Hockey Legends

of Grande Prairie

The Hockey Jacket

If this jacket could only talk - what stories it could tell.


edge
This jacket was worn by Oscar Blais in the 1950’s. He played centre ice for the Grande Prairie Athletics and wore #4. Photo by Stan Neufeld

Oscar Blais, who proudly wore it over sixty years ago, is no longer with us to describe the journey of his Athletics jacket. However, my closet where it hangs at the moment rings with memories of local hockey history in our community as it waits to take it’s place in our Legends Lounge display case at Revolution Place.

Who knows the fate that may have befallen this local historical treasure had it not been advertised on Face Book by Krysti Tissington who fancied it may be of value to someone and was there to be claimed. My connection to this garment began on or about 2007 when I was interviewing Oscar’s wife, Amelia and his daughter Carol to write the biography for Oscar’s induction as a GP Hockey Legend (see the story in the menu under Legends and players ). Amelia offered the jacket to me and I eagerly borrowed it for our Hockey Legend’s display case but recognizing the sentimental value it held for Oscar’s family I returned it to Amelia following Oscar’s induction. I thought that would be the last I would see the jacket but took comfort in the knowledge that it was home where it ought to be – with Oscar’s family.

Time passed – the Blais family home was purchased by Krysti Tissington who found the jacket hanging in the basement and astutely recognized it’s possible value in the hockey community. Is it just an accident that I happened to see the it on Face Book and was quick to respond to the post? Upon further inquiry I was elated to learn it was indeed Oscar’s jacket and immediately picked it up.

A “what if” came to mind as I pressed the jacket to my chest. What if the jacket had fallen into the hands of someone like an arch rival Fort St. John Flyer fan? You see - team uniforms – colours and logos have deep significance in the world of hockey. For example, since I could lace my skates and pull on a hockey jersey I have been a “die hard” Toronto Maple fan. I was a Pee Wee entering the player draft in our GP Minor hockey program in 1960. I recall my profound dismay when Roy Borstad, a man I greatly admired both then and now drafted me to play for his team wearing Montreal Canadian uniforms!!!! As much as I admired and enjoyed playing for Roy I felt I was betraying my NHL hockey heroes.


edge
I suffered the indignity of wearing this Montreal Canadiens jersey my first year of organized Minor Hockey in Grande Prairie. Photo by Stan Neufeld

I serve to illustrate that childhood loyalties often extend into adulthood. Two of my close friends are as passionate about their support for the Montreal Canadiens as I am about the Toronto Maple Leafs. If the Leafs lose to the Canadiens during NHL league play I owe them lunch and vice versa. Furthermore I have an army of nephews and nieces who bombard me with “affectionate barbs” every time the Leafs lose.

A book worth reading is entitled “The Hockey Sweater” by Roch Carrier. Roch paints a picture of his childhood and the long cold winters where he grew up in the village of Ste. Justine, Quebec. Life centered around school, church, and the hockey rink. Every boy’s hero was Montreal Canadiens hockey legend Maurice Richard. Kids in St. Justine proudly wore Richard’s number 9. They laced their skates like Richard and wore their hair like him. When Roch outgrew his first and cherished Canadiens sweater, his mother wrote away for a new one. Much to his horror, Roch received a blue and white sweater - one that represented the rival Toronto Maple Leafs. It was an unimaginable horror. How could Roch face the other kids at the rink wearing the uniform of the Montreal Canadiens nemesis?

Back to Oscar – he is everything that represents the spirit and meaning of a GP Hockey Legend. It’s not just that this jacket is a hockey relic in its own right – it is Oscar Blais’ jacket and that is worth some reflection. As noted in his biography, Oscar came to Grande Prairie at the age of eleven and spent the remainder of his life in Grande Prairie. He is the eldest of five brothers - all superior hockey and baseball players. Both of my elder brothers Bob and Ron had the pleasure of playing with him on various teams including the Athletics. As noted in his biography, on the ice the puck had an uncanny ability to find Oscar’s stick and from his stick the puck consistently found the net.


edge
Action shot of Oscar Blais: Athletics forward Oscar Blais played hockey in Grande Prairie for more than 18 years and is seen here(player on the right) in the thick of things during a South Peace Hockey League game. Look at the helmet worn by player #21. Photo courtesy of Bob Neufeld

He was an invaluable asset in the dressing room where he could inspire the team and provide comic relief as needed. Ron recalls his warm smile and generous spirit. He reports that Oscar would regularly get attention in the dressing room with “He Says ….” as we knew this was an introduction to his never ending trove of jokes, light hearted quotes or inspirational anecdotes. “But, states Ron, I never did learn who was the wise and funny “He” that Oscar constantly quoted. Beyond hockey Oscar was a successful business man and gave back to our community in more ways than I can recount here. He was an exemplary Alderman and Mayor and in these roles he promoted the values of sports and recreation as important youth development activities. I could go on and I invite others who read this and remember Oscar, to send us your stories.


edge
Mayor Oscar Blais joins Sylvia Macdonald in 1984 to rename the Recplex Arena as the Johnny Macdonald Arena.

So – one may say it’s just a jacket. However, it is a reminder of our rich hockey history. In Oscar’s era it was the only game in town on many winter nights when the Hythe Mustangs, the Dawson Creek Canucks or the Spirit River Rangers were in town and hometown fans cheered until the very rafters of the Wapiti and Memorial Arenas shook. During WW11 he played in the National Defence League (NDL) with the local D-Company team against soldiers stationed in Grande Prairie serving with the Army, the Signal Corps and the Air Force. D-Coy consisted of those too young or old to be drafted.


edge
Grande Prairie Athletics-1954-55 (South Peace Hockey League Finalists) Herald Tribune photo
Back row: Frank Kisio, Jerry Moffatt, Cliff Haiste, Roy Bell, Charlie Turner, captain, Al “Skinner” Bell, Leo Auger, Max Henning, Lawrence Blais
Centre row: Johnny Macdonald, manager, Gordon Mitchell, Gordon McKie, Assistant coach, Oscar Blais, Bob Rigler, Roy Blais, Al Bell, Bob Neufeld, playing coach,
and Lou Giroux, trainer
Front row: Gerry Rigler, stick boy; Don Repka, Bryan Edmundson, Mike Malarchuk, Eddie Klick, Ralph Hamlett


Name any GP hockey player from the past and Oscar likely played with them including veterans who returned from WW11. Hockey was important activity to help many of them reconstruct their lives and Oscar was an important element in that process. With the exception of old timer hockey that he helped develop the Athletics was the last team on which Oscar played that competed in the Wheat Belt league.

I began this story with a wish, “If only this jacket could talk.” It now occurs to me – it has many voices. It can and will talk as long as it brings to life the memories of those who see it – especially old timers like Max Henning, Billy Bessent, my brothers Bob and Ron and others who played with Oscar and wore on their sweaters the logo that is displayed on The Jacket. Yes! One might say - it is just an old garment. However, it reminds us how hockey serves to bring people together and rekindles valuable memories from the past. How thankful we are that it slumbered for 6 decades and like Rip Van Winkle has been revived and looks like it just came from a sales rack? Thank you Oscar, thank you Amelia, thank you Krysti.

Stan Neufeld

A SALUTE TO GPMHA, AWARDS & VOLUNTEERS

Female Coach of the Year and
Male Coach of the Year


I can’t overstate the value of minor hockey to our community: an activity that relies on the Grande Prairie Minor Hockey Association (GPMHA) to plan and organize opportunities for youth in our community to play our National sport. The benefits of sports in the wholesome development of young people are well known including fitness, teamwork and leadership skills. From what I can see, Grande Prairie’s minor hockey program is exemplary by any standard and could not function without the support of a dedicated army of volunteers recruited and organized by Don Golden, President, Ben Radke, Past President and Lorna LeBlanc, Executive Director. To recognize exemplary service the GPMHA names various events and functions after individuals who have given generously of their time and abilities to make our minor hockey program the strong program it has become.

This year the GPMHA has identified two new award categories: Male Coach of the Year named after Ron Andres and Female Coach of the Year category named after Marj McAusland. Needless to say both are worthy of this recognition and the Grande Prairie Legends of Hockey applauds both the creation of the categories and the honour bestowed on Ron Andres and Marj McAusland.

READ THE FULL STORY

What's in a Ring?

Most of us enjoy memorabilia that remind us of important events, past achievements and friends. In the world of hockey trophies and rings are often provided and treasured by the recipients. We invite our readers to check out the most recent GP Hockey Legend posting, WHAT’S IN A RING? - under Stories that features the first Grande Prairie player who won a ring to commemorate his participation on a Stanley Cup winning team, the Grande Prairie Hockey Legend who has collected the most hockey rings and other interesting information surrounding hockey memorabilia.


edge
Grande Prairie Knights from days gone by. A Grande Prairie Legend is in this photo and has four hockey rings. Can you identify him?

Check out the story and find out how much you know about several of our local ring collectors and some fascinating details about rings and hockey.

We also invite you to visit Revolution Place and check out the twenty-three GP Legends and memorabilia on display in the west hallway. Perhaps you have a contribution to enhance our growing collection. Also - perhaps you have a story to share with our readers about hockey memorabilia that you treasure (to contribute see contact under menu) on the Web Site. Photos of our Legends and other team photos from the past are also on display at the Coca Cola Centre in the Hockey Legend's Lounge.

World Champion. The Coolest Sport On Earth!

Little did Carter Rowney know when they printed this slogan on his player card from Sexsmith Minor Hockey that he would actually become a world champion in one of the coolest sports on earth.


edge
Carter Rowney and his player card from Sexsmith Minor hockey. Photo courtesy Carter Rowney


Carter was a good hockey player in the small town of Sexsmith, Alberta; everybody knew it and that recognition helped develop his self-confidence. Just ask his former Hot Dog coach Dale Collins or teammate and life long friend Dennis Rix, Grande Prairie Storm assistant coach and business manager. And so the question is: just how did Carter come from the absolute middle of nowhere, make it to the NHL, and earn a Stanley cup ring with Pittsburg Penguins?


edge
Carter Rowney and his Stanley Cup ring. Photo courtesy Carter Rowney


To find out read more under stories:

SMALL TOWN TO BIG TIME, DUGOUTS TO FORUMS
THE STORY OF CARTER AND THE CUP

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.


edge
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.


edge
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.


edge
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.”


edge
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


edge
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