32 years ago today, the 1980-81 St. Petes’s team, of which I was a part, headed off to OFSSA in North Bay on a yellow school bus. It was a solid team sporting a 38-3-2 won lost record and was the second seed in the eight team tournament. We had played and beaten the first seed Monarch Park lion’s earlier in the season and were coming to the tournament pretty healthy.
Brad Cowie was our best player, and the best player I have every played on any team with. He was so good. We had lost in the OFSSA semi’s in the previous year and while we had lost a fair number of really good grade 13 players, this year’s team was still a really good team.
We won our first contest against London Saunders on Thursday afternoon at 2:15 PM. We had a really good game and I think the score was 4-2 or something close to that. That win put us in the semi’s on Friday night. Our likely opponent was to be the East York Goliaths, a big physical team that we had lost to in the annual Snofest Tournament finals in Peterborough in January. I am not one of those players who cares not who he plays. I remember getting a beat-down from playing these guys a couple of months before and was not looking forward to playing them. Monarch Park, the higher seed didn’t bother me a bit.
And so, without much to do in North Bay for the next 24+ hours, we did what any group of disciplined teenage hockey-playing boys would do, we lost our mental focus quickly. I remember spending a good chunk of Thursday aft and evening playing pool in a snooker hall across the street from the sleepy, summertime motel we were staying in. Our coaches went back to the rink to scout and by early evening came back to the hotel to share the miraculous news – East York had been put out of the gold medal chase with a loss to a rag-tag team from the Soo whose hot goalie had stood on his head. We were pumped and feeling all the more like it might be our year.
With that news, we got just a little further ahead of ourselves. Again, it’s now only Thursday night and we still have almost a full day before our Friday night semi game. Let the card games begin. Some school groupies showed up in a car and brought up the girlfriend of one of the boys and focus slipped a little further.
By Thursday afternoon, our goalie Bernie Crowley (no relation but the nuns at the school used to think we looked alike enough to be brothers) had lost enough money in a card game to the McDougall brothers that he didn’t have enough dough to cover his Friday night hotel room fee. Not a good omen at all and more than a bit of distraction.
Things got worse and since I’ve written the details of how the actual game unfolded in this post, I won’t repeat it here. I remember the ride home post-game. We would have happily stayed in North Bay overnight but our coaches herded us on to the old yellow school bus for the four hour ride back to Peterborough. I remember it being one freakin’ cold ride. I swear the bus had either no heat or the coaches told the bus driver to leave it turned off as punishment. We got in to Peterborough really late, feeling really defeated. Our parents were there to pick us up in the middle of the night at St. Pete’s and our little dream of winning Ontario was done.
While we didn’t know it that night, our coach Dave Bowen announced within a few weeks he would be leaving the high school and hanging up his coaching blades for awhile. It was a real disappointment for me as he was the best coach I ever had and I had two years to go in high school. In the following season, we won the city championship for a 5th straight year but didn’t advance out of COSSA. In my final year, the string of city championships ended at 5 as Kenner Collegiate took the crown.