 as a member of the Quad City Mallards.