Category Archives: teams
Ok, I admit, I find myself rooting for the Leafs. Not often, not blue-maple-leaf tatoo’s on my chest but I do find myself wanting them to win when I’m watching them on TV. I’m not a true fan because I actually take some perverse pleasure in them losing, consistently, painfully, year-after-year, decade-after-decade.
But I grew up watching them on Saturday nights, when Keon, Sittler, MacDonald and company owned the Gardens. Later, when Wendell and Killer gave us hope and even later when Mats and the gang showed up, there were some glimours of hope and I jumped on the band-wagon at times.
This year’s squad looks pretty ordinary to me but who knows. The question I am struggling to answer is why do I / we root for them? Is it habit? Is it proximity? Is it because 25% of the time I wear blue and white in my oldtimer league? It makes little sense to me.
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.
In the late 70’s / early 80’s, I can remember fall days like this one where the St. Pete’s hockey tryouts would begin after school. We couldn’t wait to get school over with and get over to the Kinsmen arena where the tryouts were held and where we had the bulk of our practices and home games.
In the initial years on the team, not many of us drove as this was grade 10 and 11. The McDougal brothers (Mike and Dan) were driving from the moment they turned 16 and I can remember they had a beautiful maroon Chevy step-side pickup. They would load as many of us as they could into the cab and bed and off we’d go, taking back streets as much as possible since we were probably breaking some safety law or other.
Heckling those walking on sidewalks, yelling at girls for attention and the occasional hard stop or quick start at intersections were all part of the journey.
Remember them? Go way back Rusty, waaayyyyy back. They came into the league with the 1967 expansion. They were an NHL franchise that didn’t last. The west coast wasn’t ready for a team without some star power and Gretzky didn’t head to LA until 20 years later.
One of the great memories I have of these guys was the yellow leather in their skates….(or was it green?). From my shoe box of old hockey cards, I was surprised to find a whole bunch I had from the Seals. Here’s one with the “team leaders”. Sadly, I don’t know what year this was from.
For more details, check out this blog post from Shoebox Legends. As a bid of a sidebar to one of the cards shown on this Shoe Box Legends post, Joey Johnston was from Peterborough. I remember one day in the late winter after a snowfall the night before, an oil truck came down our street to fill up some houses. Because of the snow, it wasn’t able to get back up the street which had a bit of a hill. Didn’t bother the driver any – it was Jimmy Johnston, Joey’s brother and since we had a ball hockey game going on in the street, he jumped out of the truck and played with us until either the snow melted a bit or a tow truck came by, I can’t remember which. It was pretty cool – playing ball hockey with a real NHL’er’s brother!
Perhaps the last part of the title of this post should read “…- A Team of Old-Agers” given the way we played last night. But I digress. This isn’t about last night’s game, with it’s massive comeback derailed just short of a tie in the dying seconds. This is about the Orange team, a great team, that clearly played hockey the way it was meant to be played this past few months.
With our impressive record of 9 wins, 6 losses and 71 ties, we were well beyond a .500 team. With Jimmy pounding in the goals from everywhere, all the time, to Andre firing off those patented one-timers of his as a left hand shooter on the right wing, it was an honour to centre those two lads. And with Benjamin Button (Keith) playing centre on the other line with Doug and Dwight, crafty play-makers and shooters all in the same package, the forward side of the Orange team had no weak links.
On the backside, it all started with Moose and Kevin, the closest thing to a defensive wall you can find in any family, anywhere. When it got past everyone else, the puck usually stopped at them. Sprinkle in a little Dan, always ready to dance in off the point for that sneaky laser of his (Nik Lidstrom comes to mind), a dash of Mark (who is still young enough and fast enough to actually consider the word dash when one describes his rushes) and finally look no Futher than Bill with that physical edge he brought to every game to see how the defensive side of Orange was simply more than most teams could match on any given night.
It may be a long time before the W ever sees such a complete a team as this one. We battled through standard adversity like injuries and slumps but also tougher, nastier surprises that caused some of us to miss games like naps, daughter’s ringette games, girls-night-out for wives and even being stranded on far away desert islands where there were no rinks. And goal posts. While it’s an unofficial count, my tally has us winning 36 or those 71 ties had we simply converted a handful of goals posts into goals.
So my hats off to you all you lads from Orange. We’ll see you Saturday with different coloured sweaters on. Keep your heads up – I gained a half pound just today after one session of hitting the weights.