Hockey Legends

of Grande Prairie

Role Models from the Yesterday - Leaders for Tomorrow

The Grande Prairie Minor Hockey Association (GPMH) recently conducted its annual year-end Memorial and Coaching Awards event at the Coca-Cola Centre. I must say – this event triggered a wave of nostalgia as I recalled my personal experience in minor hockey. The story of Two Rinks on the Bear Creek Flats is central to my experience and is recounted elsewhere on our Website. Legends associated with that story include Roy Peterson and Roy Borstad and others too numerous to mention. When Roy Peterson ran the program we signed up on his back porch for a fee of $1.00 - if we had the money. If not participation was free and if interested kids had no skates or necessary equipment it was provided.

I enthusiastically believe in and support our Minor Hockey Program that was first formally organized in 1960. Exercise and fitness is an important benefit but beyond that, with strong leadership our children and youth learn skills associated with the game and even more importantly they learn discipline, teamwork, and sportsmanship. Hence I was honored to receive an invitation from GPMHA president Ben Radke and executive director Lorna LeBlanc to attend these events.

In the generations prior to my experience hockey was associated with lakes, ponds and patches of ice on school and neighbourhood playgrounds. When the volunteer Fire Dept was organized volunteer firemen would tour the town and flood the neighbourhood rinks if needed. Other maintenance such as cleaning the ice following a snowstorm was provided by parents nearby and the kids. My older brothers spoke of Saturday morning sessions organized by Johnny Macdonald in the old Wapiti Arena and later in the Memorial Arena. All activities: organizing, coaching and officiating them were conducted by volunteers. Family members often shared skates and other hockey equipment that consisted of “hand-me-downs” from parents or older siblings. Attempts were made to balance teams that were made up of different ability levels.

Fast forward to about 2003 and the name Carter Rowney appears on the GPMH roster. His story is told in a previous blog. He was a product of our minor hockey program and was unusually skilled. He moved through every level of the minor hockey program and for three years played Junior A hockey for the GP Storm in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. As the saying goes “the rest is history”. At age twenty-seven Carter Rowney, as a Pittsburgh Penguin has won a Stanley Cup ring.

Rowney tweeted a photo of his son, Anders, calmly sleeping in the bowl of the Stanley Cup along with his wife, Danielle.

According to recent research a local minor hockey player has a better chance at winning the Powerball or 6-49 lotteries than becoming an NHL player. That’s what: about 1 in 4,000? Carter’s success reflects well on our local minor hockey program. However, it is important to note that the quality of our minor hockey program is not measured by the number of NHL players it produces. It goes much deeper than that and reaches many children and youth not just elite players.

I applaud the efforts of the GPMH to recognize contributions to minor hockey from volunteers both past and present. Grande Prairie Herald Tribune Sports Writer, Logan Clow provided information regarding this year’s recipients. Perhaps the time will come when Carter Rowney will be among the Legends of Grande Prairie. In the meantime I wish to direct attention to several of the awards and this year’s recipients.

First - the Pete Wright Memorial Award is special to me. He was my coach, mentor and defensive partner when I played with the Grande Prairie Athletics starting at age 15. The Pete Wright Memorial Award for the Best Midget AAA Defenseman went to Brenden Kwaitkowski. He played for Ernie’s Sports Experts Midget AAA Storm. “His play throughout the year spoke volumes about his commitment to the game and his teammates. He was always eager to learn and help the team in whatever way he could,” noted coaches Chris Schmidt and Blake Cosgrove.

Brenden Kwaitkowski, right, accepting the Pete Wright Memorial Award from Dave Wright and his two daughters Jocelyn and Camryn. Photo by Stan Neufeld

Ethan Telfer, of the Don Golden Auto Body Peewee A2 Knights, was this year’s recipient of the George Repka Jr. Memorial Award. The award is presented to a player exhibiting sportsmanship and dedication on the Peewee A competitive team. “Ethan deserves this award because of his extremely positive attitude and dedication,” said coaches Marshall Radke and Tom West. The George Repka Memorial Award stands out for me as George and I were teammates during the 1977-78 South Peace Hockey League season when the Athletics won a championship. George was killed in a motor vehicle accident.

Ethan Telfer, left, with Darlene Repka. Photo by Stan Neufeld

I consider the Judith Radke memorial Award as especially important in light of the significant contributions to hockey in our community by the Radke family. That support is ongoing. Ben Radke is currently President of the Grande Prairie Minor Hockey Association. It is in the best of hands. This year’s recipients of the Judith Radke Memorial Award are Alyssa Buss, Jenna Kramer, Paige Barclay and Danica Liland. The award recognizes one female in each of the atom, peewee, bantam and midget divisions who exemplify “the ideals of sportsmanship, ethical behaviour, fair play and integrity.”

Alex Radke, (back left) Ben Radke, Pamela Radke with Sarah Radke (front left) and Jenna Kramer, inner of the Judith Radke Memorial Award for PeeWees. Photo by Stan Neufeld

Recipients of the the 2016-2017 Grande Prairie Minor Hockey Memorial Awards on Wednesday May 17, 2017 at the Coca-Cola Centre in Grande Prairie, Alta. Front row Daniel Hurta (Kenny Morrow Memorial Award), Alyssa Buss (Judith Radke Memorial Award), Jenna Kramer (Judith Radke Memorial Award), Paige Barclay (Judith Radke Memorial Award), and Danica Liland (Judith Radke Memorial Award). Back row: Alex Scheck (Tim Boivin Memorial Award), Jesse Roessler (Larry Kutschinski Memorial Award), Shea Fitzgerald (Lloyd Head Memorial Award), Ethan Telfer (George Repka Jr. Memorial Award), Jace Grant (Bobby Sands Memorial Award), Caile Menard (Derek Boyd Memorial Award), and Brenden Kwaitkowski (Pete Wright Memorial Award). Photo by Stan Neufeld

It was my great pleasure to attend this year’s GPMH year-end awards ceremony. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on a bit of hockey history, remember outstanding members of our community past and present and recognize that the qualities we admire in role models from the past are carried forward by outstanding young people today. I offer my congratulations to all of this year’s award recipients.

Stan Neufeld

Carter Rowney: One Among Thousands

Today (June 11, 2017) Carter Rowney – born in Grande Prairie and raised on a nearby farm in Sexsmith (population 2771) joined his Pittsburgh Penguin teammates to hoist the Stanley Cup after defeating the Nashville Predators in Game Six of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. A recent study reports the chances of moving from minor hockey to a steady NHL career are roughly one in four thousand. Even greater are the odds of earning a Stanley Cup ring.

Carter Rowney developed his skills as a highly talented forward in Grande Prairie’s Minor Hockey program initially with the Golden Arrow Bantam AAA Storm (2003/04), the Boston Pizza Minor Midgets (2004/05) and during the 2005/06 season he played first for the AAA Midget Storm and later that season he moved on to play for the bantam AAA team.

Golden Arrow Bantam AAA Storm.
Photo courtesy of Grande Prairie Minor Hockey

He graduated from the minor ranks to play Junior A hockey where Brother Bob and I followed his development during the 2007/08 hockey season when he played for the Grande Prairie Storm in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. That year he distinguished himself as the team’s best two-way player. Carter played an important role in enabling the Grande Prairie Storm win the team’s second league title in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) (2008/09) and was the playoff MVP. We were convinced that he had a future as a career hockey player.

Carter Rowney, left, and Dennis Rix were part of the 2009 AJHL Championship winning team.
Photo courtesy of the Grande Prairie Storm

Since leaving his hometown Carter played with four different teams before he received a call from the Pittsburgh Penguins on January 31 of this year to face the Nashville Predators for his first appearance in the NHL at the age of 27. Following that first appearance that was witnessed by friends and family, Carter stated ”I didn’t know if I would ever shake off the nerves.” – he did and he has made a substantial contribution to the team. In game five of the series playing against Ottawa he registered three assists in Pittsburgh’s decisive win against Ottawa. As a fourth line centre he has accumulated three goals and four assists. Additionally he has been recognized for his rugged play registering the team’s most hits. At 6’2’ and 200 pounds he has the ability to slow down the opposition and does so fearlessly.

Coach Mike Sullivan states ”he is determined, he’s physical, he’s a stiff player, he’s strong on the stick, he’s good on the wall and he’s a strong face-off man.” That should not surprise those of us who remember that he was a farm boy who developed muscle and brawn shoveling grain on his Dad’s farm. Carter has fond memories of his rural roots in the Peace River country.

Bridgestone Arena on Broadway in Nashville Tennessee, the heartland of the Southern US is a long distance from the Peace River Country and seems a very unlikely location for a raucous crowd of over one hundred thousand fans to gather in a hockey arena and nearby streets to support a hockey team. Football and basketball – yes - but hockey???

Carter - In the midst of the din that has characterized Nashville hockey fans, if you listened carefully you would have heard cheers from your fans in far away Grande Prairie and Sexsmith every time you touched the puck or knocked an opponent off the puck. We are proud of you.

You have distinguished yourself as more than one in four thousand. Bring home the cup.

Stan Neufeld

Hockey - It's in their Blood

By Stan Neufeld

Are hockey skills genetic? Might be a good topic for debate over a few cool ones. My initial vote is: well…could be?

Forget what you’ve read, or been told, about how youngsters learn how to play hockey. Training, good coaching, and ice time can play a large role in developing potential in young hockey players, but studies have also shown that inherited genes have an impact on our performance too.

Following the genetics theory, the Sutters are the first NHL family to come to mind. From 1982 to 1987, the six Sutter brothers from Red Deer played in the NHL at the same time. The Sutter family has had the largest number of family members - 9 - play, coach and manage in the NHL.

Looking in our own back yard ponds, the Clements family is a primary example of how the theory plays out in the greater Grande Prairie area.

Back in the day it seemed like everyone in my world played hockey. There were old time greats like Charlie Turner, wiz kids like Galen Head, and then there were the rest of us. One of the rest of us was my partner on defence for the Grande Prairie Athletics, Gary Clements. With his wife Lynda, Gary went on to raise six active boys who inherited their father’s genes and with them a passion for the game. Craig, Colin, Corey, Chris and twins Danny and David have all left their mark on various teams in the Peace Country.

Three generations of Clements hockey players have been an obvious force in all levels of hockey in Grande Prairie both on and off the ice spanning five decades so far. From minor hockey upward, everyone in this family can lay claim to local ice time with either the Athletics, Grande Prairie Chiefs, Grande Prairie Storm, and most recently the County JDA Kings. They are known for their tireless work ethic, physicality, and being great teammates all the while serving as contributing members of our local community.

Taking age into consideration, this clan could have iced a formidable line for any hockey team. Although Gary has taken time off from his spot with the Grande Prairie Old-timers, he’s considering a return. Corey and the twins are still ripping it up in the US Elite League that consists of retired pros and other notables.

The First Slap Shot

By Ron Neufeld
Recently, Hockey Legend Charlie Turner’s daughter Suzanne Dunn gave Stan a number of wonderful old photos related to local hockey. Stan copied the photo below and sent it to me. It immediately triggered a flood of memories - memories of playing hockey with the GP Athletics years 60 – 70 years ago. The picture was likely taken in the mid to late 1950s. By this time I had left Grande Prairie to continue my education, a journey that took me to Texas, Vancouver, Louisville Kentucky, Nashville Tennessee and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C.  Following are some of the thoughts and memories that the photo revived.
Mel Rodacker is the well-groomed young man wearing the ball jacket – centre/bottom. Mel owned the Case Tractor dealership and a tire store in Grande Prairie. He was very active in promoting sports and also sponsored the Mel Rodacker Old Time band - he played a mean banjo. Two of my uncles played in his band and at age twelve I spent my summer holidays working in his tire shop.  Mel was not involved with the GP Athletics when I played for them but I find myself wondering if perhaps he was the team’s sponsor when this picture was taken. Skilled sleuth that he is - perhaps Stan can help answer that question.
Surrounding Mel and the men in First Nations attire are a number of GP Athletic hockey players in their As sweaters. My guess about the identity of these players is as follows:  Grant McKeen – lower right hand corner – Brian McCurdy lower left corner. Behind Brian I think I see Charlie Turner and behind Charlie, Leo Auger. Stan – I wonder if you can dig up some information or find photos about the team that confirms or disavows my hunches? Of particular interest to me are the men behind Mel wearing First Nations apparel. If my memory is correct, immediately behind Mel are two young men, Harley Hodgson and Percy Wolfe, two teen-agers who came to Grande Prairie from the Hobbema First Nations reserve south of Edmonton. They were talented athletes who played for the Athletics during my last year in Grande Prairie. Why they came to Grande Prairie and how they supported themselves I can’t recall. It was known that merchants in some towns who had teams in the SPHL, i.e. Hythe hired talented players so they could bolster the rosters of the local team but I am not aware of anyone who played for the Athletics that were brought to town by merchants to play hockey.

Mel Rodacker with Indians
The trio of Harley Hodgson, Larry Hodgson and Percy Wolfe were front and centre both in the dressing room and on the ice for the Grande Prairie Athletics when they won the South Peace Hockey League championship in 1956-57. Photo courtesy of the Turner family.

If my memory serves me correctly Harley played centre and Percy played right wing. They were exceptionally fine skaters and both had hard accurate shots. Their arrival on the hockey scene raised an interesting debate about the advantages and disadvantages of the slap shot. The prevailing viewpoint among the veteran hockey players in the SPHL was that a hard wrist shot was superior to a slap shot as slap shots were too difficult to control. To my knowledge Harley and Percy were the first slap shot artists in the SPHL and made believers of some – they scored many goals for the Athletics with their slap shots. I wonder how our one-piece hickory hockey sticks withstood the forces involved in the delivery of a slap shot?  I gladly stand to be corrected if I am wrong but if my memory serves me correctly Harley and Percy were the first Indian players to compete in the SPHL. Further, I wonder about the occasion that prompted the wearing of First Nation’s attire in this picture. It is my hope that As fans or players from the past who read this article will let us know.    
Now – fast forward – to 1968 -1969. My family and I were living in Memphis Tennessee. I was working with the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and was scheduled for meetings in Johnson City in the Eastern region of the State. It was winter in the early evening as I drove through Knoxville Tennessee and noticed a marquee advertising a Knoxville Knight’s hockey game. The Knoxville Knights a minor professional hockey team playing in the Eastern Hockey was on the ice that night. I had not seen a hockey game for over a decade. I booked a hotel room, headed for the rink and picked up a program. The name Harley Hodgson jumped out at me when I scanned the names of Knoxville Knights players. Before the players took to the ice I shouldered my way into the Knight’s dressing room and asked for Harley Hodgson. Imagine my delight to find it was none other than Harley from Hobbema - Harley with whom I had played hockey in Grande Prairie when he was a teen-ager more than a decade earlier and across the continent over 3000 miles to the north- west – Harley – who helped introduce slap shots to the SPHL – Harley - one of the first Indian lads to play in the SPHL – Harley - who helped the A’s bring home the SPHL cup. I love “small world stories” i.e. running into familiar people in far-flung unexpected places. Following the game we had supper together and reminisced.
As a rugged defenseman with the Knights for three years (1965 – 1968) Harley accumulated very respectable stats including 278 penalty minutes. A number of Knoxville Knights alumni graduated to play in the NHL including Dennis Hextall and Pat Quinn. The team folded in 1968. I wonder where Harley went following his three years in Knoxville and I wonder where he is today. Perhaps someone who knows will read this and have Harley and/or Percy get in touch with us and tell us more about this photo.  Stan – maybe there are local seniors in Grande Prairie who can shed further light on this picture and the era it represents.

Marj McAusland 1951-2017

Marj McAusland, the voice of women's hockey in the north is silent today. We've lost one of our great Legends. Inductee in the builder category in 2007.