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.
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.
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.
Another Hockey Legend
Merry Christmas to the Toronto Maple Leafs and good luck clearing a path to the NHL playoffs.
Background: Part 1 of 2By Stan Neufeld
It’s a “cold case” - how a team of hockey players from Grande Prairie came to adopt the Red Devils as their team name along with a colourful logo to match. Billy Bessent and Max Henning, now in their mid nineties know a great deal about Grande Prairie’s senior hockey history but neither of them can recall exactly when, how or why the team came to be called the Red Devils during the 1930s. The name was given up for the duration of WW11 to make way for the National Defense League but when the veterans returned home following the war the senior team once again adopted the Red Devil team name. However, it soon became a controversial lightening rod resulting in a name change to the Athletics in 1954. However, before delving into the Red Devil/Athletics name change in more detail I want to give some thought to the general issue of names for sports teams. It’s an intriguing topic.
Clearly team names and logos become an important aspect of a team’s identity or brand. Team names borrow from many sources such as geography - The Islanders, birds – raptors and eagles, animals – lions and tigers - weather phenomenon, thunder and lightning, the industrial roots of a city or town - steelers and oilers – ethnicity, especially First Nations groups – the Blackhawks and Chiefs, political identity – The Canadiens or Habs as they are often called, and flora and fauna – the Leafs – my favourite NHL Team. Often team names have such a strong identity that only a team name needs mentioning without any reference to the town or city in which the team is located. Typically the names imply fierceness, power and strength and team names are the basis for choosing logos and team colours. As such they are important marketing tools. Team names and logos become so deeply imbedded in a team’s identity that it often spells trouble to tamper with them. In this regard I am reminded of some “Leaf” history. Parenthetically, since my youth when I dreamed of playing for the Leafs I have been a dedicated fan and I pay a price for that loyalty. I have a standing bet with two GP Legend Board members, Marty Tingstad and John Lehners that any time the Habs and the Leafs play against each other (they are Hab fans) lunch is on the line. I have purchased a great many lunches during the past couple of years. However, I know that with several new faces in their line up, under the leadership of Mike Babcock and some tweaking of the logo my fortunes are destined to change. Keep in mind that the Leafs won the first ever Lord Stanley Cup challenge and history is about to repeat itself. But now – back to the topic of “name change” and some Leaf history.
The Toronto Arenas, one of four teams in the newly formed NHL in 1917 played their first game on December 19, 1917 against the Montreal Wanderers. The Wanderers and the Arenas – where do those names come from? The Arenas scored a total of nine goals but still lost the game to the Wanderers by a score of 10-9. Ironically, it was the only win for the Wanderers as the team folded when their arena burned down after only six games. That left the new league with only three teams - the Montreal Canadiens, the Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Arenas to compete in that inaugural season. A mere 700 people attended the first Toronto home game - and many of those were soldiers in uniform - guests of team management. It wasn’t an auspicious start for the Toronto team, but that game was the beginning of a rich tradition of hockey in Toronto (and Canada for that matter) known today as the “Leafs Nation”. John and Marty – please take note that the Toronto Arenas won the Lord Stanley cup the first year of the NHL and there are omens to suggest that the cup is destined to find its way back to Toronto. As the Toronto Maple Leafs and it’s legion of faithful fans prepare to celebrate the club’s Centennial season, the franchise unveiled a new logo. The new logo that was introduced to fans in this year’s season opener represents a return to the classic Maple Leaf. It adorned Leaf sweaters from the 1940’s to the 1960’s, and is regarded by many as the most iconic and popular logo in team history.
“As an organization, we wanted to get back to our roots, when Conn Smythe first changed the team logo to the Maple Leaf in 1927,” said Brendan Shanahan, Toronto Maple Leaf President and Alternate Governor. “Inspired by the badge that he and his fellow Canadian soldiers wore during World War I, Smythe wanted his team to wear the badge with “honour, pride and courage. This is our goal for the next chapter in Leafs history. We are committed to restoring the Toronto Maple Leafs to a proud and prominent place and this classic logo will connect the team’s championship legacy with an exciting and proud future for our players, our city and for our fans.”
Conn Smythe, started his career with the New York Rangers but was dismissed in favour of Lester Patrick. Following his dismissal Conn raised enough money to buy the St. Pats and prevented the team from moving to Philadelphia. Smythe, a military man, immediately had the Toronto franchise name changed from the St. Pats to Maple Leafs and switched the uniform colours to blue and white from green and white. Said Conn, “The Maple Leaf to us, was the badge of courage, the badge that meant home. It was the badge that reminded us all of our exploits and the different difficulties we got into and the different accomplishments we made. It was a badge that meant more to us than any other badge that we could think of... so we chose it... hoping that the possession of this badge would mean something to the team that wore it and when they skated out on the ice with this badge on their chest... they would wear it with honour and pride and courage, the way it had been worn by the soldiers of the first Great War in the Canadian Army." That is a powerful and emotionally laden tradition.
So – what’s in a name? Like the Toronto Maple Leaf tale every team name and logo has a story. In the case of the Grande Prairie Red Devils – as legendary as that team name has become its origins are lost. The Devil is in the details BUT the details are lost. In the second of this two-part blog I will deal with the name change of the Red Devils to the Athletics. My crystal ball suggests that like recent changes in the Leaf logo we are in store for a change in fortune for the Leafs and I have a hunch that the same good fortune is in store for this year’s Grande Prairie Athletics. This year the As have returned to compete in the North Peace Hockey League after a one year hiatus and in the process have adopted a new logo and colour changes.
Netminder Dave Larson with the new look jersey and logo. Photo by Stan Neufeld
I predict a new and exciting season for our Grande Prairie senior hockey team. Like the “good ol’ days” when the Red Devils so faithfully represented our town we hope that fans will come out in droves to watch our seniors compete.