It’s the most esteemed record in the Condors books. Ask a fan what the Condors record is for points in a season and you’ll get blank stares. Ask them who is the all-time penalty minute leader and you’ll get “uhhhhh” as a response. But ask them what the Condors longest winning streak of all time is and you’ll likely get your correct answer.
It happened a long time ago, when the fate of professional hockey in Bakersfield had not yet been etched into the Centennial Garden plaza. When no numbers were retired and the phrase “Condorstown” wasn’t even invented. But it happened all the same, and it may have just made all the rest of this happen.
The 1998-99 season was the Condors inaugural season, and they averaged 4,622 fans per game, and finished with a record of 21-40-9. They won just three of their final 17 games and they were swept by San Diego in a best-of-three playoff series. The only team that had less wins in the standing than the Condors, the Tucson Gila Monsters (coached by Marty Raymond), did so because they folded 21 games into the season.
But 1999-00 was different. They won 1-0 on Opening Night against Tacoma on the road and followed it up with a 4-0 shutout of Phoenix in their home opener the next night (a heck of long way to come home and play the next night, by the way). Then came wins over Fresno and Phoenix (again) on home ice and just like that, the Condors were off and running with 4-0-0 record and an early lead in the division.
Few fans might actually remember it, but Raymond was with the Condors at the beginning of that season in an advisory fashion, assisting head coach Kevin MacDonald. “That was a great group of guys,” he says. “They had great chemistry all throughout training camp and they jelled right away. If they didn’t have injury trouble later in the year, that was a team that had a chance for a championship.”
A road trip to Anchorage and Phoenix led to four more wins – two by shootout as there was no overtime in the old WCHL – and all of a sudden the Condors were the talk of the town with an 8-0-0 record to start the season, one win shy of the WCHL record.
“It was like, ‘that was a nice win,’ and ‘that was a nice win, too,’ and then all of a sudden it was a big streak,” said Mike Griffith, Condors beat writer for the Bakersfield Californian. “Then there was this huge buzz going through the whole city.”
“The fans were waiting for us at the arena when we came home on the bus,” recalls Paul Rosebush, who was in his rookie season that year. “We pulled in behind the arena and thought, ‘Oh my god. This is crazy.’”
They were coming home to start a five-game homestand, and opened with back-to-back one-goal victories over the Colorado Gold Kings, who went on to win 42 games that season. And the fans were taking notice. Nearly 12,000 fans came out to that weekend series – the second largest weekend series crowd in the Condors young history.
They broke the record the next weekend, when over 13,000 fans came out to see the unbeatable Bakersfield Condors, who prevailed on Friday, Nov. 12 with a 3-1 win over Phoenix to run their record to 11-0-0 on the season.
“It was unreal,” says Paul Willett, who led the team in scoring that season and claimed the WCHL MVP award. “All around town people were talking about the Condors for the first month and a half of the season. It was exciting.”
The next night the Idaho Steelheads came into town and a crowd of 7,658 came out – at the time, the second-largest in Condors history – to ride the wave that had been building over the entire first month of the campaign. But just at that moment the wave crested, and the Steelheads did something that nobody in the league could prove was even possible. They defeated the Condors. Idaho avoided a late rally when Steve Dowhy’s shot rang off the post in the final minute, and moments later they added an empty netter to win 4-2, putting that 11-0-0 mark into the record books in ink.
Along the way, the Condors had bested five of the WCHL’s other eight teams and set a new league record. They went 6-0-0 at home and 5-0-0 on the road. They won three games in a shootout, and allowed two or less goals in five of those games, while scoring five or more goals five times. Their power play was scoring 33% of the time and they led the league in penalty minutes.
The Condors had also averaged 6,045 fans per game during the streak (including the game that ultimately ended it), and they went on to average 5,977 on the season, which remains the highest single season average attendance mark in club history.
But perhaps more importantly, that run cemented the Condors place in the hearts and minds of Bakersfield, giving them a taste of victory that they continue to crave, and some would say, now expect.
That’s what makes this season’s run so cool. 11-0 is a magical stat for Condors fans. It’s full of memories of the first Condors heroes this town had – Paul Willett, Glen Mears, Jamie Cooke, Steve Dowhy, Paul Rosebush, Dan Currie, Brad Guzda, Cory Banika and more.
This morning, the morning after a loss that ends this winning streak at 11-0, it’s easy to try to remember the mystique that surrounded that streak so long ago. This year’s mark seemed just as unlikely as it was in 1999-00. Back then it started a season, and in 2010-11 it ended the season. And yes, just like 11 years ago, everybody in town was talking about the Condors.
I arrived in Condorstown in 2001-02, two years after the old record, and the fans still talked about it like it was yesterday, like it was their moment when they stood on the top of the league. The players spoke of it like they had discovered oil or unearthed a massive treasure, and maybe they did. Maybe they mined something with that 11-0 start with such immense value that it continues to endure today.
Maybe that team in 1999-00 paved the way for future Condors successes. Maybe this season’s 11-0 streak doesn’t even happen without that one that happened 11 ½ years ago. Maybe for that reason, it’s fitting that the 1999-00 team’s accomplishment wasn’t erased from the record book Tuesday night. And maybe this year’s streak rekindles the hope that victory could rain down upon Condorstown at any given time, any given season, and perhaps one day even in the playoffs. Whatever it means, it surely means more than just numbers on a page.
Indeed, 11-0 is special in Condorstown.
-by Kevin Bartl