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.
Red Devils vs. Athletics: Part 2 of 2The Devil is In the Details but the Details are Lost
By Stan Neufeld
WW11 had come to an end. Our veterans had come home and introduced Grande Prairie to its “Golden Age” of hockey playing under the prewar name of the legendary Red Devils. According to history there may have been some other team names i.e. the Maroons but the Red Devils was the first team name that captured the imagination and loyalty of players and fans alike and the first team name that had staying power. It hung around for over two decades. The jersey was red and white with a distinctive logo – a horned figure with a spear shaped tail and wielding a stick instead of a pitchfork.
Grande Prairie Red Devils - 1951. Stan Neufeld photo library
This Red Devils sweater worn by Bob Neufeld appears in the Legends display at Revolution Place. Photo by Doug Duplessis
As mentioned in an earlier blog nobody – not even veteran’s Billy Bessent and Max Henning (now in their mid-nineties) can recall the origins of the team name. It’s my guess that it dates back to the late 1920s when local players such as Rusty Black and Frank Edmundson were the backbone of Grande Prairie senior hockey. Grande Prairie along with several nearby towns organized the first iteration the South Peace Hockey League (SPHL) and the team needed a name more imaginative than simply the Grande Prairie Hockey Team. For whatever reason the lads from Grande Prairie chose to be called the Red Devils. Undoubtedly it was the most imaginative and colourful team name in the league and it gained legendary status in the annals of Grande Prairie hockey. How much of that status was rooted in the name deserves debate. What we do know is that the name stuck until WW11, was resurrected again following the war but became a lightning rod for controversy in the 1950s.
As mentioned, the name Red Devils was abandoned for a short time during WW11 when the SPHL was unable to operate. It was replaced during the war by the National Defense League (NDL) consisting of three military teams, nearby Hythe and D-Company, a team consisting of players from town that were either too young or too old to be recruited. However, when Billy Bessent, Max Henning, Bob Card and other veterans returned home from the war the hometown senior team was resurrected as the Red Devils. Then - in the mid 1950s the team name became a lightening rod. No one who is still around from that era seems to know exactly why, or if they do, they are unwilling to discuss the matter. One rumour alleges that a local minister thought the devil image sent the wrong message to young people but the name had roots that were not about to be dislodged without resistance. Another theory is that the recently organized GP Athletics Association were lobbying for the team to be re-named to identify with the Association that owned and sponsored the team. Whatever the reason – the name change issue created a firestorm. Enter – Orm Shultz – he was then a Herald Tribune employee. My relationship with Orm dates back to the 1940s – almost six decades ago. I delivered the Edmonton Journal and the Herald Tribune to his door and I admired him. Unfortunately Orm had moved on by the time I served as a Sports Reporter for the Tribune – my first full time job. As far as I am concerned Orm was a senior statesman in the local newspaper industry.
A current stalwart in the local newspaper industry and hockey history is Bill Scott. I am grateful that he is always ready to put his oar in the water to provide helpful information when I attempt to piece together our hockey history. He is a veritable encyclopedia of information. Neither Orm nor Bill were able to provide specific information regarding the origins of the Red Devil name in Grande Prairie but both had fascinating related stories. Bill sent me an article from the WW1 Archives of the 1st. Canadian Division. Canadian military forces earned recognition early in WW1 as a mighty fighting force when they drove the German Sixth Army from Vimy Ridge, something neither British nor French forces were able to accomplish before them. During the Somme a red patch appeared on the shoulders of the Canadian uniform and it became or badge or symbol that Canadians have worn ever since. Recognizing the Canadians as a formidable foe the Germans nicknamed the Canadians as “the little red devils”. There is no evidence that this had any bearing whatsoever on the naming of the GP Red Devils but it is an interesting story – thank you Bill.
Brother Ron and I were recently in Nova Scotia and made a stop at the hockey museum in the Windsor, Nova Scotia - hockey’s birthplace. Until that visit we thought that Grande Prairie had the only hockey team named the Red Devils. The Curator and a staff member took us on a very informative tour and in the process we learned that in the 1930s Windsor’s senior hockey team was named the Red Devils – this in Canada’s Bible Belt. As far as we know there is no connection between the GP and Windsor Red Devils.
Back to Orm - on December 9, 1954 he wrote an article challenging plans at that time to drop the Red Devil name. “What’s wrong with the name Red Devils?” he asked and went on to argue that continuity of identity is an important issue. “A change in the name of the Grande Prairie hockey club is in the making for some reason or another. We don’t see why? Is it because recent comments on the name which was used only for an example has rousted the feeling that the name was slightly sinful? The whole thing is, when a team gets a name and plays under it they should keep it. Otherwise people will loose interest in their progress. Fans here have first cheered for the Red Devils, then the Key Club, D-Coy, Legionnaires, and Red Devils once again. After a while they refer to their team as the whatchamacallits Devils. Devils is a well know name now in the South Peace and there has been no comment before and its adaptability. Why change it? Let's hope the colour doesn't mean anything. The r- -, d- - - - - are now the Athletics and will be skating on the ice soon with solid yellow uniforms and black trim.”
Orm Shultz wrote a column in the Herald Tribune during the 1950s called Sports Talk
It was my privilege in Orm’s later years to have him as a neighbour and often, after shoveling snow from his driveway he would reminisce about his years in the newspaper industry. I remember him as a sports reporter but according to Orm, “I wasn’t even part of the sports department back then. I was actually in the Advertising department but the only way certain businessmen would buy newspaper advertisements was if I promoted hockey and the Athletics in the sports page. So that’s how the Sports Talk column came about, and why I was writing sports.” He did not hold this position very long but In my view Orm covered sports very well and wrote one of the finest sports columns to ever appear in the Tribune. If I had been around at the time Orm was lobbying to keep the Red Devil name I can think of a number of arguments I might have offered to support his preference. For example, one could change the logo just a bit to include not only horns but hooves as well and replace his hockey stick with the Devil’s traditional pitchfork and argue that it is an agricultural image in keeping with Grande Prairie’s agricultural identity. Or, one could argue that the team name was derived from religious symbolism. After all, historically all of this world’s major religions describe epic battles between good and evil. In the Christian tradition Satan or the Devil, although embodying evil is a formidable and clever foe. Whatever the logic behind the Red Devils moniker the team has become legendary in Grande Prairie hockey history. As indicated earlier how much of the legendary status is in the name is anyone’s guess.
Alas! an article on December 16, 1954 entitled “Red Devils Shed Horns” Orm acknowledged that his efforts favouring the Red Devil team name had failed. “Ascending from the fiery depths Grande Prairie Red Devils dropped their scarlet garb to become a new team under the banner of Grande Prairie Athletics. The new uniforms will be solid yellow with black trim.
Grande Prairie Athletics: 1954-55
Sweater worn by Bob Neufeld appears in the Legends display at Revolution Place. Photo by Doug Duplessis
The decision was brought about after a meeting of hockey players and members of the Athletic Association decided it was in the best interest to take up a new name. Athletics are under new sponsorship of the Athletic Association this season with playing coach Bob Neufeld steering the club’s operation. Johnny Macdonald also said he had some influence on the name change. “ From my view point none of the Red Devil/Athletics controversy is intended to diminish the Athletics. The Athletics name has become even more durable than the Red devils and they have an enviable sixty-two year history.
When you come to see a game the season you will note that the team colours have changed just a bit. Fortunately the change did not create a firestorm. Like my predictions regarding a promising season for the Leafs supported by a logo change I am forecasting an exciting season for the As. They are fast – talented and well coached. It takes a great deal of dedication on the part of both staff and players to participate. The team deserves our support - GO As.
and "Snapshots" From the PastBy Stan Neufeld
It’s a memory now but my recollections are still vivid - of hockey games I played in the post War Memorial Arena proudly wearing an As uniform – the arena packed to the rafters with screaming fans. Some of the most memorable games that we played pitted us against the Ft. St. John Flyers – games that were sure to bring out every hockey fan in town. Hence it was a strange feeling to walk into the rink last night with camera gear – not a hockey bag over my shoulder. I bear some scars to remind me of the intense rivalry between the As and the Flyers during the 70s.
Last night (November 10) the Athletics lost a well played hard fought over-time battle at the Coca Cola Center to the Flyers. They overcame a 3-1 deficit in the final frame only to fall short in extra time. Ryan Trudeau gave the As an early lead but a goal by Josh Bruha of the Flyers sent teams to the dressing room in a 1-1 tie. The Flyers took a 3-1 lead in the second with goals by Brennen Giroux and Cole Calliou but the As stormed back with markers from MacKenzie Caron and Mark Stojan in the third period to knot the score 3-3 forcing the game into extra minutes. The winning goal came from the stick of Flyers Marshall Sidwell at 4:15 in overtime.
"The first two periods were a little sloppy on our part" said A's president Kurt Robinson after the game. “We hit the post in overtime and they got the rebound, came down and scored.”
Goaltender Dave Larson snags this shot. Photo by Stan Neufeld
After a one-year hiatus from the NPHL the Athletics are back to compete in the West Division of an interlocking league that includes the Dawson Creek Canucks, Fort St. John Flyers and defending NPHL champions - the Spirit River Rangers. The East division has been reduced to three teams – the Grimshaw Huskies, Falher Pirates and the Valleyview Jets. The Jets have returned following a three-year absence from the league. High Prairie dropped out at the last minute.
For me – in the words of Yogi Berra, watching the game last night was “déjà vu all over again”. In spite of the camera in my hand while watching the Athletics play historic arch rivals, the Flyers, my mind consistently wandered back in time to my adventures on the ice against them - even feeling a flood of emotion when one of the As was on the receiving end of a questionable hit. I yearned to be on the ice to take up his cause. There is a long-standing history of fierce contests between the As and the Flyers dating back to the 50’s. One indelible memory is of a bench-clearing brawl that resulted when I was the target of a gang tackle by three Flyers. My teammate Jack Lefley immediately jumped into the fray to even the odds somewhat. That season we were especially proud and rewarded when we won the SPHL championship against the Flyers. In spite of several scars and a crooked nose that are daily reminders of fierce battles with the Flyers my memories of those contests are mostly good.
The Flyers had some outstanding players including outlaw pros who were banished from higher level play for various infractions but to be fair – so did the As. Not surprisingly the South Peace Hockey League was widely known in those days as an “Outlaw League”. It was good hockey but as rough and tough as the game gets. I was a green 15-16 year-old feeling honoured to be playing with my hockey hero and indomitable GP Hockey Legend – Pete Wright. Trying to emulate Pete I was known more for dealing out hits than scoring goals. However, in January of 1979 with standing room only in the Memorial Arena I tied a record for the most goals scored in one game by a defenseman. It was an especially proud night for me as it came during a game against the Flyers.
Gone are the days when Hockey Legend Fran Tanner of CFGP was in his gondola office doing play by play. However, I am pleased to point out that we now enjoy a swanky third floor skybox Legends Lounge at the Coca-Cola Centre where fans can watch the game in comfort. Last night as I was taking my place behind the plexiglass for a good camera angle long time Grande Prairie citizen and faithful volunteer Arnie Severson walked by to his spot in the visitor’s penalty box. For a spell during the 70s Arnie was on CFGP’s advertising staff so it comes as no surprise that he knows something about Grande Prairie’s hockey history. Arnie is one of those quiet, unsung heroes who has been an As volunteer for more than a decade. I was reminded that he was in the stands when I was still on the ice. Today he occupies a place in a long line of largely invisible volunteers who support local senior hockey. That line includes the likes of Johnny Macdonald, Roy Borstad and currently Robinson. I would be remiss if I failed to mention another behind the scenes stalwart - Randy Bearisto who has faithfully provided decades of service. There are others too numerous to mention here. Arnie contends that hockey during the era of the Outlaw League was somewhat rougher and tougher than it is today. He reminisced about one 1970’s Athletic’s line in particular that consisted of Pat Gouchie, Chuck Hesse and Denis Prefontaine. And then there was Murney Nellis who stood up many opponents at our blue line with his “Gordie Howe” bone crushing elbows. Although the games played today in the SPHL may not be as rowdy as the game during the 70s you may be sure that the players are not “wall flowers” - the games are entertaining and worth watching.
This is a new era for the Athletics. They have a new look including a new coach, new jerseys and a fresh young batch of players.
As are in good hands with new coach Glen Watson at the helm. Photo by Stan Neufeld
The game I saw bodes well for this season. Hopefully the League and the As team will catch fire in Grande Prairie and once again the downtown might ring with cheers from fans in the Coca Cola Centre when the As are on the ice on a Saturday night. They are worth watching.
MacKenzie Caron (22) makes a Connor McDavid type move and scored one of the As goals last night. Photo by Stan Neufeld
We invite readers with local hockey stories that they treasure to share them with us.
Garry "Duke" Edmundson 1932 – 2016
The Canuck Seniors with whom I (Ron) was playing at the time had registered to compete in an Old Timer tournament in Victoria. Due to other commitments I was unable to join the team. Following the tournament a teammate told me about a game they had played and lost due to the performance of one opposing player. He raved about this player’s ability to score at will and control the entire flow of the game when he was on the ice. The player in question played with a team from San Francisco and upon further inquiry I learned that the player had Grande Prairie roots. The player in question was none other than Duke Edmundson. How I wish I had been able to participate in that tournament and had a visit with Duke to reminisce about growing up in Grande Prairie.
Duke was an imposing presence on the ice from the beginning. Duke’s father, Frank Edmundson was a talented and well-known hockey player in the Peace River country and later he coached Grande Prairie’s D- Company. Duke was his stick boy.
Later Duke’s younger brother Bryan played for the Grande Prairie Legion in the South Peace Hockey League. Garry, Duke’s only child lives in Maple Ridge BC, played junior hockey in BC and Semi- pro hockey in Las Vegas. Clearly Hockey is deeply embedded in the Edmundson gene pool.
Duke played his first junior hockey in Grande Prairie centering a line with Hockey Legend Bob Neufeld as his left winger. Duke, along with Bob played Senior hockey in Grande Prairie before Duke moved to Edmonton to play for the Edmonton Athletic Club (EACs). In many ways the world of hockey is a small world and following the Victoria Tournament I learned that in Edmonton Duke played with Roy Hammond and Stu Robinson. Both Stu and Roy went on to have professional careers in Europe and were my (Ron) teammates when I played old timer hockey with the Canuck Seniors and the UBC Old Birds in Vancouver. Both Roy and Stu raved about Duke’s hockey skills and savvy.
The “small world” story line and connections to Duke do not end with Stu and Roy. A number of years ago while playing in a Lower BC Mainland old timer’s league with the UBC Old Birds we faced a team from Surrey known as the Grateful Living. On the ice I (Ron) ran into a very determined but good-natured forward. While digging for the puck in a corner and getting my ribs messaged by the butt end of a stick I looked down to see a broad grin and heard a smart quip from the small but plucky forward. At lunch following the game he entertained our table with jokes and stories of his youth. There I learned that Terry Kerstein was born in Sexsmith where his father owned the pool hall. Later the family moved to Grande Prairie where he went to school. Terry was Duke’s cousin and told me he never quite accepted the reality that he lacked Duke’s ability on the ice. Terry – if you see this blog please call me so we can share a few memories about Duke and our experiences Grande Prairie those many years ago.
I think it was Terry who told the following tale about old-timer hockey although his version had a slightly different twist and different characters. The story is as follows. Even as seniors Stu, Roy and Duke loved to play hockey. Following a game they made a pledge. It was agreed that the first one to die would return to meet with those left behind to provide a report on the status of hockey in Heaven. Both Stu and Roy died a number of years ago and to Duke’s surprise Roy materialized on the 20th of Sept. “Duke”, said Roy, I have good news and I have bad news.” “What’s the good news?” replied Duke. “I’m here Duke to tell you about Hockey in Heaven and believe me – it is alive and well. We play every day and on the ice with us are guys from Grande Prairie like GP Hockey Legend Pete Wright, and teammates from your junior pro hockey days.” “That’s fantastic”, replied Duke. “What’s the bad news?”. “Duke”, answered Roy apologetically. “We need a centre for tomorrow’s game and we have selected you.”
Back to reality - as noted in Duke’s GP Hockey Legend’s Biography Duke received $100.00 and a new pair of skates when he signed a “B” card with the Montreal Canadiens. In 1959, following a stint with the Springfield Indians, Duke was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs where he played on a checking line along with Jerry James, a running back for the Winnipeg jets of the CFL and Johnny Wilson, the NHL’s Iron Man of that era. Duke played the last three years of his hockey career as a San Francisco Seal and San Francisco became home to the GP Hockey Legend following his retirement from the game he loved.
In August of 2014 Duke and his brother Bryan made a pilgrimage back home to Grande Prairie to visit old friends and see the Legends lounge. This included a lunch with some local elders in the hockey community. I (Stan) met Duke and Bryan in the lounge and brought one of my Leaf sweaters. Duke posed while I snapped a shot of him holding the jersey. When Duke heard I was a staunch Leafs fan he said he would send me a signed photo of himself from his playing days with the Leafs. I received the promised photo a few weeks later and it is proudly displayed at my home along with other treasured hockey memorabilia.
Grande Prairie’s Duke Edmundson at the Hockey Legends Lounge in
Grande Prairie with my Leafs jersey. Photo by Stan Neufeld
Duke was the Swan City’s first player to make it to the NHL but in spite of his status as a hockey player Duke was humble in every way. He expressed to me his deep appreciation for the Legend's project, for the Lounge and our activities to preserve hockey history.
On Wednesday, September 21 Stan received word from Bryan that Duke had passed away following a lengthy illness. We join Bryan and other members of Garry (Duke) Edmundson family in mourning Duke’s passing and celebrating his memory as Grande Prairie Hockey Legend.
Ron & Stan Neufeld
A Tribute to Kurt Robinson and other volunteersBy Stan Neufeld
You might say it’s just a hometown hockey team - but guess what! Cobbling together a team to participate in the North Peace Hockey League (NPHL) hockey requires the same basic skills that are needed to lead a nation.
Numerous books have been written about leadership, dissertations written, university courses taught and conferences conducted. Individuals recognized as having great leadership skills have been dissected, placed under microscopes, and their character, wit and spleen analyzed endlessly. Skill sets associated with leadership ability include organizational skills, the insight to identify strength and weakness in others, how to draw the best out of them, the ability to listen and knowing how and when to act to name just a few. Since this blog is not a treatise on leadership I will not go on – just to say that Kurt Robinson has agreed to serve as President of the newly formed Executive of the Grande Prairie Athletics. This is good news as it is my opinion that Kurt has the skills noted above to build a successful hockey team. In terms of experience, Kurt served as President of the As in 2011 and other leadership roles. That experience will prove invaluable as he is already familiar with many of the people and organizations that will be involved. However, it is no small enterprise and especially labour intensive.
The first step of the A’s reincarnation began Jan 29th of this year when Kurt called a meeting for players and volunteers at the Coke Centre. Since that meeting an Executive Board has been named and I contend that it is a strong cast of characters including Maurice Trudeau and Brent McCurdy - Vice Presidents, Ashley Callon - Marketing Director, Danielle Commander - Director of Off- Ice Officials, and Darren Walker - Player Liaison. Appointing the Board represents placement of the first block in the complex building plan to put a team on the ice this fall. It is my feeling that the venture is in good hands. The skills and abilities of Kurt and his team are highly valued in the market place and yet they are offered to this community project for free. Mustering stable support for senior hockey in Grande Prairie is a daunting assignment considering the competition for the public’s time and money for entertainment that includes a Junior A franchise: the GP Storm. Undoubtedly fans that support senior hockey will also support the Storm but for many there is only so much time and money to go around.
Finding the right coach is essential to building a successful team. John Lehners is a hometown lad with encyclopedic knowledge about the game and has been involved in numerous local hockey initiatives over the years. I should know - he has been a crucial element in the Legends project from the beginning. The original concept of the Legends project came about in the year 2000 when Max Henning and I were looking at a picture of the legendary Red Devil team. At that time we discussed the notion of a Legends project. The opportunity to implement the idea came in 2004 when Grande Prairie hosted the Nation’s Royal Bank Cup. John was the Special Events Coordinator and he identified funds for the GP Legends of Hockey project. Back to the re-invention of the As – John, along with fellow committee member Marty Tingstad concur that Glen Watson’s appointment as the A’s coach is a step in the right direction. He comes to the A’s with excellent on and off-ice coaching credentials. According to Kurt Robinson, “ Our new coach is going to be great. He will bring a fresh new look with a wealth of experience and coaching success at a variety of levels. “
The Legends Lounge overlooks the rink where the A’s will play. It is a gathering place for the legends and is available for other special events coordinated by Kylee Haining, Manager of the Grande Prairie’s Recreation and Sport Development program. Information about our Hockey Legends, photographs and other hockey memorabilia are on display in the Lounge.
Many of the hockey legends played for or were in other ways associated with the A’s over the years and you may be sure that our hockey legends and their friends will actively support the new A’s. If Kurt, the Board and Glen have their way the A’s will reclaim their former glory and tickets for games will once again become a hot item. Who knows what implications this season of hockey has for future additions to the ongoing Legends story.
Kurt Robinson (left) and John Lehners – taken in the Legend’s Lounge (Stan Neufeld photo)
The bottom line in the team building process is of course selecting the players. That process will keep us in suspense until September 13th when the tryouts begin. To begin with Kurt and Glen are hoping that some old veterans will show up at the trials to demonstrate that they still have gas in the tank. One simply has to watch senior recreational hockey in GP to realize that there is there is a great deal of hockey talent in town. However, it must be kept in mind that playing for the A’s is a huge commitment and not every eligible candidate for a spot on the team will be able make that commitment. In spite of the high level of competition in the NPHL no one is paid. The team is managed and coached and players play for the love of the game. It is amateur sport in its purest form. It is a workingman’s league that involves fitness routines, practice time and travel. Games often involve late nights and time away from spouses and families. Some exceptional local players have jobs that limit the amount of time that they have for hockey. However, as we have noted earlier, Grande Prairie has a rich hockey history on which to build. In the A’s last full season in the NPHL - 2014-2015 - the team lost in six games in the league final to the Spirit River Rangers. In 2009/10 the A's last captured the NPHL title over the Lakeland Eagles. Once again the challenge is to building a roster of players that will be competitive in the NPHL.
Will the team, like the Maple Leafs have a new image and take to the ice along with new sweaters, new colours and perhaps a new logo? We will wait with baited breath for that revelation. Messing with a team’s logo and colours can be controversial and risky. Look for an up-coming blog that will tell the story about how the legendary and popular Red Devils of a by-gone era were retired and replaced by the Athletics. Maybe the “devil logo”, fork in hand was an image that some locals thought was misguided. Maybe a religious lobby played a role. Maybe opponents of the devil image, fork in hand, failed to remember that farmers too are identified with forks. Having said that the A’s are now well established and only old timers like Max Henning, Billy Bessent and my older brothers Bob and Ron will remember Red Devil history that dates back more than half a century. After the red devil logo was abandoned the team adopted the original 1954 black and yellow A’s uniform that featured a full chest name on the front. The second version changed from black and yellow to orange and black featuring also a full chest name and a block letter “A” for the first time. Hockey Legend committee member Cam Henning and I are “babes in arms” compared to older brothers, Max and Billy. Over the two decades that Cam and I played as a defenseman for the A’s we had the privilege of wearing two different sets of jerseys. Max, Billy, Bob and Ron likely wore every colour of the rainbow in their history.
That’s our story to date of the blocks, the building and most importantly – the builders of Grande Prairie’s latest hockey initiative – but watch for further news and again - we invite the public to visit the Lounge at the Coke Center to see old jerseys and memorabilia that embody many stories and evoke special memories from the past. Maybe seeing the sweaters and other memorabilia will remind you of information that should be shared with other hockey junkies on our website. Please feel free to contribute information on the link About/Contact on the menu bar of gphockeylegends.com