The A’s Will Play In the NPHL in 2016/17By Stan Neufeld and Ron Neufeld
Senior hockey is once again alive and well in Grande Prairie - at least on paper.
The Grande Prairie Athletics will compete for the Lawrence Cup in the up-coming 2016/17 NPHL season. Senior hockey has been resuscitated under the leadership of a new executive with Kurt Robinson as President, and a new coach, Glen Watson. With this recent announcement senior hockey is poised to regain its former reputation and popularity with Grande Prairie fans. That is how it should be. Grande Prairie failed to enter a team in the North Peace Hockey League (NPHL) last season interrupting a long-standing, colourful history of local small town hockey that is the backbone of our national sport and the NHL.
In spite of the A’s absence in the NPHL last season we covered the playoffs in a series of blogs that saw Spirit River, a community of 1,025 bring home the cup. As we covered the playoffs we were reminded of the manner in which communities rally around hometown teams in a workingman’s league and the important role that sports can play in building local spirit. The series featured community spirit at its best. It was the talk of the towns that were represented and local fans showed up to rally around their local heroes. In addition to the entertainment value small town hockey provides it remains the backbone of the NHL and other professional leagues throughout Canada and the US. From the roster of GP Hockey Legends names that stand out are Duke Edmundson, Johnny MacMillan, Ken Solheim and Clint Malarchuk to name just a few. It illustrates that the need to play extends into adulthood and as such has recreational value for the players – and it’s more than that. On the streets of the town players are local heroes and they are often role models for the younger generation.
As noted elsewhere in the website, Canadian hockey players including young men from Grande Prairie, played a significant role beyond the NHL and North America, by helping introduce hockey to Europe. During WW11 our Gov’t. recognized the important morale building role that hockey could play for soldiers during the war and promoted the sport at home and overseas. During WW11 the Wright brothers, Charlie Turner and other local lads were represented on military teams that played to bolster patriotism that helped to defeat the Axis powers. Following the war our local veterans came home and engineered what we recognize as the Golden Age of hockey in Grande Prairie and throughout the Peace River country. During the late forties and fifties the hottest ticket in town was admission to the legendary War Memorial Arena to watch local young men compete against teams like the Hythe Mustangs or the Dawson Creek Canucks. Fans would flock to the Arena (standing room only) to cheer on the team. For fans unable to attend the game our own Foster Hewitt, WW11vet and GP Hockey Legend Fran Tanner enabled them to follow the play-by-play on radio station CFGP. You can listen to a sample of his play-by- under his Legend’s Biography as a Media Specialist.
No “Go A’s Go” chant rang from the Coke Centre last winter. It was the first time the Athletics failed to ice a team since they joined the NPHL in 1998-99, some 17 years ago. Until last year the As held the record for the longest consecutive participation in league competition for teams in the Peace River country. During this period senior hockey in the Peace was recognized as supporting the northernmost hockey league in the world and it was one of the best in the domain of small town hockey. Before WW11 there were teams like the Maroons and the Red Devils. During the war D-Company was the local team that participated in the renowned Defense League against entries from the Signal Corps, the Army and the Airforce. Following the war returning veterans including Charlie Turner and Bob Card along with Max Henning and Billy Bessent organized teams like the Key Club and the Legion to join the Red Devils who were later renamed the Athletics.
The above history was made possible by the unwavering dedication of countless volunteers. Regrettably we are unable to acknowledge all of them. Eleven of the most active are recognized in the Grande Prairie Legends of Hockey as Builders. They are citizens of the town who were/are determined to make sure that ice surfaces are available and maintained. They include men and women with the organizational skills needed to form leagues, teams and schedules and make certain there are coaches and referees. The tasks are endless. Considering hockey started here in 1913 and our Legends project never got off the ground until 2003 we are playing “catch up” to acknowledge the contributions of these remarkable volunteers. This is a history of sport and recreation in its purest form with no money exchanging hands for services.
So – listen once again for the chant of “Go As Go” rising from the Coke Centre and look for further news as the Athletics, under the competent leadership of Kurt Robinson as he re-connects the broken thread of participation in the NPHL and brings senior hockey back to Grande Prairie.
Will we see any of these faces when training camp opens on September 13th? Photo was taken by Maurice Trudeau, new vice-president of the Grande Prairie Athletics.
On July 8, 2016, Prime Minister Trudeau announced, “Canada will send a battle group of soldiers to Latvia by early 2017 as part of a NATO plan to counter fears of Russian aggression in eastern Europe.” The Latvian President, Raimonds Vejonis was quick to respond acknowledging that Canadians and Latvians have a common bond: hockey. It is worth noting that Canada and Latvia faced off in the quarter finals of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. Like Canadians, Latvians love hockey and Vejonis is hoping that Canadian soldiers who will start arriving early next year “will be up for a game.” (The Province Monday July 11, 2016).
This invitation from the Latvian President triggers memories of the role Canadian soldiers played in the introduction of hockey to Europe more than seven decades ago during WW11. The Juno Beach Centre located in Normandy France is a museum that is dedicated to honour Canadian troops who landed on Juno Beach on June 6, 1944. According to an article entitled “Dispatches From Juno: Hockey During the Second World War (November 4, 2014), “Canadians stationed in England trained for years before being sent to Sicily and Italy in 1943, and to Normandy in June 1944. Hockey was central to the social fabric and cohesion of the units stationed there. Tournaments on bases in Canada and in English towns enabled Canadian soldiers and English civilians to interact around the social event that a hockey night creates. The Maple Leaf, the Canadian Army’s newspaper during the Second World War, reported on games as did the plethora of regimental newspapers published in the field to provide humour and news from home for the fighting man overseas.” Most importantly, when the puck dropped in the face off circle it was “game on”. Players and spectators were able for the duration of the game to forget the horrors of war – the risks to life and limb – the consequences of dropping bombs and flying bullets. When the puck dropped the war stopped.
Sixteen Grande Prairie hockey players gave their lives in combat overseas during WW11. It is our fervent hope that current tensions in Eastern Europe will not result in warfare and loss of life. If that should occur – the enemy beware. During WW1 and WW11 Canadian soldiers proved to be as formidable in combat as they were on the ice: creative, skillful, daring and persistent. In the meantime Canadians and Latvians will stand side by side in the political stand off but will tilt against each other on the ice and fans will be treated to some international hockey.
Ron Neufeld resides in Vancouver but is Grande Prairie born and raised. He played hockey with teams such as Legion, Red Devils and Athletics. Along with Stan Neufeld, he serves as the editor and project’s “pen” writing Legend biographies and other material as needed. As a founding member of the Grande Prairie Legends of Hockey committee Ron has played a key role in the success of the project.
Educational services and advocacy for people with special needs has been a major theme throughout Ron’s career with experience in the disciplines of education, mental health and corrections. He has taught, conducted research and served in administrative positions in university settings in both Canada and the United States and is among the pioneers of distance education technologies to promote independent learning and open access to information for students in post secondary institutions. Ron is a retired professor Emeritus from the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Education. He holds a Ph.D. in Education from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., an M.A. from George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville Tennessee, a B.D. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky and a B.A. from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
The Stanley Cup Series of the North WestBy Stan Neufeld
The Holy Grail, known in this context as the Campbell Cup, is becoming a permanent fixture at the MacLean Rec Centre in Spirit River. The Campbell Cup is to the North Peace Hockey League (NPHL) what the Stanley cup is to the NHL and last night the Rangers won the league championship against the Grimshaw Huskies in convincing fashion by a score of 9 – 1. They won the best of seven series in four straight games.
Ryan Albrecht and D’Lane Sather led a well balanced scoring attack with two goals each while Riley Boomgaarden, Colin Lefley, Khalin Marsolais, Trevor Mazurek and Andrew Buote got singles – there’s the Lefley name again. Ty Wiebe got the lone goal for the Huskies. Assistant coach Mel Vollman got it right when he predicted that if they rolled four lines, finished their checks and capitalized on chances they could finish the series and they did just that.
Assistant Coach and General Manager Mel Vollman said…
“ The Team played exceptionally well last night! I am very proud of this group of young men, the accountability, dedication, skill and commitment is the foundation of our success. It is not easy for the players as it takes a lot of time away from their wives and families. As a coach you learn to appreciate what the guys put into this. They work all day and play their guts out each night and do all over again one or two nights later. They're proud players, that want to win and they want to be the best and that's what we want to do help them get that opportunity with the ultimate goal of being Champions.So I say thanks to a great bunch of guys, coaches, and the executive. This championship is for you guys - each and every one of you should be proud of what you have accomplished. It is a cliché and probably gets over quoted but it is true that good teams can shut down one or two players. However it is awfully hard to shutdown 22 guys that believe in each other and play as a team and that is what defines our team. If you want to be measured by that stick and be the top team you have to be able do it again, again and again. For now, let the guys enjoy this and enjoy their time off and we will see you all next fall.”
The Lefley family: Mike (left) Jack, Linda and Colin - Photo by Deri Lefley
The history of the Campbell Cup dates back to the early 1950s. The North Peace Hockey League (NPHL) has the distinction of being the longest continually running senior hockey league currently in existence in Western Canada and Spirit River has been an important part of the history. At this point it seems legitimate to refer to the team as a dynasty.
What defines a sports dynasty? By definition it is “A powerful group or family that maintains its position for considerable time.” What this definition does not include is what is required to maintain that position over time. A good hockey dynasty benchmark is the Edmonton Oiler team with Gretzky, Kurri, Coffee and Fuhr who won five championships in seven seasons 1983-1990. Reflecting on their domination a dynasty calls for consistent performance on the part of players, coaches, the management, and consistent performance for a number of consecutive years. Like the Edmonton Oilers the Spirit River Rangers fit the bill on all fronts. So - let’s take a brief snap shot at the storied past of this hockey team.
Mel Vollman, General Manager and Assistant Coach of the Rangers has been a key part of their winning ways for almost three decades. Interestingly Ranger pride extends back much longer than Vollman’s 30 year association with the team. While there were ups and downs throughout their history the record shows that the Rangers hark back ninety-two years: to1922 – almost a century. During those early years it was pond hockey, open-air arenas and of course natural ice. That was Spirit River’s Romantic Hockey era.
Almost seven decades from those beginnings and building on that heritage along came Mel Vollman, Jack Lefley and an army of volunteers characteristic of small towns and highly motivated citizens with skilled leadership at the helm. They created the MacLean Rec Centre which is to Spirit River what the Wapiti and Memorial Arenas was to Grande Prairie. The MacLean Rec Centre was and is still today the ideal hockey facility for a small community like Spirit River - a great place that the Rangers call Home.
Not everything went smoothly throughout their history. Take October of 1955 for instance when the small community suffered an enormous set back. Their two-year old arena collapsed due to an extra heavy fall of snow. It forced the Spirit River community to drop out of the NWBHL but for only one year – a testimony to the communities dedication to Canada’s game. In December of 1956 hockey picked up where it left off and a team from Spirit River was once again in the League. A proud mayor Mayor George Kosowan had supported the immediate re-building of a new arena that was financed through a $30,000 debenture approved by the tax payers. Except to honour their history and past participants in the game the community and their team has never looked back.
The Rangers were an integral part of the SPHL until the 1960's. In the 1950's and 60’s teams that could afford it would sometimes import players. Typically imports were offered jobs by local businessmen. However, dependence on outsiders almost backfired one year when the “imports” refused to play in the playoffs unless they got more money. From that time forward the Rangers realized that they did not need to rely on fickle imports. Looking at their homegrown talent pool, the community was home to two families that came very close to forming a team: namely the Lefley and Listhaeghe clans. Art Lefley played his first hockey following WW11 in Grande Praire with the GP Legion team. Art had three hockey hungry sons as did John Listhaeghe. On the Lefley side in 1983 – 84 there were Bart, Jack and Tom and the Listhaeghe clan contributed Dan, D’Arcy and Doug. That’ not a bad start to establish a hockey team. These families, along with a regular stream of other local and surrounding area talent, continue to uphold the rich hockey tradition and their modern era indivudual achievements are too numerous to mention here.
In addition to the Lefleys and the Listhaeghe boys a number of Spirit River players stand out. For example Danny Muloin won the SPHL scoring title in the 1060-61 season tallying 33 goals and 14 assists for 47 points. Speaking of records, Muloin’s three goals in one minute to win a game against Dawson Creek 7-6 may never be broken. Four players who were a force for Spirit River during the 1964-65 season included Fred Zasadny, Johnny Listhaeghe, Freddy Hiltz and George Watt. Zasadny, who finished third in the scoring race the year before, scored four goals and collected eight assist to make it 50 goals, (a record), and 50 assists, (also a record), for 100 points, (a third record) for the season.
During the 1970’s The SPHL became the Central Peace Hockey League and with the Athletics, after folding for the second time in 10 years, were part of the North Peace Hockey League along with other former SPHL teams like the Hythe Mustangs, Dawson Creek Canucks and Rangers. The demise of senior hockey started when players started finding alternatives. In November of 1976 the Rangers regained entry into the SPHL and included a forward line consisting of Jack Lefley, Sid Giroux and Darcy Listhaeghe with Tom Lefley on the blue line.
In November of 1972 a meeting in Spirit River was called by well-known hockey veteran Johnny Listhaeghe of the Central Peace town " We're trying to get hockey revived in Spirit River, one of the best hockey centres in the Peace country,” said Listhaeghe, who that year hung up his players’s skates after 22 seasons. Listhaeghe was firmly convinced that the Rangers were one of the top drawing SPHL teams before they folded seven years earlier. They had operated for 11 years out of the Ice Palace, finishing first twice. They dropped to the bottom of the league in their final season, 1965 – 66. Back to the Ranger dynasty today - they have won the Cup a record 4 times in a row and five times in six years.
The more recent history of Spirit River’s domination Is outlined below.
2015-16: four game sweep over Grimshaw Huskies
2014-15: 4-2 game series over Grande Prairie Athletics
Note: For the first time in league history the Grande Prairie Athletics took a leave of absence during the 2015-2016 season. Kurt Robinson is spearheading a new plan to get the team back in the league for the upcoming season.
2013-14: four game sweep over the Falher Pirates
2012-13: four game sweep over Lakeland Eagles
2010-11: defeated Falher Pirates 4-1 in games
Do the Rangers deserve recognition as a dynasty in the North Peace Hockey league? I would say a resounding YES - especially since it is reported that Art and Johnny have an army of grandchildren poised to carry on the Lefley/Listhaeghe hockey tradtion. It’s in their blood.
The Spirit River Rangers are 60 minutes away from winning yet another North Peace Hockey League championship. Rangers defeated Grimshaw Huskies 6-3 at home last night taking a commanding 3-0 lead in the best of seven series.
Now the big question: Can the East division champions conjure the same magic to just sneak in one win and save their 2015-2016 season? Will a little pep talk after three straight losses and historically insurmountable odds get Grimshaw out of this big hole?
Rangers, who outshot their opponents 56-26, had a well balanced scoring effort from Ryan Trudeau, D’Lane Sather, Ryan Albrecht, Marco St. Pierre, Mike Lefley and Jordan Hack. C.J. Wass got the nod in goal for the winners who have peppered the Grimshaw net with over 100 shots in just two games. Take note that Mike – another member of the Lefley family scored. Carson Ewing and Bond Hawryluk scored for the Huskies.
According to assistant coach and GM Mel Vollman
“The Team played a strong game Tuesday. We had the territorial play and by puck possession we dominated - where we didn’t do as well as we would have liked is finishing our scoring chances. I have to credit the Grimshaw team and the Goaltender Szamata who played great and was the reason the game was closer than maybe it should have been. Grimshaw is a good Hockey club and will not lay over and die. It is their home rink and they have great fans! I expect Thursdays game to be a close affair, our expectations is for us to keep rolling four lines, make sure we finish our checks and capitalize on our chances when they present themselves. If we do that we should finish the series.”
Mel’s son Tyler is the head Coach this season.
The series returns to Grimshaw on Thursday. Suddenly, the Huskies are facing elimination, and if they don’t win Game 4 in front of nervous home town crowd, their season is over. Game on!
This is “down home” Canadian hockey at its best.
On Thursday night ½ the population of Grimshaw will be on the ice and the other half of the town will be in the stands and the noise when the hometown boys score will threaten to bring down the arena. Seriously, although Spirit River (1,025) has half the population of Grimshaw (2,515) it seems to have by far the stronger of the two teams but you can be sure that if the Huskies lose it will not be without a gallant effort to extend the series. After all - like the Spirit boys they are of tough pioneer stock. Grimshaw is named after a pioneer Doctor dating back to 1914 and was incorporated as a village in 1930. It is mile zero on the MacKenzie Highway system - gateway to the vast North West Territories and mineral rich Yellowknife, 1000 kms via road.
Spirit River had its beginnings in 1891 as a fur trading post and was incorporated as a village in 1916 – about the same time as Grimshaw. Both communities are surrounded by rich agricultural land and supported by mixed farming. By nature the residents of both communities reflect the tough, gentle and generous spirit of their pioneer ancestors but you would not know that by watching the highly competitive and boisterous players and crowd at a hockey game. One would think it is a life or death contest.
Check in on Friday to view the results for what threatens to be the last game of the season that brings together these two colourful northern communties.
The Rangers have decided not to participate in the Senior AA/A Provincials but Marty Tingstad will report on the upcoming Senior AAA Championship between the Bentley Generals and the Stoney Plain Eagles.
By Stan Neufeld
There are always stories within the larger narrative of hockey games and a series. One story worthy of note pertains to one of the Peace countries colourful and dedicated hockey families: the Lefleys. One of the goals scored by the Rangers last night came from the stick of Colin Lefley. Colin is the grandson of Art Lefley making him a third generation hockey player in a family name that is legendary in the Peace Country. Art launched the growing tradition of Lefley hockey players in Grande Prairie in 1951 playing with the Grande Prairie Legion. Following a move to Spirit River his name appears on the roster of the South as late as 1963-64 when they won the South Peace Hockey League Championship.
He passed on his hockey genes to four sons Jack, Tom, Bart and Allen who have all left their mark on various teams in the Peace Country. At times when Spirit River was unable to form a team their names appear on other rosters including Fairview, Hythe and Grande Prairie . Their will to play the game was undeniable leaving a continuous line of Lefleys starting with Art.
Art eventually retired from actively playing the game to serving as a goal judge: a position from which he continued to coach his sons, never letting them off the hook when they were not performing up to par. Allen has been a long time stick boy and equipment manager, a role he still occupies today. Jack was a scoring wizard in both the South Peace Hockey league and Beaver Hockey league winning a number of scoring titles. Jack’s three sons Colin, Mike and Kelly, have carried on the Lefley tradition and now backstopped by an army of rapidly growing grandchildren that are destined to keep the Lefley hockey dynasty moving forward for the foreseeable future. In December of 2007 Mike became just the second player to have his number (11) retired by the Grande Prairie Storm, since the team was formed in 1995. I was privileged recently to spend a day with Jack and believe me - there is more - much more to the Lefley story and their contribution to the Spirit River community than I have reported here. I will have to leave that for another day.
In the meantime, the Lefley family story is a Canadian story documenting the important role played by countless small communities and “Hometown Hockey” throughout the country. From a cultural perspective hockey is an important feature in our Canadian identity and forms the backbone of the NHL today. Back to Spirit River and the current battle for the cup: will the Coach and General Manager Mel Vollman of the Spirit River Rangers manage to keep the Campbell Cup in the display case of the Spirit River MacLean Rec Center? If Vollman has anything to say about it the answer is YES and if so it will be their fourth consecutive North Peace Hockey League championship.
Sunday, March 6th
Does a team lose their edge when they advance to the championship series by an event that is not of their doing? In this case players for the Grimshaw Huskies had packed away their hockey gear for the season but due to the Ft. St. John fiasco of bolstering their lineup with an ineligible player thus rendering them ineligible contenders for the cup the Huskies were called upon to quickly sharpen their blades and re-motivate themselves to compete in the League Championship series. How does this effect a teams ability to get ready both physically and emotionally?
These are issues confronting the Huskies and for that matter the League following an 8-1 shellacking by the visiting Spirit River Rangers last night. Following last night’s game Grimshaw finds themselves down 2 - 0 in the series but it is by no means doomsday. For game 3 on Tuesday night in Spirit River the Huskies will need to re-load their sticks if they want to get back into the series – a tough assignment but by no means impossible. Last night the Rangers recorded goals from eight different players including Dan Nichols, Jordan Hack, Marco St. Pierre, Trevor Mazurek , Colin Lefley, Ryan Trudeau, Fred Tanguay, and Paul Laroque, and outshot their opponents 46-14. For a reasonable chance to be competitive the Huskies will need to shut down the formidable Ranger offence and score more than once. Last night the Huskies only marker came from the stick of Huskies Boyd Hawryluk who spoiled a shutout bid by Ranger goaltender Alex Wright midway through the second period on a power play goal.
Friday, March 4th
Coach and General Manager Mel Vollman probably did a lot of starts and stops, aerobic and scrimmage drills with his defending champion Spirit River Rangers during their almost two week holiday from the North Peace Hockey League championships. Some analysis's will argue when you stay away from the game that long, you aren't going to have the efficiency or the effectiveness you had when you left. But nearly a two week layoff didn’t seem to bother the Spirit River Rangers last night when they opened the first game of the NPHL championships at home in the MacLean Rec Centre.
The defending champions quickly regained winning form outshooting their opponents 42-21 defeating Grimshaw Huskies 4-2 taking a one game lead in the best of seven series and the race to defend for the Campbell Cup. According to referee Marty Tingstad, the Huskies hung on for most of the game and did not really generate much for the first two periods of play. Grimshaw came to life in the third but it was not enough as Rangers goaltender Alex Wright stood tall and shut the door. D’Lane Sather led the Rangers with a pair of goals while Andrew Buote and Alex Curran netted singles. Ty Wiebe and Bond Hawryluk scored for the losers.
Rangers certainly won’t have time to let the rust set in this time around or even let their equipment dry as game two goes tomorrow night in Grimshaw .